Firefall

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Jetpacks are awesome.

This may be humanity’s only universally agreed truth. It seems all the more unforgivable then, that there aren’t any. The future has failed to deliver. It is 2013. We were promised a brighter tomorrow than this jetpackless bullshit. Science and engineering are asleep at the switch, noodling around making ever more advanced and pointless telephones so we can take pictures of ourselves standing somewhere or being at a thing and instantly show them to a huge list of other disinterested narcisscists. Meanwhile, the designs for personal jetpacks languish incomplete. Humanity invented Facebook first. How embarrassed we shall be when we make First Contact and look through the family album. 2013, I tell you. There are no hoverboards either.

I am willing to admit, there could be some sort of minor practical difficulties in jetpack design holding them back from market, but I don’t have time to listen to pathetic excuses. I have a blog about videogames to run, and in videogames the problem is trivial. It is eminently possible for you to have a jetpack in every single videogame ever made, should developers simply have the courage to admit their mistake, go back and patch some in. I’m looking at you Lord of the Rings Online. I’ll buy those Turbine Points the moment you man up and give me some thrust. John Ronald Reuel would doubtless be bloody horrified at the whole escapade up to this point anyway, so the hell with the Lore, let’s live a little.

Sadly it seems most developers would rather give us a pedestrian corridor slog, with nothing but a miserly three seconds of sprint and the occasional rail-ride on a flatbed gun truck to break the monotony. Give thanks then for Firefall, which positively throbs with jetpack thrills. In Firefall, everyone has a jetpack. The scouts, the soldiers, the heavies, the postman and the pizza boy, nobody walks anywhere. It’s like some kind of futuristic rocketry utopia, and it’s briliant fun. Simply moving around the landscape is joyous, an end in itself. Race you to the top of that mountain, threetoowonwheeee. Other games take note, I want to enjoy travelling through your world, rather than sit despondent on autorun, staring at my Limited Edition Ubermount’s epic arse and wondering if I should have spent that money on food.

The best class in Firefall is clearly the Assault. No, of course I haven’t tried any of the others. They don’t have afterburners. The Assault is the boss, firing off mobility cooldowns, burning and blasting through the air and raining down explosive death on the brightly coloured pedestrian chump beasties below. Firefall at its best is liberating and exhilarating in equal measure, with the wind in your hair and the landscape far below. The view is wonderful too, the scenery chunky, colorful and varied, especially the beach area that looks like a colossal drained coral reef. Elsewhere there are huge dinosaurs lumbering between twisted jungle trees, or mountainous pillars of rock with breathtaking views and hang glider stations at the top.

Firefall’s scenery is lovely to look at, and a hoot to travel through, so its a bit of a shame that there is so little to do in it. The game is presently suffering from a serious lack of content. You are never more than a hop, skip and rocketjump from a task or objective, but there’s only about three. Collect some machine parts, bring em back. Go and blow up this guy, identical to all the other guys but for the arrow on his head. Kill all these robot guys. Oh, and there’s one with a giant purple tornado thing, and you shoot blobs of indistinct orbiting purpleness until it all goes away. It looks spectacular, but it’s a bit of a slog really. They only turn up now and again, and sometimes they bring all the boys to the yard, and other times they just rattle around lonely and ignored.

The other available pastime is Thumping, where you drop a big mining machine on a likely spot, and then try to defend it from wave after wave of insectoid creatures that spawn out of the ground and hump it to death. They look like little versions of the baddies from Starship Troopers reimagined by Fisher-Price, gobstopper colour-schemes and chitinous blades. Bigger Thumpers attract bigger humpers, so you need more warm bodies to defend them, and it’s all enjoyably frantic as the baddies pour in and you watch the machine’s progress and health readouts ticking in opposite directions. The longer it runs, the faster it mines, so every minute is worth more resources than the last. You can pack it up and cut your losses at any time, but the temptation to just hang in there for a few more seconds is hard to resist. Lose the Thumper, and you get nothing and the machine is gone forever. They aren’t free either, and the loss of a big one stings.

Thumping and the smattering of other diversions there are for you to hop between aren’t enough to make Firefall the kind of thing that inspires a long term commitment. Not yet. But they are onto something here. There is a dev post somewhere about what they called the Wall Test. The first stage of weapon development, before the balancing and the reload animations and the particle effects or any of the other follyswaddles, was to make it fun to shoot at a wall. This is wise and just, and it has paid off.

Because Firefall is fun, right at the core. Its intrinsically good to play, and it would be even if you took away the quests and loot and the drip drip of eckspees. I can’t think of another MMO that could survive that kind of honesty.

There is PVP as well, an afterthought in this article, but far from one in the game. Firefall has clearly stated aspirations towards becoming an e-sport, whatever that is. I can’t vouch for its worthiness in this regard. Should it become the globe-sweeping televised e-sport of the future, I will be headers and volleys in the park rather than Premiership first eleven. I do like it though, and any MLG pr0 tactical nuance is happily obscured by lots of frenetic, bouncy blasting.

So, Firefall: Pretty Good So Far. Boxquote material. But there is no box. It’s still in beta, it should be remembered, and there are developer promises in the pipe, for more of this and better of that. I hope they deliver. If the game can pack a little more meat onto its bones I think we could be very happy together. I have long maintained the world is crying out for an MMO you succeed at with reflexes rather than rotations, and Firefall is flying the flag and dreaming the dream. Get yo ass a beta key, fo reals. There will be no further character wipes, and the business model has, thus far, been kept more free to play than fee to pee. I will be checking in on it from time to time, even if just to tear around the map for half an hour and blow off some steam.

Because jetpacks.

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