It's not just the familiar shooter controls and feel, the different perspective choices between third-person and first-person, the cell-shaded aesthetics, and the ability to leap tall bounds with the jetpack that got us really into Red 5's latest online shooter, Firefall. In fact, it's not even the fact that it still looks polished for a free-to-play title (a common trend with the likes of Tribes: Ascend out recently) that piqued our curiosity.
No, what really got our heads turned to the closed beta since last week was that the developers were aiming to make Firefall's world as alive and as organic as possible using the concept of staged content. Essentially, online players in the Player vs. Enemy section of the game will slowly unravel the world as they beat back the on-world phenomenon known as the Melding (that is, a giant miasma of death). Bit by bit, players work together doing small missions like retrieving a certain number of medical supplies or resources, and even large-scale ones, like conquering a fortress occupied by an alien army to unravel not only the narrative parts of the game, but also new areas to explore, as well as new enemies to put bullets and plasma into.
Wandering around the outskirts of the starting area, the Phoenix Outpost at Copacabana, South America, also yields World Events. These are random quests that you can enter and partake in, and they make the whole online planescape more alive. We randomly came across grey shock troopers called the Chosen; some big, some small and fast, and all of them taunting you to shoot them while they're reloading. We felt that it was best to take down the bigger groups housed behind their giant energy-fortress contraption with other online players, so we were content with picking them off one by one using the assault battleframe until we were sated with the resource and money drops we received.
Speaking of loot, you will also be kept busy with gear crafting by using the resources and materials found on enemy corpses or mineral deposits that can be opened up only with sonic grenades. Be it a modifier that increases the amount of grenades or ammo you have, or just a new weapon or battleframe that makes you kill bugs better and more efficiently, gathering up materials on the outskirts of the Copacabana will become your modus operandi. The basic stuff can be crafted by anyone who has just started, but the more advanced schematics will require more dedication in resource accumulating.
That's where the resource hammer and thumper drills come in; the former lets you scan for the best spot for mineral gathering, while the latter lets you harvest said minerals. The thumper will attract enemy attention while summoned, so protecting it from being assaulted is part and parcel of getting your loot for item crafting.
While the staged content scenario is not really a brand-new feature, the way that Red 5 is handling this right now holds huge promise. Just imagine an online landscape where players can band together on the fly, protecting each other's thumpers or even filling in the role of a medic for a random party assaulted by a Chosen battalion. This all leads to the common goal of beating the PVE part of the game and unlocking more parts of the map, thus instilling a sense of personal accomplishment for contributing to the greater good.
We needed a break from playing nice, so we also took a stab at Player vs. Player, which was held totally separate from the PVE universe. We only managed to check out a few deathmatch modes; at this point in time, it wasn't easy to find players for Sabotage mode (Firefall's mandatory capture-the-flag archetype) and Harvester mode (a game type where players take over harvester areas until the time limit expires).
The matches we fought during team deathmatch were intense and were set in rather bright holiday resort areas. This was perhaps deliberately done to keep in theme with the PVE mode, but it certainly beats your usual grey map packs set in a war-torn city or urban landscape. Just like in most class-based team shooters, having a balanced team is essential to staying alive. Our dreadnaught battleframe may have the suppressing firepower to push the enemy forces away, but we were content to let our team's assault and recon class take point while the engineer set up his turret(s) on our side of the map. The mobility of jetpacks helps keep the flow of the matches as fast as possible; it's not up to Unreal Tournament's hyper-laced level of intensity, but it's faster than your average Halo Reach and Call of Duty fragfests.
Having said that, the closed beta came with bugs aplenty, like quest items not triggering the way they should, or the battleframe option in a state of inactiveness in the middle of PVP. The developers did state that these problems will be fixed on an organic basis; patches for the game will be doled out consistently. We did check back with the game five days after our playthrough; most of the problems we mentioned were fixed, so this really shows how on top of things the company is in making sure that everyone's stay is pleasant given the circumstances.
With its fast-paced, action-packed beginning for PVE to its multiplayer, we could have a potential hit on our hands. We also hope that Red 5's experiment with the aforementioned staged content and dynamic world concept pans out; it would be a great breath of fresh air in a repetitive sea full of multiplayer deathmatch-focused warfare shooters of the modern variety. At the very least, the game will only cost you the grand total of zero dollars when it's released in open beta form later this year.