We have 10,000 more keys for the closed beta of Nexon's online FPS Combat Arms to give away. Head to the giveaway page to claim a key, and read on for our hands-on impressions.
There's no getting around it: Call of Duty 4 raised the bar for multiplayer first-person shooter action so high that there are going to be a lot of bruises as other developers try to vault it. In fact, many won't have a chance of clearing it. Any FPS that plays out in a "modern warfare" context is inevitably going to face comparisons with Infinity Ward's masterpiece, the game that kept many of us going through the lean months of 2008. In fact, it may even keep many going indefinitely, given that there's a certain reticence among fans about Treyarch's follow-up turning back the clock to the Second World War. Fans of modern warfare may well look elsewhere. Perhaps to Combat Arms.
Published by South Korea's Nexon, and developed by Nexon's in-house studio Doobic, Combat Arms is a free-to-play PC FPS. Ah, another free online multiplayer game. Times are good for cheapskates, and Combat Arms even caters to those too cheap to update their PC, as it'll run on pretty much any rig. First impressions from the newly launched European closed beta give some indication of how it achieves this.
Combat Arms doesn't look like the very latest of games. In fact, diving into a game will feel familiar to veterans of Counter-Strike, the granddaddy of modern warfare shooters. The maps, the textures, the graphical style are all bold, basic and, frankly, a little bit old-school in the age of COD4. But is it unfair to compare a market-leading top-dollar title with a free-to-download, free-to-play game? Well, yes, no and maybe.
Combat Arms certainly offers impressive bangs for your bucks - plenty of the former and none of the latter. The fact that the first impression of Combat Arms' feel and look is one of familiarity, meanwhile, is in many ways a boon to Nexon, as FPS players will be able to just pick it up and get stuck in. What's more, familiar isn't necessarily synonymous with unsophisticated. Combat Arms has a nifty ace up its camouflaged sleeve.
Currently, Combat Arms consists of four game modes: One Man Army (your basic deathmatch), Elimination (your basic team deathmatch), Search & Destroy (for that full Counter-Strike vibe), and Capture the Flag. At time of writing, however, only Elimination and Search & Destroy are live, and reliable pleasures they provide too. The latter might involve that frustrating lack of respawns in a round, but if you've got a modicum of skill (unlike me), that won't matter. In fact, already the game seems to be populated by scarily skilled virtual warriors. Combat Arms isn't for the faint-hearted, as the pace is fast - particularly in Elimination.
Doobic has built a variety of styles of map, including all the settings you'd expect: depots with shipping containers, a rail yard, locations with a Middle-Eastern flavour. Walkways, ladders, sewers and crawl-spaces are all present and correct. The maps range from small (Junk Flea) to large-ish (Grey Hammer) in scale, and all are reasonably well-designed to channel you into a choke point charnel houses of flying grenades, whizzing sniper rounds and sprayed shotgun pellets.
The game does offer a vague scenario involving a post-Cold War world where a Union has been formed to "to bring back order and piece [sic] to the era of chaos", then collapsed, bringing about new conflict. But frankly, in fast-paced multiplayer-only gameplay, narrative is the last thing on your mind. The bottom line is that it's modern warfare, and it features all the old faves in terms of kit: AK-47. M16A4 and sundry assault rifles, hoses like the M60, SMGs like the Uzi, a variety of sniper rifles, grenades, and a knife to ger stabbed in the back with when you're trying to mind your own business with a sniper rifle.
There's even a LAW (lightweight anti-tank weapon), though sadly there are no vehicles in the game, unlike the closely comparable free-to-play modern warfare FPS, War Rock. However, it's with the kit that things get really interesting with Combat Arms. The aforementioned ace involves extensive gear-modding opportunities. The in-game currency is GP (Gear Points), which can be earned from kills and levelling up (from Private to General). This can then be spent in the shop on new scopes, larger clips, silencers and all the goodies you'd want, though you don't exactly buy gear, it's more a case of rental; the more you pay, the longer you have the item for. One nifty feature is that while you can only equip a primary weapon and a secondary weapon, you can also carry a third alternative in your backpack - so a load-out could feature an SR-25 sniper rifle and a G23 pistol, but also something a little more in-your-face like the MP5A4 SMG.
Now, we all know that free games generally involve some sort of revenue stream for the publisher, and such is the case here, where there's a "Black Market". Here you'll be able to buy items with real-world currency. Paid-for content in free games is notorious for creating a two-tier system, but Nexon are adamant that this won't be the case with Combat Arms. "Combat Arms is a skill-based FPS, so we take balance very seriously," its says earnestly on the game's site. "All weapons will be obtainable through in-game currency (GP). There will not be any super weapon that can only be bought for cash, meaning that even if you never buy anything from the Black Market, all weapons will still be available to you eventually." So what can you purchase with your hard-earned then? The functionality isn't live in the beta, but Nexon says Black Market goods "will primarily be cosmetic, convenience and community-based items - nothing that will unbalance the game."
Combat Arms is shaping up to offer some very nice, old-school FPS action, with meaty-feeling weapons and intense combat. It's no Call of Duty 4 - but Combat Arms is a freebie, so maybe we should give Doobic a little slack for bumping their foreheads on that high bar.
We have 10,000 more keys for the closed beta of Nexon's online FPS Combat Arms to give away. Head to the giveaway page to claim a key.