What do you get if you cross Unreal Tournament with Carmageddon? Mobile Forces - an online-focused shooter featuring an unusual mix of traditional infantry action and Mad Max inspired vehicular mayhem. We took an early beta version of the game for a spin to find out how it's shaping up...
The concept behind Mobile Forces is simple enough - two teams battle it out across a variety of environments, from factories and rail yards to a wild west town, with a wide range of gameplay modes to choose from. So far so Unreal Tournament. The shadow of Counter-Strike is also evident, with players choosing their own weapons loadout from a range of semi-realistic equipment at the start of the match. Unfortunately at the moment you have to do this manually every time you respawn, but we expect there to be some way of bypassing this rather cumbersome process by the time the game ships. On the bright side you have more freedom of choice in Mobile Forces, which gives players seven inventory slots to fill rather than limiting you to one primary and one secondary weapon. Small items such as grenades, assault rifles and pistols only take up one or two slots, while hefty equipment like bazookas and the heavy machinegun occupy anything up to five slots. In all there are ten items to choose from, plus the default knife that everyone gets free. Although this may sound like slim pickings, it does cover most bases, from sniper rifles and shotguns to body armour and mines. In true Unreal tradition, weapons also feature an alternative firing mode, such as sighting along the barrel of your assault rifle, lowering your firing rate but increasing accuracy at long range. You can also opt to go into battle without a full inventory, and the lighter your load the faster you can move on foot. Currently the difference is virtually unnoticeable though, so it generally pays to load up with as much as you can carry.
Variations On A Theme
The real meat of the game is in the range of modes on offer. Naturally the now standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag options are all present and correct, but some more unusual variations on these are also included to liven things up a bit. Captains mode is basically the same as team deathmatch, except that you can only score points by killing the other team's captain. In a similar vein, Safecracker is very similar to capture the flag, but with the added complication of having to get cash from the enemy's safe before hightailing it back to your own base with the loot. There's also a King of the Hill type mode called Holdout, where your team has to clock up three minutes in control of a beacon in the center of the map to win. This tends to be pretty frantic, as both teams pour all their men into the same room in an attempt to force out the current occupants and secure it for themselves. Detonation is a kind of one flag CTF where you must capture a keycard from the center of the map which will activate a console in either base. If you can get it to the enemy control room it will freeze their soldiers and then blow them up, scoring your team a point, but actually getting the key into the heart of the enemy base can be easier said than done. Finally there is Trailer, probably the most inventive option and the one that makes the most use of the game's vehicles. Here you must rush to the middle of the map, pick up a jeep towing a trailer with a huge bomb strapped to it, and drive the device into a goal zone in the enemy base where it will explode.
And it's this "mobile" part of the title which makes the game stand out from the online action crowd. Vehicles aren't just an afterthought for Mobile Forces, they're an integral part of the game, whether you use them to run over enemy troops Carmageddon style or simply to get you and your friends to the other end of the map faster. At the flimsy end of the scale is a dune buggy, fast moving but offering precious little protection for the driver. There's also room for another player to ride shotgun, hanging precariously from the back of the vehicle. Moving on up there's a humvee, still fairly quick and with room for three passengers, one in the seat next to the driver and the other two standing in the back with their heads poking out through holes in the roof, effectively acting as human turrets. Rather more secure is the armoured personnel carrier, although despite the name it only has room for a single passenger, standing in a turret behind the driver. Last (and most definitely least) is the ponderous truck, which can carry several players but doesn't travel much faster than you can run on foot in the beta versions we've played. It's also an easy target for a bazooka, which could take out your entire team if you're not careful.
Even if enemy fire doesn't destroy your vehicle outright, it can effect the handling. Infantry are far from helpless, as shooting out a car's tire can send it skidding out of control momentarily, and the more tires you lose the harder it becomes to drive. With a little practice players can take down the driver or exposed passengers without disabling the vehicle, allowing you to hop in and drive off in it yourself. If you time it just right you can even jump into a spare seat in a moving vehicle and hijack it as it speeds past, shooting the driver from inside before he can react. It's apparently also possible to destroy vehicles by hitting their fuel tank with a sniper rifle, although this is obviously hard to pull off when the car is moving at high speed. The addition of vehicles opens up a wealth of tactical possibilities, while the inclusion of pedestrian only shortcuts in most of the maps means that foot soldiers can still move around fairly quickly. It's hard to tell at this stage how well it will all work in practice though - we've not been able to test the game online so far and the single player support isn't very exciting in the beta versions. Skirmish games with up to 16 players can be amusing, but the bots tend to end up as roadkill rather easily. The championship mode is work in progress as well. Currently it's just a linear progression through the game's eleven maps, with victories in any two of the eight gameplay modes unlocking the next level. It doesn't help that most of these maps are really too big for the modest 4 v 4 matches that make up the championship. Mobile Forces certainly has promise though, and with a little more polish and some work on the AI it could prove to be an entertaining diversion from the flood of more traditional first person shooters.