With all due respect to Bill Murray, CCP Games wants to move away from the "Groundhog Day scenario" of online shooters; that feeling that you're just replaying the same maps over and over without any sense of overall progress outside of a few unlockable weapon attachments. It's this idea that's led to Dust 514, a new first-person shooter set in a universe that's hardly new itself. CCP Games, as you may know, is the same studio behind the long-running EVE Online, a massively multiplayer space simulation with a vast economy and thousands of star systems where player-controlled corporations and pirate clans are constantly trying to expand their influence. Through a little bit of cross-platform, cross-genre wizardry, the PlayStation 3 shooter Dust 514 will be tightly integrated with the overall events that transpire in the PC-only EVE Online. It sounds crazy, but hopefully, it's just crazy enough to work.
"We've been in a very fortunate position," says producer James Farrer. "It's hard to have a living, breathing world with thousands of people in it, and in EVE, that's something we have." Before jumping into battle, you can take a look at a map of the star system that gives you an idea of which factions are currently in control and where the big fights are happening. The latter is especially of concern because Dust 514 players are essentially mercenaries in the employ of the player-created corporations of EVE Online. It's a shared economy between gameworlds, with the folks on the ground getting paid to do the dirty work for those up in space.
So while the gameworld may be living and breathing, you're hardly guaranteed to be doing that yourself. Dust 514, when you strip away all the interstellar politics, is an action-heavy first-person shooter in the Halo or Battlefield mold. The player counts are big--32 in the objective-based Skirmish mode we saw--and there are a lot of armored vehicles rolling around making a big ruckus. Not having a chance to play, we can't really tell how the game feels or whether it plays any differently from a standard shooter. But there were a few things that happened during the demo that certainly stood out.
The big one is the way orbital strikes work. Players on the ground can call in an orbital strike from a ship up in space, but it's not the in-game AI that pulls the trigger. People playing EVE who belong to your faction will actually receive a request to fire on their screen, and they're the ones who send the strike down to the planet surface where the Dust 514 map takes place. We're not entirely sure what goes into determining who receives this strike request, but the fact that these two different games on two different platforms can interact like this is obviously very exciting.
CCP offered up a lot of talk about the more long-term effect of Dust 514's battles for territorial supremacy. "They can actually have an effect on the innocents of EVE," Farrer suggests. "For some of them, it can be a positive benefit; they can be running supplies and making a lot of money from the conflict and trade. For others, it might be damaging to them to lose space to a damaging power." That's all well and good, but the mercenaries are most interested in the offensive-minded factions with deep pockets. "If you're building valuable infrastructure on the surface of a planet, you're going to want somebody to defend it, so you're going to want to recruit mercenaries to fight for you and essentially have your own standing army."
Getting paid helps you become a better mercenary by giving you currency for upgrades. Whether it's giving yourself augmentations or buying new weapons or vehicle equipment, CCP promises that the game's fitting system will be a deep and customization-heavy system that lets you carve out your own personalized class on the battlefield. And in typical massively multiplayer online fashion, Dust 514 ought to have plenty of updates to keep you in the habit. "There's no finished product; it's all about continually expanding and improving," says Farrer.
So far, Dust 514 has a lot of interesting systems and ideas working in its favor. (And it certainly helps that you don't need a monthly subscription to play it--just a PlayStation Network account.) But ultimately, this is a first-person shooter. It can have the most impressive technical architecture in the world that lets it communicate with the world of EVE Online, but if it's no fun to play, that will be a deal breaker for most players. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to answer that question before long. In the meantime, you can expect to see Dust 514 hit the PlayStation 3 in summer 2012.