Fallen Empire: Legions Preview
One of the most popular yet least understood online PC games has been Starsiege: Tribes, a game that was intended by now-dead developers Dynamix and publisher Sierra to be an offshoot of a more popular mech-based action game. Tribes wound up with all the popularity, though, as its fast-paced gameplay and open maps made for excellent futuristic fighting with plenty of depth. But the biggest thing was the ability to "ski", to take advantage of a physics bug in the game to use the jetpacks that all players had and a bit of skill to glide down slopes and fly high into the air at a high speed in order to win. While the two sequels to Tribes had much of the same elements, the community simply didn't take to them at all and the third game, not made by the original developers, wound up being a resounding failure.
Now, some of the original guys who made Tribes - whose studio, Dynamix, was closed by Sierra after Tribes 2 sold poorly - are using their new casual gaming site, InstantAction.com, to launch a new game in the style of Tribes. GarageGames' Fallen Empire: Legions is a pretty shameless ripoff, but hey, these are some of the guys that made the originals, so it's quite alright. We got a chance to play some of Fallen Empire during its ongoing beta test, and I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with what they have so far.
And what they have really isn't much just yet: there's one type of armor you can use along with several weapons and two large, outdoor maps. The game mode is Capture the Flag, and already players are building their skills at picking up the flag without hardly touching the platform it's standing on and spending more time in the air on the way back to their base than on the ground. The weapons feel good and the frame rate and controls are smooth and sensitive. And the whole game actually is able to launch from inside a browser, assuming that you install the Firefox or Internet Explorer plugin that allows it. You can either play the game directly inside the browser, 3D accelerated via DirectX and all, or shift it to a fullscreen view (with multiple resolutions supported, of course). On a high-end broadband connection, the whole game was pre-loaded in only a couple of minutes.
Not that there's much to load for now, though. With no vehicles and only two maps with decent (but far from stellar) texture quality, the game isn't exactly content-complete yet. The beta of Fallen Empire I played is the result of about six months of work with a very small team, and while the game has a long way to go, the fact that they've already got so much of the game working nicely is certainly an accomplishment. While the basic shooting mechanics are here and the game is a lot of fun, it needs more. The GarageGames developers will certainly be adding these elements in, but let's hope that they can come up with a good amount of interesting new content as well so that it's not just a 100% ripoff of the game we were playing ten years ago.
What I'm not quite sure of is how the game is going to be received. InstantAction.com already has quite a few games on it, but they're more casual titles that are meant for mass appeal. Fallen Empire is a first- and third-person shooter where your ability to aim, fire projectiles at people in mid-air and actually hit them, and move quickly through months of practice are all vital in order to win - none of this seems like it's really going to be very appealing to a casual crowd. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I can see hardcore players with a bit of nostalgia playing Fallen Empire without many others really getting serious about it. It's possible that if GarageGames set up an extensive system of tutorials and courted the casual player well enough we can see this game gaining some of that mass appeal, but even then I'm not sure it will.
Otherwise, Fallen Empire runs very well on modern hardware and already has a lot of features you expect out of a final product. You have multiple weapon loadouts to try, key configuration, screen resolution configuration (although no detail settings can be fiddled with - yet), great performance even though the view distance goes out pretty far, and it's all brought together by the InstantAction website's party system that lets you invite friends to a group and then all start or jump into a game together. The only small technical issue I have is that the mouse can't be inverted in-game, but there is a hacky workaround for now and I'm sure future versions will have this option added. For now there isn't really a release date on Fallen Empire, but this ongoing already-playable beta is slowly adding testers as they go. Register on the InstantAction site to get started.