Combat Arms Review: Pt 2, The Game

In my previous post “Combat Arms Review: Pt 1, Nexon and the business proposition” covering Nexon’s online First Person Shooter (FPS) game Combat Arms (CA), I covered the general economic model and the attraction for playing this very comprehensive of “free games”.

This 2nd part of the review is looking now to the game mechanic and the strengths/weaknesses of the platform and community. Specifically:

  1. Is the gameplay any good?
  2. How good is the user interface?
  3. What is the community like?

I’ve been playing first person shooters for a very long time, albeit I don’t profess to being particularly good at them. I still have a zipped up version of the original Wolfenstein and Duke Nukem for a historical laugh. Similarly aged FPS players like myself have a chuckle that as we upgraded our machines from 386 proccessors to 486 architecture, we would turn off the “turbo” button to slow the computer down so that they could comfortably play the game in its original game state. A whole new world was unveiled with the arrival of the Pentium Processors of the day. I’ve been in businesses which played networked versions of Doom, Counterstrike, different versions of Quake, Unreal Tournament 2004 & 2007.

Ironically enough I never got into Call of Duty or the Battlefield 1942 type of games, being what I class as just a “casual gamer”,  I just never quite had a computer “fast enough” to run such heavy duty graphics and support the game play comfortably and always seemed to be 2 versions of Direct X behind what was current and more to the point what my computer and video card could support.

Recent times, though I’ve managed to get a laptop with a solid state hard drive, which has made a huge difference in terms of my gaming ability, connected to a decent external monitor. This led me to my search for different first person shooters that were free and had reasonable graphics and gameplay which would entice me to play on a semi regular basis.

Is the gameplay any good?
If you like Counterstrike, you’ll like CA. Set in modern times, there is an array of maps and assorted weaponry which is accessible to all players. The ranking system is modeled after the US Military, with some variation at the upper echelon ranks. As discussed previously, as you progress through each rank, gaining experience you are allowed access to different maps and more importantly, different GP (Gear Point) based weapons of varying types and capabilities.

When you first start off life in the CA world, you are the rank of T = Trainee, having to go through the mandatory training and orientation battles. When I joined a couple of years back, they didn’t have this orientation, instead throwing you in the deep end into the battle servers instead. There are an array of servers available – at the time of writing, I’m playing on the US based servers and I tend to spend most of my time on Server West. Within Server West, there are a number of different servers groups – Alpha, Bravo, Foxtrot, Black Market and Papa – each with an array of game play servers underneath that you can join. Access to these servers is based on either your rank or your KDR = Kill Death Ratio or in some cases both. Starting off life as a modest T= Trainee and than graduating to P = Private, you start with a KDR of 1.00. KDR is calculated by your number of kills divided by your number of deaths (yours). So if for example you manage to kill 20 people in a game, but die 15 times, your KDR = 20/15 = 1.25. If conversely you kill 15, but die 20 times, your KDR = 15/20 = 0.75. Really, anything above 0.85 is considered pretty good.

Gameplay itself is simple – you pick a room, with the appropriate game mode you want to play and join it. With up to 16 players (multiplayer) in the same room, games in general are surprisingly lag free. I play at home over my home wireless and ADSL and don’t have any problems. In game, graphics is fluid, and very much focused on rapid, real time decision making, skill and good representation of graphics. This to me is the appeal of CA – the gameplay is very enjoyable, as on the whole, everyone is there to have a good time. In game chat options are 1/All 2/Team or 3/Clan, which you can interface with via either keyboard or voice microphone/headphones.

On the whole, I spend the bulk of my time playing Elimination, as I find that, particularly when you are playing with some friends, it is the most enjoyable from a casual gaming perspective, as you can work together.  There are a number of game modes:

Elimination: Which is you and a group of team mates against an opposing force of similar numbers. The game has a target number of kills e.g. 140 and its the first team to get there, which wins. Each time you kill, it adds to an overall game tally of “kills”, each time you die, you re-spawn about 5 seconds later and continue on, accruing a “death” = hence the capability to calculate a KDR. Probably the most popular of the game types.

