Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising Updated Hands-On Preview
NovaLogic's ambitious multiplayer shooter will let more than 60 players do battle simultaneously. We've revisited the game and are ready to report.
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The term "joint operations" describes coordinated military attacks from multiple fronts: land, sea, and air. Developer NovaLogic has created military-themed games for years, so with the rise of multiplayer shooters, which let you compete on a team to advance on your goals while providing covering fire for your teammates, the studio is now turning its attention to making a game based on multiple-front battles. Joint Operations will let you launch helicopter assaults, coastal strafing runs, and ground-based armor attacks, all at once. The game will focus on a near-future conflict between an Indonesian rebel faction and joint operatives from the US, Britain, France, and Germany that will take place in the jungles of Southeast Asia. We recently had a chance to revisit this ambitious, large-scale game and have new details to report.
Since we last saw Joint Operations in action, the game has been updated with an extensive set of all-new player models based on real-world military gear; this includes outfits for the British SAS, the German special forces, and, of course, the elite US troops known as Delta Force. The new player skins seem very detailed and include such realistic touches as a "ghillie hood" mesh cover for US Army snipers. Since Joint Operations is primarily a multiplayer game, your character's appearance is mostly a matter of personal preference. What really affects your abilities in the game is your character's class and equipment.
The game will have multiple character classes, including the gunner, rifleman, sniper, medic, heavy gunner, and engineer, and each of these classes will have different equipment depending on whether you're playing as the Joint Ops forces or as the Indonesian rebels. Like in NovaLogic's previous games, you can choose a class, then manually choose your character's equipment and weapon loadout, though each class also has a preset suite of weapons and items. For instance, most Joint Ops medics will carry a relatively light submachine gun, a pistol, and their medic packs and weigh in at a "light encumbrance" setup of approximately 20kg of carrying weight, which allows them to make good time while running. On the other hand, a heavy gunner carrying an M60 machine gun and a grenade launcher may end up weighed down with over 70kg of equipment, a "heavy encumbrance" setup that will restrict the character's running speed considerably.
Fortunately, Joint Operations will include plenty of different vehicles that can act as fast transport as well as assault support. The game will feature the return of the Little Bird and Black Hawk helicopters from Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. These choppers use the same controls as the on-foot first-person shooter portion of the game. On foot you can walk, crouch, or lie prone, and in the air you'll use these same keys to raise and lower your elevation. In addition, choppers have the handy ability to come to a stationary hover by default, as long as you're not moving. The game will also have plenty of land vehicles, including fast-attack buggies with mounted weapons, Humvees, and armored carriers like the huge Stinger transport--a six-man land vehicle with a devastating front-mounted cannon and armor plating so thick as to be impervious to most small-arms fire. The game will also have numerous water vehicles, including powerboats, Zodiac rafts, and the LCAC hovercraft transport, which can carry numerous standing passengers, plus up to six Humvees (each of which can carry six passengers), so it can potentially carry a whopping 50 players in one load. Interestingly, the game will have a set of context-sensitive chat commands depending on your situation, so if you're in a chopper, you'll have quick access to an "I've got room in this chopper, anyone need a ride" voice shortcut to quickly and easily communicate to your teammates.
However, Joint Operations' vehicles aren't there just to take you from point A to point B; most of them have numerous mounted weapons that can't be effectively used by a single player. However, a fully loaded attack vehicle with soldiers manning all mounted weapons becomes much, much more powerful and effective on the field--which means it often simply doesn't make sense to try to grab a vehicle and go it alone. This vehicle design is intended to encourage players to work together as a team.
The game's different multiplayer modes also emphasize team play. Joint Operations' final set of multiplayer modes hasn't been completely finalized yet, though the team does plan to have team deathmatch, a cooperative mode, a team-based king-of-the-hill mode, and a new team mode, advance and secure. Advance and secure bears some resemblance to both Battlefield 1942's conquest mode and Unreal Tournament 2004's onslaught mode. It's a multiplayer mode that tasks you with helping your team over various bases on each map by bringing enough friendly soldiers within a sphere of influence around each base. In order to capture a base, you must have more friendly soldiers than enemy soldiers within a base's sphere of influence, which causes a timer to tick down and eventually convert the base to your own. However, bases also act as spawning points for soldiers and for various vehicles and tend to be surrounded by barbed-wire fences, sandbagged trenches, and other cover, so capturing enemy bases can be a surprisingly tough proposition. Friendly bases include arsenals that you can use to reequip yourself with different weapons, or even a different class, though the number of times you can change your class and equipment is limited by a timer. Bases can be captured only if your team controls an adjoining base--similar to the node-based system of Unreal Tournament's onslaught mode.
We were able to spend some more time playing an early version of the game, and in terms of actual gameplay, Joint Operations makes good on its promise of combining vehicular combat with close-quarters battles, all on the same mission. Many of the game's maps are cluttered with dense foliage that makes for good cover while you're on foot--in these cases, sound is a highly important consideration, since the game supports positional audio that can clue you in on exactly where that suspicious rustling sound came from a moment ago. Even though they take place outdoors, Joint Operations' close-quarters battles seem to have the same pacing you might expect from a traditional tactical game--slowly creeping toward a goal with your teammates on overwatch, punctuated by quick firefights that are better fought with a low-power silenced weapon, like a silenced MP5 submachine gun. However, its vehicular battles are extremely varied--we saw plenty of different battle scenarios, including air-to-sea battles between Little Birds with gunners hanging off the side shooting their infantry weapons at Zodiacs piloted by engineers with antiair rocket launchers, ground assaults using armored vehicles with air support, and many others. The game moves at a fairly fast pace and has fairly lenient physics that resemble those of Delta Force: Black Hawk Down--not quite an arcade-style game, but certainly very forgiving.
In addition to encouraging team play within the game, Joint Operations will also let players form their own squads, which they can organize on NovaWorld, the developer's online game site. Squads are started by commander players, who can access a commander screen map in the game--a screen that resembles the planning phase of a tactical shooter--from which they can assign specific players to one of three fireteams. The fireteams can be given orders using a streamlined, three-part chat system that includes the team, the order, and the target (for instance, "Fireteam A, attack, point B," or "Fireteam C, defend, point A"). Skillful players who take out enemy soldiers, and provide good vehicular and medical support, will earn points that will contribute to their rankings on NovaWorld. Joint Operations is currently in a beta test state; the game is scheduled for release later this year.