To Pwn or Not to Pwn – Offensive Combat Impressions

In the interest of being open, honest and transparent, I need to start this article with a particular statement.  I’m not a fan of deathmatch games.  I began with Quake or Unreal Tournament (I’m afraid I can’t remember which came first), then moved into Counter Strike.  Most recently, I’ve played Call of Duty, a little bit of Modern Warfare and Team Fortress 2.  When playing, I always feel like a rat in a maze, looking to blow holes into cheese.  The style and layout of the hallways may change, but in the end I’m still making swiss.

Offensive Combat has not been the game to change my mind about deathmatches.  It feels just like the dozens of other games I’ve played.  Yet, after playing for a few hours, I closed my browser and knew what makes this game good.

Let me repeat that.  I closed my browser.

Offensive Combat, made by U4iA Games, is a free-to-play first person shooter that lives entirely on the internet.  It’s true that it breaks no new ground, and feels just like another hall-wandering, cheese-shooting-fest.  Yet you don’t need to download or buy anything, and everything about the game feels like a shooter that has been bought and installed on your computer.  It controls like one, it looks like one and it plays like one. While this isn’t my genre of game, this fact alone makes it something to look at.

The look of the game is perhaps its biggest feature, aside from being browser-based.  Imagine the cell-shaded look of Borderlands and the characters from Loony Toons running head-first into each other, with an internet forum sitting in the middle.  All avatars can be customized in wild ways and after an hour’s play I was roaming around with a lizard head, giant monkey hands and robot feet.

How do you add all these customizations to your character?  There are two currencies that can be used in the game.  Coins are picked up throughout matches, while credits are bought with real money.  This currency can be used to buy game goodies, but a gun can cost about 80,000 coins to own.  Pricy!  Thankfully, there is also a rental system that allows you to temporarily try out stuff before you buy them for good.  It’s also completely possible to switch around different items on a rental basis for one day, seven days or 30 days (the different time limits of the rental system), and never buy anything at all.

Customization is not limited to your appearance.  Other options include Pwns and consumables.  A Pwn is an after-death taunt that nets you extra experience if you perform it over the lifeless corpse you just created.  This can be a standard teabag, a chicken dance (taken directly from Arrested Development) or playing an air guitar.  These taunts take extra time, and leave you vulnerable to attack, but come on!  Nothing sticks it to your opponent more than bouncing up and down over their corpse.

Consumables are pretty much what they sound like.  You have three slots to add limited-use abilities like health refills, the ability to mark the last foe that killed you, a speed boost for your entire team or slowing down the enemy’s team.  These consumables are used at different times throughout the match, and are context sensitive.  For example, low HP will get the health refill to kick in after a few seconds, while marking the enemy who killed you can be toggled once you’re dead.

There is yet more customization to be had, albeit a more technical kind.  Again, I want to stress this is a browser-based game.  However, you can rebind keys (a feature lacking in some games I’ve bought), change graphics settings and mouse sensitivity.  Really the only feature lacking is a FoV slider, and I hope U4iA Games can add this in at a later date.

Sadly, off-the-wall appearances don’t extend to guns.  While your melee weapon can be a standard combat knife or a rubber chicken, guns run the usual fare – assault or sniper rifle for your primary weapon; a shotgun, pistol or SMG for your secondary weapon; and various options for grenades like proximity mines and smoke grenades.  The guns are less ‘zany’, and almost all (with a few futuristic looking exceptions) seem taken directly out of a military shooter.

Looks aside, the guns (and game) feel amazing.  Shooting has the right amount of kick to make head shots feel like skill not surprise, and movement is equally seamless.  Running and jumping around needs knowledge of the map to know the best spots for cover, but you’re never fighting with the controls themselves to do so.  Players can focus on gaining a better understanding of the map without wrestling with the keyboard.  In many ways Offensive Combat reminded me of playing Counter Strike in its smooth movement and responsiveness – then I was shot and someone started to play the air guitar over my body, but the comparison still feels accurate.

Yet, Offensive Combat isn’t all tasty cheese; it has two significant flaws.  The first are load times.  The initial load can take a long time (it took me between one minute and four at different times), and changing from one map to another provides another lengthy wait.

The other problem is one of design and aesthetics.  I’ve mentioned that, compared to the avatar customization, the guns feel too standard.  Maps are similarly stale and, once again, feel taken directly out of another first person shooter – one that’s based in reality and has been cloned over and over again.

Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Capture Point (King of the Hill) are all game modes, but are also exactly what a player would expect.  Why not make Pwning a condition for victory?  Or create a mode that allows, or even encourages, shooting team members in the back?  I hope that U4iA games decide to add new and different game modes, instead of relying on what other games have done.

At the moment, Offensive Combat feels as if it is toeing the line between ridiculous and run of the mill; trying to play it safe.  I enjoyed the colourful characters and taunting my opponents with tasteless Pwns.  I just wish I could have seen the same creativity shown in the game’s other aspects.  All that being said, the game is still in closed beta with many changes still on the way.

I’m still not a big fan of death matches after playing Offensive Combat and if you’re looking to be converted, then this probably isn’t the game for you.  However, I also recognize my dislike is the minority and for the rest, this game will be great fun. Any criticisms, aside from loading times, were aesthetic in nature, and what more the game can do.  What exists right now, even in closed beta, is a game that offers the feel of a locally installed shooter, available entirely online.  For now, I’m going to jump back into the hall walking as a bipedal mouse.  I might have just developed a small taste for cheese after all.

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June 20, 2012 - 8:04 am