Elimination Pro: Tougher. Again, you are separated into teams, but if you die, you don’t re-spawn – get a second life until the round ends. The game lasts as long as a team has a player in the field, who remains alive, with the winning team that which has the last player standing. Games on big maps can last for ages, as you run around “hiding” and trying to get a clear line of sight with the enemy, without them getting a bead on you. Much less forgiving of mistakes and tends to be played by better KDR players, who fave higher powered weapons i.e. shotguns, sniper rifles or have particularly good aiming accuracy.

Fireteam: You verses the computer and hoards of either a/ Zombies or b/ Computer controlled players. There are limited maps being available in this mode, those being Cabin Fever, Desert Storm, or Desert Fox. Team work rules the day here – much harder to play as a lone gunman, you will get over run and swamped by the opposition in a matter of minutes.

Quarantine: A variant of Fireteam, you have a time limit to destroy all the Zombie hoards attacking you from all points of the game – played on a limited set of maps, you have the opportunity to “hole” up in specific places. Again, a heavy emphasis on team play to defeat the enemy overall. My least favourite mode.

Capture the Flag: 2 spawn points, 2 flags, get the oppositions flag and return it to your spawn point. Simple.

One Man Army: As the name suggests, everyone to themselves. Weaponry and skill rule the day here.

How good is the user interface?
When you log into the platform, navigation around the servers is pretty straight forward – there are different areas where you can gather on the server to take part in community chat, there’s a section to look at your game character and fit out the weapons you accrue over time. In the 2 or so years I’ve been playing the game, the Nexon guys haven’t rested on their laurels – every 6 months or so, they update the game interface, based no doubt on analytics of what people are looking at and where they are spending their time. Each time they have upgraded the interface, I’ve been really happy with the evolutionary changes and incremental functionality introductions/deletions – it’s all very logical and straight forward.

In game play, user interface is the classic FPS keyboard/mouse combination which can be specifically configured to your own requirements i.e. invert the mouse so that forward is up and reverse is down or change the firing keys etc. Sensitivity in game can also be altered too in game which is nice, when you want to tweak your settings to a sniper type game where you want slow movements verses a Close Quarters Combat (CQB) battle with high sensitivity.

Game play is full screen and the array of information around the screen is clear an unobtrusive. I think this is where Nexon really got it right in the game play – I’ve since downloaded and tried a few of the other games that are available in the space like  Operation 7, Cross Fire etc but they just don’t have (In my humble opinion) as good a user interface in terms of design or usability. It makes a serious difference when you’re running around a map and someone is taking snipes at you, how easy it is to read and interact with the user interface.

What is the community like?
I’ve mentioned that games can have up to 16 players in them – if you play regularly enough, you often get to know players by their call sign, as they tend to log in the same time as yourself and you can get chatting to them. If you find a particularly good bunch of people to play with, you can join a “clan” which is a collective of people who play under the same team or clan name. There are some distinct advantages to this, not least of all co-ordinated game play. The camaraderie that occurs during a clan match with like minded team mates is also a lot of fun. Clan War’s between 2 opposing clans, with both clans communicating on their own private channels to each other during the middle of a game takes the gameplay and complexity of the game to a whole different level – it is fantastic, the blend of tactics, skill and thinking involved.

A by product of clan wars, is that clans are sectioned off into levels – Level 1 can have a maximum of 10 players, Level 2 = 20, Level 3 = 30 and so on. With the accrual of each level (by way of clan war matches) the clan members can access different weaponry and armament which is wholly unavailable from the store or via ranking up through the levels as an individual.

I’m the member of a clan which is quite small – only 8 members, but because we are all based in Australia and play at similar times, each time we log on its nice to have people around. It’s an adult clan – we’re all got kids and mortgages and chat about real world things over voice chat – with the common thread of interest being the game itself. Playing a clan war in a co-ordinated way is a whole lot of fun, particularly on the bigger maps and in the team mode maps like capture the flag etc.

Overall, if you like FPS – I’d highly recommend giving this game a go, particularly if you have an office environment where there are network games on a Friday night – it’s great fun.