While the massively multiplayer online shooter certainly has its merits, the genre is habitually steeped in homogeneity. Plotlines and aesthetics might demonstrate variance, but blasting baddies until the next tier of perks gets unlocked can feel a bit stale unless some type of divergence is demonstrated. Given developer Red 5 Studios’ indie ambition and protracted beta-period, gamers might expect Firefall to display distinction among its peers.
Boasting polished combat mechanics and a superior scalability, the game certainly nails the fundamentals of an engaging firefight. But, the title’s efforts to break convention- with elements such as dynamic skirmishes that attempt to act as transitions between scripted battles, still need a bit of refinement. If the developers can fine-tune some of these nuances, they could easily have a free-to-play hit on their hands. Currently, the title is a thoroughly entertaining time sink, but one that might not have enough variety to engage gamers for long periods of time.
Firefall’s plot was penned by a squad of seven writers, with ex-Blizzard scribe Mark Kern and Orson Scott Card being some of the more notable names on the narrative team. Given that pedigree, it’s a bit discouraging that the game’s plot seems like sci-fi bricolage, with names like Admiral Nostromo divulging just one of the game’s inspirations. But at least the material is delivered with a palpable pathos. A three-minute introductory cinematic bears the burden of establishing backstory, detailing a cataclysmic barrage of asteroids on earth, followed by a serendipitous discovery.
Inside the meteorites is Crystite, a mysterious mineral that allows humankind to craft incredible new tools, weapons, and armor. With the resource in limited quantity, Earth’s survivors set out to find the source of Crystite. During the execution of that expedition, a proprietary starship known as the Arclight fails to make a superluminal jump through space, creating a breach which brings a damaging new form of energy known as the Melding to earth, as well as an antagonistic species known as The Chosen. Follow that segment, a bulk of the expositional elements are supplied via voice-over that doesn’t pause the action. In execution, the dialog does a good job at establishing the context, via a compassionate handler and the inclusion of deliberately dry military chatter.
Firefall’s backstory does a good job at defending the game’s design decisions. The abundance of Melding is used to explain why players are restricted to specific areas, while Crystitle serves as the game’s currency, allowing players to craft items as well as mend any broken Battleframes- the game’s designation for reinforced exoskeletons which endow players with formidable abilities. Currently, the game offers five main categories of Battleframes, which encompass the range of archetypical roles offered by most MMOs. From the sturdy but sluggish Dreadnaught, Engineers capable of building sentries and stations, Biotechs that produce healing fields, long range Recons, and the all-around Assault suits, Firefall does a suitable job of incorporating the conventional classes. Interesting, the title allows players to switch Battleframes at designated stations, even transferring your inventory to the new suit. Of course, the catch is that each of sixteen possible exoskeletons much be leveled up separately, compelling a lot of level grinding for gamers who aspire to own an armory of different frames.
Battling enemies in many MMO shooters can often feel less like an intense firefight and more like a test of tenacity as players tap the mouse button to shrink an opponent’s health gauge. Pleasingly, battles in Firefall are elevated by each Battleframe’s jetboot ability, which grants players the ability to soar through the air and dart about to avoid incoming fire. While ballistic exchanges don’t match the level of immersion offered by dedicated first and third-person shooters, Firefall is still better than most MMOs, with a multiplicity of powerful armaments which either deal substantial damage to individual foes or deplete the health of hostile hordes. Sadly, enemy AI remains an Achilles’ heel for the title, which opponents routinely making beelines toward each player.
Agreeably, Firefall scales well, handling both solitary gamers as well as teams of players with the same level of finesse. Benefits from group efforts are handled admirably, with each aiding individual receiving Crystite payouts with having to formally join a party. Should gamers desire to work cooperatively, Firefall’s interface allows for the formation of squad easily, and make issuing commands to your comrades an easy task. Most agreeably, the game balances player load adeptly, ensuring that immersion isn’t interrupted by lag-inducing crowds of combatants.
Despite the game’s substantial merits, Firefall still needs improvement in a number of key areas. Navigation after a mission is bound to irk players- although glide launchers frequently allow players to float toward assignments, the way back can often be an unrewarding trek. Undoubtedly, this design decision was made to push players toward purchasing vehicular mounts (the economical alternative can be crafted after a character reaches level 25), but in execution, its ends up disrupting the game’s cadence.
One of the techniques the title employs to break up this slogs in the inclusion of dynamic, procedurally-generated events. While this procedure has the ability to reduce the predictability of the world, and keep gamers on their toes, these impromptu tasks don’t offer much variability. In execution, there’s only four different types of actions and they tend to occur in preset areas. Likewise, Firefall’s main missions suffer from similarity, with most revolving around killing, defending, or procurement- or some combination of the three. For many, the game’s most pressing issue will be the shortage of raid bosses as well as an underdeveloped PvP component. While a small areas allows gamers to engage in skirmishes with predetermined loadouts, Firefall’s superior arena only opens once players have completed the bulk of the game’s campaign.
Many of the title’s transgressions should be tempered by the game’s aesthetics and non-existent barrier to entry. Visually, Firefall shirks photorealism for a stylized output that’s reminiscent of Borderlands. Although the game currently has only a handful of locations, the scenery is consistently lush, whether players are skulking through a Melding-ravished Copacabana or across Oahu’s iconic Diamondhead. Like the game’s environments and backdrops, the game’s Battleframes, vehicles, and enemies are well rendered and animate smoothly, with a server-situated Havok engine taking some of the burden off of player processors. As free-to-play games go, Firefall is one of the better looking titles on the market, with a solid framerate and luxurious draw distance, even on modest rigs.
In its current state, Firefall is enjoyable in small doses, transposing Tribes engaging aerial-based combat into an elongated campaign. Although many of the fundamentals are already in place, some of the game’s more remarkable features haven’t reached fruition, hinting at Firefall’s possibilities. If Red 5 Studios can reduce much of the repetition, they’ll have an online shooter that’s worthy of a substantial temporal commitment. As it stands, don’t be too afraid to jump in early, the developers have pledged to retain any players purchases and not to wipe any progress they’ve made.