Nexon soothes this potentially off-putting issue with the generous chunks of GP you get on levelling up, and through such things as bonus GP events - for example, play in a certain time-slot, and you get 30 per cent bonus GP. Only time will tell whether this will be balanced enough, or whether the slog of maintaining and improving gear will be a turn-off, but it seems to work well so far.
Levelling itself starts out quick and soon slows up - but again, there's method here. There are five categories of rank, ranging from grunt (recruit to sergeant) to general (from brigadier general to general of the army). Only the uber-most of FPS maestros can hope to achieve the highest ranks and unlock all the best gear, which may seem a bit harsh, but bear in mind that most average players will be working with comparable kit, and very few will be unduly advantaged.
Talking of advantages, let's get back to the matter of micro-transactions. The game shop and outfitting section will have a "Black Market" area. This is already live in the US, and offers "cosmetic, convenience, community and premium items". The mention of premium may seem a little worrying, but by and large, the bits and bobs you can spend real dosh on (by way of charging up an account with Nexon's NX currency units) do seem to be more about fun, novelty, or vanity.
For example, the current best-sellers in the American Combat Arms are the option of a permanent sex change for your avatar (a snip at 9,900 NX) or a bit of bling in the form of gold-plating your AK (for you sir, 8,900 NX). The exchange rate seems to be around 10,000 NX for USD 10, and depending on the effects of the global economic meltdown, that's around EUR 8 or GBP 7. So there aren't crazy amounts involved - unless you want to go crazy with your Nexon Cash Card. That's your prerogative.
The bottom line is that Combat Arms is a free-to-play game that does offer genuine opportunities to play and progress for free, without the two-tier structure that puts people off many free online games. What's available in-game without too much trouble grinding GPs can provide perfectly viable combat opportunities, and with a little more spend, you can satisfy your personal preferences.
The gameplay, meanwhile, is largely basic and undeniably old-school, but it can be fun, fast, furious and reasonably deep if you find a map and mode you like, and are lucky enough to get a team that works together. Nexon seems intent on keeping things interesting too, with new content and events, and the encouragement of a clan system. (Clans of up to 120 players can compete in competitions, the winners of which can earn goodies including kit for your computer, in-game gear, GP and even NX.)
These guys seem set on doing free-to-play, micro-transaction-based gaming right. For all that their games are likely to play better, DICE and id could do worse than take some notes from the masters of this business model.
6 / 10