MMO 'Firefall' is better than you might expect

Firefall, a recently-launched free-to-play MMO shooter from Red 5 Studios, joins a crowded market of worthy (and not so worthy) games begging for your attention. While the core elements of a great free-to-play MMO shooter are all in place here -- such as generous exploration, multiple player classes, and good PvP action -- the game still teeters on the edge of mediocrity.

Still, it's better than you might expect.

Set on a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Earth, the game takes place after a supernatural substance known as "the meld" has more-or-less ruined the planet just as soon as it had saved it from an oncoming disaster. The few plots of land left inhabitable by man are those of the likes of Hawaii and Brazil, and boy does what's left of humanity want control of those parts. It's in locations such as these that players get to experience Firefall's generic, yet somehow fun action.

Part of what makes Firefall entertaining compared to much of its competition is in how the game itself is paced. Players can expect to not go out grinding on underwhelming hordes of ho-hum baddies while looking for quest-giving NPCs to appear on screen. Rather, the game takes a different approach.

After a brief (and somewhat mindless tutorial), players are put into a world where the game progresses at the player's pace. There is, for lack of a better term, a job board on which various missions are posted for players to undertake. Upon accepting a mission, that becomes their primary goal for that period of gameplay. When the mission is completed, the player is rewarded with experience points and in-game credits, which can be used to upgrade their mech-like battleframe body armor, acquire new weapons or gussy their in-game selves up via non-game influencing micro-transactions. The later option, of course, can also be done using real-life money, but kudos for Red 5 for (at this point) not encouraging a play-to-win in-game economy to drive sales.

Once in actual action, it's surprisingly cut-and-paste from many other games. In short, just aim your weapon and shoot at the enemies. While as an MMO, you are technically doing this with other player around you, they can at times be few and far between. And when they are there, they aren't exactly playing along side you. Rather, the gameplay experiences had by other players feels quite detached from your own as the game fails to achieve any real sort of a communal experience.

While overall fun, there are a handful of things that could have been done differently, better or not at all. The game's character class system is one such element. While the game, like most of its ilk, has players choose a class (battleframe) at the beginning of play, players can later change their class at any time. In the end, it really cheapens the specialty of each class-specific battleframe and detracts away from a player wanting to invest the time and experience required in leveling up any one frame to unlock a better version thereof.

Another issue to be had is the sheer time investment the game asks its players to provide. In a world in which real-life "free" time is becoming more rare and more valuable, Firefall sure wants a lot of it -- especially if you aim to play this free-to-play title for free. Many things that can be purchased as convenience upgrades (a scooter to get you around from location to location faster, for example) can be unlocked without paying any of a player's hard-earned cash, but it takes more than 20 in-game hours to do so. Furthermore, drops of crystite, the Firefall's in-game currency, are far too infrequent and make buying items for your character using strictly in-game money a thankless chore.

Aesthetically, Firefall boasts something of a cell-shaded type of visual presentation akin to that found in the popular Borderlands series. When set to higher settings, the game looks quite nice. For those who don't have a rig that can handle such processing power, however, they can expect no better than a "passable" visual experience. Even then, the tropical flair of the game's exotic locales and the deep darkness of nighttime in the areas looks good on a modern gaming computer.

The game's audio, however, will leave players wanting. In short, it's nothing special. Its one highlight is the stuck-at-home-base latina guide, voiced by the talented Laura Post (Hyperdimension Neptunia, Redline). While an overall minor role in an otherwise large game, Post delivers a performance that adds a bit of character and personality to a game sorely needing some.

As it stands right now -- a mere couple of weeks since its public full launch -- what you see is pretty much what you get with Firefall with the exception of a small and underused PvP arena that's just kind of "there." The game goes through the motions and needs some improvement here and there, but somehow it's still entertaining. At least, entertaining enough to play for free.

Publisher: Red 5 Studios
Developer: Red 5 Studios
Platform(s): PC
Rating: NR - Not Rated
Score: 2.5 out of 4


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