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The Spotlight: Combat Arms

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
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In The Spotlight, we take a look at games that warrant attention for various reasons such as interesting features and/or play mechanisms, greater popularity than some might think, etc. The focus is primarily factual, the goal being to provide substantially more depth than a typical one-paragraph summary in order to help you better assess how well the title fits your individual tastes. 


Combat Arms is a leading free to play online multiplayer first-person shooter. Said to have more than five million registered users worldwide, it claims the distinction of having the largest arsenal of weapons in its entire category. The basic style of primarily squad-based gameplay is familiar, but considering that a dozen mission types (modes) and at least 30 war zones (maps) are available, it seems obvious the designers at Seoul-based Doobic Game Studios have aimed to accommodate a wider than usual range of individual styles and preferences. There is broad scope for visual customization of the characters, which are also flexible in terms of their roles since there is no class or specialization system.

The global publisher is Nexon. The game was released in Korea in the first half of 2008, followed by North America that summer, Europe in early 2009 and Brazil in September 2010. Combat Arms has also been licensed to Syncopate for the Russian-speaking territory where it is expected to launch in Q2.

Updates are implemented quite frequently, perhaps once or twice per month. The domestic version receives them first, but the gap is relatively short for the other markets, typically about a month.

Key Features

As noted, there is a huge arsenal.  The current weapon count is said to be over 300 base types, ranging from general purpose assault rifles to shotguns and submachine guns that are deadly in close quarters situations, sniper rifles, launchers, RPGs, grenades, mines, pistols and more.  Further extending this selection, the game also incorporates an extensive customization system including scopes, magazines, barrel and muzzle attachments et al. 

Several modes appear quite popular.  Elimination is team deathmatch; the “pro” variant in which each combatant has only a single life is often favored for guild and clan battles. One Man Army is the individual version. Fire Team is a cooperative mission type against computer-controlled enemies. In Quarantine Regen, one or more randomly selected players start off “infected” and can spread the contagion by landing melee attacks.  They must infect all the humans before the timer runs out, while the others triumph by killing the infected or simply surviving. Search and Destroy has alternating rounds with one team defending a site where the other must plant and detonate an explosive device. Bombing Run charges one side to capture a bomb and set it off at a designated location; naturally, the other must prevent this.

Two other modes stand out as unusual. Spy Hunt starts with mercenaries tasked to locate cases holding secret documents. Anyone who does becomes a spy, able to see the positions of their former teammates, who are now hunting them. Collecting all the containers turns the player into a Super Spy who must reach a transmitter to send the information before time runs out while the others try to stop him.  Blood Money pits two teams in a race to steal gold from a bank. Both sides can augment their forces by hiring and controlling NPC mercenaries. 

As noted, the characters are highly customizable.  Each has five weapon slots (primary, secondary, melee, thrown / miscellaneous, backpack) as well as an equal number for gear (head, face, uniform, vest, backpack).

Item Shop

The shop offers a broad selection of weapons, gear, specialty equipment, modifications, character customizations, etc. Most may be purchased using the in-game money awarded for completing missions. 

“Black Market” items may only be bought by those who use cash. Most if not all such purchases can be gifted. In line with the trend of recent years, the assortment is weighted toward convenience and visual customization.  There are no weapons that seem blatantly over-powered; arguably, the best ones available through normal play are quite comparable.  Female characters are quite popular. Because the models are somewhat smaller, some players believe them harder to spot and shoot. Whether this is true is unconfirmed. 

Target Audience

The FPS audience is by nature comparatively hardcore. That said, Combat Arms seems fully-featured enough for even the most serious. In addition to the elements discussed above, there are extensive rating and clan systems that are of greatest interest to such users.

At the other end of the spectrum, newcomers to the genre and those who play it occasionally will find a low hardware barrier, a large community that makes it quick to find matches, and interfaces that may be less complex than average. 


Combat Arms utilizes the Lithtech Jupiter Extended engine, a later version of Lithtech 3.0.  As you might expect of a game that has been in service for approximately four years, the system specs are quite accessible, which probably contributes to the game's popularity. The graphics are serviceable, albeit not at the level of the most advanced recent releases. 

The minimum configuration is Windows 2000, a 1GHz+ CPU, 256 MB RAM, GeForce 2MX, DirectX 9.0C or later, 2 GB of free hard drive space and a cable/DSL Internet connection.  The recommended spec is at least Windows XP, 2.4GHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, GeForce FX5600, DirectX 9.0C and Cable/DSL.

Overall Impression

It's not difficult to appreciate why Combat Arms ranks as a leading contender in the multiplayer online shooter category.  The game is fully featured and mature enough to offer substantial content including its huge arsenal and more modes than most of its competitors. The sizable existing player base essentially guarantees that anyone will find an appropriate level of competition, and the barriers to trial entry are low, both because it's free to play and due to its accessible hardware specs.

As for possible negatives, the most obvious is probably that the graphics aren't leading edge.  However, this only affects the most demanding segment of the target audience. For the majority, the visuals are likely to meet or exceed their personal standards.


Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.