In a world of new approaches to old models that no longer make money, there’s been a huge movement toward the unlikely business model of “free.” In the past, there have been plenty of free-to-play games that rely on a dedicated community to fund them by purchasing items that offered distint gameplay advantages or access to otherwise unavailable content. Lately, though, games have just been released as completely free with a market of purchasable items or customization features that serve no benefit to the player aside from distinction from non-paying players. The developers and distributors over at Perfect World have been masters of this strategy for years, and they came to PAX Prime 2011 in full force with two free-to-play games that feel like they could be retail releases.
In the MMO department, Perfect World and WindySoft are bringing the cell-shaded goodness to multiplayer dungeon crawling. You’ll be able to grab four of your friends and take on a plethora of mobbing baddies to gain experience, loot, and some pretty visually-appealing combo animations.
While there are currently three playable characters, it seems clear that there will be plenty of content added as the game continues through the beta stage and will have no shortage of long-term support from the Perfect World team. Each character will play uniquely and have their own skills and weapon sets that will give them a distinct feel and plenty of replay value. The fighting system is fast-paced and engaging, as you’ll have plenty of enemies to deal with and even more ways to dispose of them. The game is mapped for the keyboard and for a standard game controller, and even trying to pull of magic movies on the game controller is easy. The button combinations are dynamic and you’ll never be reaching for something that will cost you to stop whatever you’re in the middle of just to pull off. There will be plenty of need for all the attacks that are at your finger tips, because you’ll occasionally find yourself in a totally randomly occurring battle with some unexpected monsters. These battles will pop up at the end of a dungeon and present you with a chance to regain some of your missed scores for cash and items along the way. It’ll save you a replay to try to gather more loot; That is, if you can survive the fight.
The game will include a full PvP system and parties that are easily joinable so you can start swinging your way through dungeons with your friends. The party loot is handled with clever feature to distribute important items: a roulette system. When a unique drop occurs, a wheel will pop up and spin to decide who lands with the item. With normal drops, you’ll just be able to run up and pick it up.
The game is currently in closed beta, and is one of the largest betas that Perfect World has ever put together. Player feedback is regularly checked and taken into account and the guys at Perfect World are looking to make Rusty Hearts an entry into the MMO world that cannot be ignored. There’s no shortage of content and unique takes that will make Rusty Hearts stand out in a flooded market.
On the FPS side, Perfect World is acting as distributor for Zombie Inc.’s Blacklight: Retribution. The game is a sequel to their previous release, Blacklight: Tango Down, and it’s clear that Zombie Inc. isn’t pulling any punches with this one.
When talking to the developer of the game, he immediately brought up the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises. It was clear to them that games like those ran the FPS market, and the way to compete with them isn’t to do so head on. Instead, they’re hoping the free-to-play method will lure a few hardcore gamers to give them a shot and grab plenty of casual gamers that don’t want to drop $60 every 12 months and then $10-20 regularly on downloadable content to try to keep up.
There must be something to this approach, because Blacklight: Retribution was in full effect at several booths around PAX Prime, including a couple eSports booths where the game was featured in competitive play. Gamers seemed to have a blast while they were playing, as Blacklight: Retribution has some clever elements that changes the way the FPS is played.
First and foremost, the game has a feature that allows you to see through walls with Hyper Reality Vision. It seems absurd, but it’s an effective death for the ever-prevalent camper issue and is surprisingly balanced. Your vision of what is directly in front of you becomes rather skewed, as it breaks down to a blueprint-like view. Your enemy will appear highlighted to differentiate them from the environment around them, and you’ll be able to see them on the opposite site of any solid object. You’ll have to return to your standard vision to go track down your prey and get your kill.
Along with the camper-prevention vision, there is another unique feature of the game that creates a type of gameplay that adds a new layer to the battle. There is a purchase system built into each game similar to Counter-Strike, where you earn cash with kills and can purchase new weaponry and equipment throughout the round. However, there is a suit that can be obtained with a certain amount of cash that will turn you into a massive, destructive robot called Hardsuits. You’ll have increased health and be equipped with something that can only be described as “big ass guns.” To keep it balanced, you’ll have a randomly selected weak spot that the enemy will have to target, and they’ll be able to hone in on it with their Hyper Reality Vision. There’s an element of strategy added in if the other team decides to use flamethrowers, which will kill you but keep your Hardsuit in tact for use by whoever grabs it.
Blacklight: Retribution may be a free-to-play FPS, but it’s not to be counted out. If there is anything that Perfect World is setting out to do with this, it’s to prove that F2P games can provide just as much competition as the big names. They’re making their point with a big splash, and it’s looking like Blacklight: Retribution may have legs in the eSports world. Even if you’re not looking for competition, who’s not going to have fun in a big ass robot?