When we look back at online PC shooters over the last decade, the Battlefield series has to be a big part of that history, but in all of that, there was one mod that made a huge splash with its vehicle-oriented action and huge maps: Desert Combat. The guys that made that mod have split up to do games like Frontlines: Fuel of War and Homefront, but some of them decided after Frontlines to make a new studio - 2 Dawn Games - to make a new multiplayer FPS without the restrictions and issues that come with making a game for a big publisher. Ravaged was born, with the intent of delivering the fun of Desert Combat's large, online-only battles with a new post-apocalyptic feel and some fun modes to bring people together on huge maps.
Over the last couple of weeks I've gotten the chance to play Ravged during the beta and as it's been released. There have been some technical issues and the developers have been updating the game furiously, but I still played for hours without any other issues and had a blast. The game's set up with dedicated servers in an online-only environment where you jump onto either of the two teams - the Scavengers and the Resistance - and the two sides each have their own five classes and selections of guns. Of course, the sides' classes are generally analogues of each other, with both teams having assault, sniper, engineer, and heavy weapons classes, and the weapon selections were generally somewhat similar as well. This isn't quite Battlefield 3 with its selection of dozens of small-arms weapons, but the ones that Ravaged does include are fun to use and well-balanced.
The game modes include a capture-the-flag variant where we were stealing the other side's fuel while trying to keep a hold on our own, a capture-and-hold game with capture points in a linear order (which reminded me of some of the best parts of Frontlines or Joint Operations), and what was probably the most fun, the one-flag-CTF where both sides were trying to grab a fuel canister from a spot in the middle of the map and bring it back to their own base. With up to 32 players supported, the game has to have large maps so that things don't feel cramped, but some of these modes and maps brought players together into one area to create large, chaotic firefights.
I'd say that you can't really do post-apocalypse gaming without vehicles, but it turns out that Fallout does that just fine, so I'm going to have to amend that statement to say that you can't do a Mad Max-style game without vehicles. The buggies, ATVs, trucks, and even a few tanks and APCs in Ravaged are all excellent for getting around the map, easy to drive, and are fun to use, especially when a few guys pile into a truck to use roof-mounted turrets or just to get a ride around the map quickly. The speeds these things achieve is generally impressive, but if that's not enough, there are a couple of helicopter variants as well, including the tiny Gyro copter that is barely more than an engine, gun, seat, and rotor mounted on a minimal frame.
I tried out all of the playable classes throughout my time playing Ravaged and found that everyone does pretty well, but the specialist classes seem to be the most fun. The sniper-based classes are a blast since precision shots are generally pretty easy to get and the weapons can deliver one-shot kills, while use of the venerable Unreal Engine makes aiming smooth and easy. Engineers can deal with any incoming threat, as their explosive weapons are great against both vehicles and personnel, while the dumb-fired anti-air missiles they carry in addition include a splash damage effect, so you don't need exact pinpoint fire to take down a chopper. (You'll still need a half-decent ability to both aim the rocket as well as predict where a chopper's headed, though, as the missile isn't terribly fast-moving.)
Ravaged is at its best with a half-dozen or more people using a mixed range of vehicles and weapons all mixing it up in a small area, all in a bid to capture an objective; the hard-hitting sound effects and fun ragdoll physics make for lots of fun kills and great laughs. Luckily, these situations come along pretty often when you're on a highly populated server, and I do like that there's not much of a comeback mechanic here; basically, the team with the best tactics and skills will win pretty much every time. There isn't an unlock system so the benefit is that everyone's on an even playing field immediately, but this is also somewhat of an old-school approach to online multiplayer, so some gamers will feel like there's no motivation to continue without that persistent progression. (Hint: killing people is your motivation.)
What I'm most concerned about with Ravaged is that with no offline play at all, the game requires an active community playing the game for it to have any value at all. If you can't at least find one or two servers with people on it, then your copy of the game is essentially worthless, and while I don't feel like 2 Dawn Games' $25 price tag is outrageous or anything, it might have been a good choice to start with a big discount or something in order to get people onto the servers. Already I'm seeing the number of populated servers at three or less in off-hours, and that's usually not a good sign - especially for a game in its first few days of release that needs to snowball the size of its userbase in order to get even more people to buy the game and join in. There won't likely be a working free-to-play option for Ravaged, as there isn't really a huge range of weapons or gadgets to unlock or sell as "premium" items. On top of this, the game itself is a little rough around the edges still, both in ways that aren't likely to be fixed - slightly wonky animations and sparse environments - and with things like bugs or crashes that presumably are still being worked on.
Ravaged does deliver old-school online action that's very exciting, but 2 Dawn Games needs to get this game a swift kick in the ass and start getting people onto the servers, especially considering how often competing online games like Battlefield 3 go on sale. The simpler style of game does have its charms and I highly recommend that people that grew up on the persistent reward system that Call of Duty 4 largely innovated to try a game like Ravaged, but you might want to talk your friends into it before you commit. This game is at its best when you've got a fuel canister in hand, sitting in the passenger seat of your buggy, riding helplessly as the driver avoids rockets and the gunner takes out enemies, all while you get closer to the capture point in that fragile little car. Ravaged is far from perfect, but it certainly has its moments, and those are easily worth the price of admission.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a pre-release and Steam retail copy provided by the developer.