One of the surprise hits of ECTS was Team Factor, a little known tactical combat game from Czech upstarts 7fx which seemed to be producing quite a buzz at the show. Following a tip from our friends at CTW, I dropped by the stand between meetings to take a half-hour look at the game and chat with one of the developers...
The original concept behind Team Factor was simple enough - 7fx wrote down all the features that they wanted to see in a first person shooter and the ones they thought were missing from current titles, and built the game up from there.
After about a year of engine development and another year of work on the game itself, the result is a multiplayer-focused tactical action game which at first sight looks a lot like Counter-Strike with its realistic weaponry, goal-based gameplay and lack of respawning. But once you dig a little deeper it soon becomes clear that there is a lot more to it than that.
Perhaps the most obvious difference is that Team Factor includes a simple class system, with four unique characters to choose from. The jack-of-all-trades is the Soldier, a good all-round character with a wide range of weapons at his disposal. Those of you wanting something a little chunkier might want to go for the Specialist, a heavy weapons expert with a penchant for explosives and machineguns. Sneakier players will probably prefer the Scout, with his excellent camouflage and close combat skills, or the Sniper, who can support his team by picking off enemy troops from a comfortable distance.
Three Sides To Every Story
Each of these classes has its own unique selection of weapons to choose from, with a total of 45 guns spread between them. This includes all the pistols, shotguns, machineguns, rifles, mines and grenade launchers you would expect, from Glocks and Uzis to Spas shotguns and the ever-popular AK-47 assault rifle.
Having selected your character class and weapons load-out, it's time to dive into an online mission. At which point you will notice one of the other big differences between Team Factor and Counter-Strike - this game includes three sides in each mission, with up to ten players per team (or twenty over a LAN). So rather than a simple confrontation between terrorists trying to blow something up and special ops soldiers trying to stop them, a typical Team Factor mission might see one group trying to rescue a hostage, another trying to hold on to him, and a third trying to kill him before he can spill the beans to either side.
Depending on the scenario you may find yourself joining the special forces of NATO, Russia, China or Israel as a three way battle breaks out on the server. It should put an interesting new spin on the gameplay, although obviously it will make balancing the maps even more difficult. We will have to wait until the demo is released (hopefully later this year) to see if 7fx have managed to pull it off, but at this stage things are looking promising.
Fitter, Faster, Stronger
Perhaps the most exciting new feature in Team Factor though is the addition of role-playing style character development. Your skills, covering everything from stealth to accuracy, will gradually improve as you play online with your chosen character, and your performance is constantly logged by a central server.
As your skill levels rise you will also gain access to improved weapons and upgraded equipment, depending on which stats you chose to focus on. All of this means that the longer you play the game the stronger your character will become. Like the rest of the game though, the skills are very firmly grounded in real life, so you won't turn your character into a walking tank capable of dodging bullets.
Instead you may choose to develop your character's breathing control so that you can steady your aim quickly after running across the map, or improve your stealth skills to make it even harder for enemies to spot your scout as you skulk through the bushes. Indeed, camouflage is incredibly effective in the game, especially in the lush vegetation of the jungle maps where you can vanish almost entirely amongst the bushes and trees.
Down The Mekong
This is all made possible by 7fx's own homebrew graphics engine, which is one of the most impressive we have seen in the genre so far, comfortably blowing away the likes of Counter-Strike, Operation Flashpoint and Ghost Recon when it comes to intricate scenery and plentiful plant-life.
Settings will range from the jungles of the Mekong river to a Pacific island missile base, taking in Siberia, the Hoover Dam and a stunning Middle Eastern seaside town along the way. In all there are twelve missions, which might not sound like a lot, but then how many Counter-Strike maps actually get used on a regular basis?
7fx seem to be going for quality over quantity when it comes to the missions, and what we have seen so far was certainly eye catching. The narrow maze-like streets of the Arabic coastal town in particular reminded us a little of CS-Italy, but with more detailed design work and the added bonus of a lovely view across the sea and a lighthouse for snipers to occupy. The jungle maps were also very impressive, with one featuring a rusting old railway bridge stretching across a valley, with a military camp huddled far below. If the gameplay can match the graphics then 7fx are surely on to a winner.
The good news is that the version of Team Factor which we saw was apparently 90% complete, and we can look forward to a demo release in the near future. With Operation Flashpoint already available and Team Factor, Ghost Recon and Global Operations all on the horizon, it looks like being a great year for tactical combat fans. Team Factor is probably the least well known of the three titles at this stage, but judging from what we saw at ECTS that may be about to change...