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Firefall Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 3/29/2011

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For those who desperately miss the high-flying FPS action of Tribes, there are a few new games on the way this year that should interest you - and not just because they have jetpacks. First we have Section 8: Prejudice, an upcoming $15 game on PC and Xbox Live that includes teamplay modes, orbital drops when spawning to choose precisely on the map where you want to spawn, and smooth, fun action all around. Hi Rez Studios, creators of Global Agenda, have bought the rights to the Tribes name and are making a new game due this year. But there's also Red 5 Studios, a company with at least some of that original heritage of Tribes' long-dead developer Dynamix. Scott Youngblood, lead guy on both Tribes games, is at the head of a project called Firefall, which promises that same jetpack-fueled shooter action in a free-to-play package.

I got to talk to Scott as he showed me around the game, and the first thing I noticed was just how polished and slick it feels - especially considering it's a free action game. You can play from first-person view or a pretty tight third-person perspective, and much like in Tribes, you'll be able to select armor and weapon loadouts from stations inside your base. The mode we saw being demoed was a pretty basic team deathmatch, where the Recon armor allowed players to mark enemies for their teammates to see on their HUD, snipe people from a distance, and more. Medics have the obvious role of healing while mixing in shooting, and while any player can revive a fallen teammate, only the medic armor can do it instantly - and you can also unlock the ability to do revives from a distance as a medic, as well.

I got to play as the Assault character, who had solid firepower and could rocket himself in any non-obstructed direction with the Afteburner ability - even straight upwards, if I so desired. Then, I was able to use the Crater ability to do a big ground slam, and the higher up off the ground you are when you activate it, the more damage you do when you land; and yep, you can even kill people instantly if you launch your Crater from high enough off the ground. All of these abilities are accessed in a way that reminded me of Guild Wars: you've got a bunch of them, but you can only pick a relative few to take into battle with you. It's up to you to figure out which abilities work best when used together - and when used with your teammates' own abilities.

While Firefall still isn't terribly fully-featured just yet - it's got about the amount of content I'd expect out of a good downloadable game - that's still pretty good for free. Just like we've seen with free MMOs, you'll get the chance to spend real money on vanity items and other silly stuff, although the commitment from Red 5 is that players will never be able to buy a combat advantage.

Vehicles are on the way eventually, and while there's not much in the way of gameplay modes for now, that'll change - it's just a question of whether that happens before or after release. Scott couldn't tell me what modes were being added, but he wasn't trying to be coy or keep information under wraps; instead, he explained to me that they're still working out which modes players will want the most so that they can prioritize. (I'd say they should set a goal of loosely reproducing the basic Tribes gameplay, complete with vehicles and team-based objectives, and then work from there.)

While fans of Tribes-style gameplay will have a few new choices this year - and Global Agenda and a freeware revival of Tribes 2 have both been out for a while, seeing something new from some of the original creators of the game that started it all should have people excited. It doesn't hurt that Firefall will be free to play, and this game is much, much better than the "free" moniker usually would make you believe - even though it's will likely launch with fewer features than its competition. It's possible, maybe even likely, that Firefall will be able to seduce players on merit alone, completely aside from what it costs.

Firefall is taking beta sign-ups now on their official site and will launch later this year.



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