This review is constructed on a slope. No matter what we start talking about with this online first-person shooter, we're going to spiral down towards talking about pricing plans. Because - y'know - that's actually what's most important about the game, what's the closest it gets to being unique and the main issue on whether you actually want to play it or not. So, no matter what, we're going to end up sounding like accountants.
This is because War Rock is free to play.
As I said, more later.
Its payment system being unique isn't tricky when the vast amount of it is so derivative. Without anything single-player - even the tutorial appears to involve creating a private room online - it takes liberally from the two big boys of PC shooting. Counter-Strike and Battlefield 2.
(And, as a random aside, has anyone else been amused by the culture clash on YouTube video comment threads between fans of Counter-Strike: Source (CSS) and fans of fashionable Brazilian indie-dance hair-cut band Cansei De Ser Sexy (CSS) as each one disrupts the other's searches for videos of people camping with sniper rifles and lovefoxx jumping up and down respectively?)
In other words, it's a team-based shooter with a quasi-realistic approach (i.e. shots tend to kill quickly, guns are modelled on the real thing, forums full of people discussing how pretty 5.56mm bullets are). The game's modelled around three main game modes - a small arenas for direct team confrontations with a mixture of CS-esque bomb-planting and straight free-for-all, middle-sized ones which add vehicles and some flag-capturing to the game, and the largest which have 32 players with a load more vehicles and (er) more flag-capturing.
Perhaps obviously from those descriptions, at small scales, it's most like Counter-Strike. At larger ones, it's most like Battlefield 2. However, it's also taken the levelling process from Battlefield. The longer you play, the more you raise in rank. However, here, it actually means persistence. Certain weapons can only be used upon achieving a certain place. If you choose to "be" the Heavy Weapon trooper, at the initial levels, you're limited to RPGs and SAMs and other three-letter acronyms. If you've managed to grind up to level 16, you can bring a mini-gun along and pretend to be a god-damn sexual Tyranosaurus and not having enough time to bleed. However, you don't actually get the weapon option upon achieving it - instead, you have to purchase it from a shop with the money you've earned from successful play. And even then, it's not keepsies. You rent the weapon for a week (or month, which is cheaper) of play, having to repay the money if you want to keep using it. Essentially, it's Counter-Strike's capitalism model as applied to an MMO.
At a basal level, it's actually passably entertaining. The guns all carry punch, and feel agreeably vicious. Combat can involve a degree of tactics, with positioning being of import and... oh, let's stop being polite. It primarily works because it's copying two of the better FPS games of the last decade. What's actually more telling is how they've got something wrong.
For example, take the small-scale CS-bomb-planting missions. As a (hnngh) newbie I found myself the subject of a kick-vote for what I realised... was planting the bomb. In practice, no-one plants the bomb. These sorts of maps are generally so small that a player can reach a site and set up the explosives without much effort, so triggering a final countdown. What makes it worse is that rather than one player being the bomb-carrier, everyone on that side has one. So anyone can do it. When you have players actively scorning the rules of your level, something has gone awry.
(Not that kick-votes are anything too rare. As much as the vast majority of FPS communities, there's constant kick votes on players when one person decides another is cheating. Or lagging. Or has an unusual username. As you can image, it's typically welcoming to new players. In fact, it's probably a little more teenage-hormonal than most in that respect, for reasons to do with its payment scheme, which we'll get to eventually)
To take a second example, have a look at the medic class. They're able to heal other players, but they have a second use. When you get hit by bullets, you end up bleeding. Eventually, if you don't receive any medical treatment, you'll end up bleeding out and dying. A medic can prevent this. Sounds fair enough, in a realism-is-all way. Except, psychologically, it's incredibly depressing. There's nowhere near as much as close-team action in open play as BF2, so the chances of a medic helping you is fairly slim - especially if you're off doing something sneaky. In BF2, a medic's presence is a positive - in that he can save your life once you've been killed. In War Rock, their absence is a negative - in that if they're not around, a minor hit can turn into a sudden death. Positive feedback versus negative feedback. The latter is, usually, less fun. It's certainly true in this case.
Let's be fair: there's a couple of things I really like about War Rock. Firstly, the motorcycles, which add an agreeably careering Kick-Star feel to the game. Sure, you're going to be shot to death, but lining up for enormous jumps is genuinely fun. Secondly, the dive button, sending your character into a forward roll like a paramilitary Link. Limited to a few rolls in a row, it's a much less avoidance tactic than the traditional bunny-hopping. Good work.
Well, good work for them. There's plenty of rough edges to the game. For example, obvious big exploits in a few levels. The sight of half your team crawling out of the map is a tad depressing. The training section isn't even working at the time of writing. It'll be fine for an early edition of a mod. But - y'know - this isn't a mod.
Anyway - to the payment scheme. It's free. Download, play, level up your character, as you will. However, if you want to get the most of it, you actually have to pay a subscription fee. Three packages (Bronze, Silver and Gold costing US$ 5.95, US$ 9.95 and US$ 15.95 respectively) offer increasing amounts of bonuses. All of them let you play the full range of maps (some are closed off to non-paying players) and give you bonus XP and a free influx of money to spend without having earned it in-game (more for the higher packages) and the special area of the shop which lets you buy an extra weapon slot (which the Gold package gets for free). If you're Silver, you also get to create private rooms for players, with Gold also able to custom-name 'em.
It's also available in a package in the shop. RRP is twenty quid, but you can get on Amazon for eight. It's basically the free client, plus a month of the Gold contract and some exclusive weapons. At the current exchange rate, it's clear you shouldn't buy it in a shop for anything approaching the RRP.
In fact, the nagging question is why on earth should a second-rate FPS game that's so indebted to its peers - and one of which, in the case of BF2, does a persistent character thing for free - think it can get away with demanding a subscription fee for any of its content?
Answer: It really can't.