When journalists use phrases such as "game-changer" and "groundbreaking" you could be forgiven for wanting to slap them "upside the head." For all of that bluster though, Dust 514 is one piece of software that might just be worthy of such highfaluting praise, and even a "this will change the way we think about gaming forever."
Please be gentle with my face.
Whether we are talking about a new MMO, or some delicious slice of future tech, as a civilization we have been conditioned to believe that nothing is truly revolutionary. The nearest we have come to Blade Runneresque innovation is the iPad, and unless you like Angry Birds, and being visibly aroused by touch-screens, we are still off the mark.
In aid of this struggle to have us all combating Replicants and bowing down to Orient-overlords by 2018, CCP has been working towards the future; and a breakthrough has happened. Eve Online is one of this genre's biggest achievements, a fluid world in which any intergalactic dream is possible (except alien sex, that's BioWare territory; perverts) and now, they've added a fancy new spoiler, some spinning wheels, and a fuzzy set of dice: I call it genius, they call it Dust 514.
Everyone that slightly understands the abbreviated words of the MMORPG genre knows that Eve Online is a difficult game. From its learning "cliff" to its seemingly endless array of classes, paths, and pass times, to some it is one online-'em-up that seems lost to the ether: some cry too many commitments, others shy away from the extraordinary amount of hours it demands - but what if there was an easier way in?
Not content with expanding their universe biannually CCP have decided to attach another turret to their already monolithic star ship. This time, instead of more refinements, spacecraft increases, or overpriced monocles (we never forget) the Icelandic developer has tried something a little different. Taking the action away from the hazy reaches of space, and into a vivid world of bullets, explosions, and tanks, Eve Online now caters to both the engrossed role-player within, as well as the 14-year old action movie addict.
Dust 514 is essentially a stand-alone expansion that plugs into the world of New Eden, whilst additionally being its own product. Developed exclusively for the PlayStation 3, the game will have unheard of functionality with its PC-bound forefather, whilst also providing mindless-kicks for teenagers that just love to blow stuff up of an afternoon.
Initially playing like Call of Duty or Halo, you could be forgiven for accusing the sandbox championing developers of aiming for an easier market, but it's the nuts and bolts holding the experience together that counts. The action of game comes in the familiar form of catching and holding objectives, as well as shooting things in the head, whilst commandeering vehicles, and taken as a piece of genre-work - it's nice.
The interesting bits unfold however, during the integration of EO mechanics, as well as attempting D514 with a brain. The masterstroke behind CCP's latest product is in creating a piece of software that is all things to all people. Playing it like a Quake 3 Arena death match is possible - but being the best will take considerable teamwork, intelligence, and a deeper understanding of the interior mechanics.
Like the developer's space-adventure, D514 is firmly rooted in character creation. Taking your mercenary, and specialising it to certain roles is what makes up a large part of the experience: will you choose skills befitting of a marksman? Or instead will you opt for a heavy gunner? The choice is yours, and given that skills are learnt in real-time, as well as a few in-game bonuses, conquering every available ability will take roughly 7 years - so don't worry about a 13 year old teenager ruining the balance of the game.
Furthering from skill-specialization is also the types of armour you bring to the fight. Those that choose to become a scout will benefit from lighter protection, whilst also opting for speed boosters, and powerful, close-range weapons. Furthering this, weapons can be bought, crafted, and traded on the game's version of the EO marketplace; does it sound like Modern Warfare now?
Furthering the link between those floating high above in space, and those planet-side, D514 has fully integrated communication between the two games, as well as EO corporations having the ability to commission "contracts" which mercenaries on the PS3 can undertake. These are assignments which dictate the defence or offense of a certain planetary district - whether or not you win will determine exactly what kind of reward you earn, and also, more interestingly, what kind of reputation you net.
Because the game is split along the sidelines of "quick battles" and those that have real implications driven by the EO players, garnering some sort of reputation as a good or bad mercenary core will be important. Whether or not real-life corporations will use your services might go on your win to loss ratio, and with infamy for being particularly effective, you can start to drive a higher price for your services as a warring machine.
The implications of this could be massive: will corps only use certain groups? Will the best D514 players become as powerful as corps such as Goon Swarm? Will intergalactic enemies create ringer mercenary squads, existing just to slip up opposing corporations? It all fits into the backstabbing, backbiting, son-of-a-bitch tactics of EO - and that's why it's so damn exciting.
Other interactions with the intergalactic pilots are more immediate to the combat unravelling on the ground. EO players will be able to gain the ability to orbital bombard a location, with the PS3 merc calling in for a support, choosing the location for the strike, and the orbiting New Eden spacecraft obliging with a single mouse-click. Having witnessed this event happen, it is easy to mouth a breathless "whoa" and come to the understanding that games might never be the same again.
The kind of innovation that CCP is grasping at here threatens to fundamentally change the genre. Will Eve Online cease to be a linear, albeit entirely vast, space RPG, and in essence become an interactive lobby that spills various experiences from FPS to frantic space combat? Will this be the kind of direction that MMORPG's head in general? The answer is a simply "we don't know" but it sure gives you goose pimples thinking about it.
But taking our mind away from the possibilities of the future for a second, and we come back to the conundrum that is creating this experience of the console. Given that EO is so PC that it could literally have "I <3" Custom CPUs" nestled somewhere in its code, bringing a portion of the game to those joypad wielding heathens can be interpreted as blasphemy.
The reason for such a choice is in the actual basics of D514 as an experience. Explaining that bringing this game to Windows would lead CCP into a Lewis Carroll chase down a labyrinth of complex and mind-boggling design, they decided to save themselves from themselves, and to bring it to the PlayStation 3. Here on this shiny black box, the perceived limitations forces focus, and helps the developers develop something that is primarily an easy, pick-up-and-play experience: because nobody likes RPG shooters - you might think you do, but you definitely don't. And don't wave that Deus Ex badge at me.
Bringing D514 into the Sony fold also allows CCP try their Carbon engine on different formats, as well as taking advantage on the miniature power-house that is the Vita. Utilising this, not so mobile, device, you can check your mail, skill load-outs, inventory, as well as dabble in the game's marketplace - all from the comfort of your toilet seat: isn't that the definition of advancement?
So whatever your thoughts are on the FPS genre - one thing is for sure, CCP are forging ahead with something that promises to change the way that we all think about gaming. From their studio in Iceland, they are currently dictating some of the world's most exciting game design, and easily the most innovative ideas: well, they had to make up for those over-priced monocles somehow.
Expected later this year for your PlayStation 3- Eve fans can look forward to screwing each other over in a completely different climate of gravity. We can't wait.