If you had to guess one of the games Harmonix has secretly been working on since Dance Central 3, your first guess would probably not be a "free-to-play, music-driven, first-person, multiplayer shooter" for PC and Steam. But that's exactly the game I saw at a recent demo for the company's upcoming arena-based shooter: Chroma
Harmonix director of publishing and PR John Drake described the goal behind the game: "We want to make sure that shooter players can come in, even if they're not musical, and actually play the game pretty much right away and feel good about it. And we want to make sure that music fans who aren't hardcore shooter players have an access point to come and be 'beat heads' who are really good at the game in a different way. The past couple months has been about finding the sweet spot between those two different things."
To make the shooter aspects of the game, Harmonix is teaming up with the developers at Hidden Path Entertainment, the team behind Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. But why not make the entire game themselves? Drake said, "We know music, we know game mechanics, we know our player base, and we know what feels good in terms of sound. But we also know we shouldn't build a shooter from the ground up by ourselves, because that would be a very cocky move."
To make the game feel familiar, Chroma features the same standard shooter classes you'd expect, but each character adds a unique rhythmic twist. The Assault class has a pray-and-spray machine gun, but his grenade launcher lobs explosives that only go off on the downbeat. The Engineer (probably the most rhythm-intensive class currently in the game) dual-wields pistols that force you to navigate a two-button, Rock Band-like note highway to fire. The gun locks-on to your target though, so you're able to focus on nailing the pattern rather than keeping the enemy in your sights.
The Sneak class is a fast-moving sniper whose rifle, like many of the game's guns, requires you to fire on the background music's downbeat for maximum effectiveness. You get a circular on-screen cue to help time your shot, and hitting it perfectly scores a one-hit kill. Support is the medic that can heal and shield other characters. And the Tank has a heat-seeking rocket launcher; after firing, tapping your mouse in time to the beat keeps the projectile on target even if they're trying to get away.
The demo for Chroma I saw showed a very early version of the game, but the ideas that it presents make it stand out from the otherwise crowded realm of me-too F2P and FPS games. It's a weird experience that takes some getting used to, but just like a song, it sounds strange the first time you hear it but becomes more and more familiar with repetition. By my third match I felt like I was getting the hang of extending my jumps and dashing by timing my movements to the background music. And zipping around the map by jumping on pads that keep you moving as long as you keep tapping in time to the beat was almost as much fun as trying to shoot other players.
As a free-to-play game, Harmonix is quick to add that the game won't be "pay-to-win." While the pricing of items hasn't been decided yet, the items you can purchase will be purely cosmetic.
The game is going into alpha this month with a public beta sometime later this year, and like with many F2P games, there's a good chance it won't lose the "beta" moniker for a while. But if you'd like to get in early and help fix the game, you can apply to get in early at the game's website.
And just in case you're wondering, the game will not support a guitar controller. While Harmonix doesn't rule out the possibility that somebody will create a mod sometime down the line, given the fast-paced arena combat, it's not a feature they're woking on incorporating at launch.