OCC E3 2012 AwardsClayMeow -
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Best Free-to-Play Game
Winner: DUST 514 (PS3)
When someone mentions free-to-play multi-player shooter, what do you imagine? Aside from rare exceptions such as the excellent Team Fortress 2, I wouldn't be surprised if what you had in mind consisted mainly of browser-based or translated Asia-made games. Enter the world of DUST 514. Ever heard of Eve Online? With over 400,000 subscribers and a grand galaxy of star systems inhabited by communities of players, Eve is definitely one of the more robust massively multi-player games available. DUST 514 is a first-person shooter set in this persistent world. Probably one of the more ambitious games shown at E3, the actions and outcomes of DUST 514 will directly affect players of Eve Online. Set on giant maps akin to Battlefield, the goal of your team is to take control of the same territories and planets of Eve in real time. Winning means immediate success for the Eve Online players whose side you're fighting on. What's special is that the persistent world also works in the reverse way; Eve Online players can send resources, hire extra DUST 514 players, or even summon airships in the midst of battle to turn the tide of the war below. It's definitely a unique concept and will probably change the way developers look at future cross-platform games. I will be keeping my eye on this one, especially with an awesome price tag of $0.
Runner-Up: Hawken (PC)
Made with the ever-popular Unreal Engine 3, Hawken is probably one of the most beautiful free-to-play games I have seen. It only took one gameplay demo for me to notice a level of polish akin to a full-priced title. Possibly because it was originally developed as a retail game, Hawken is now free-to-play and that's what matters. At its heart, Hawken is a first-person mech game, combining the realistic style of the West and the arcade style of the East. The standard modes are there – deathmatch, team deathmatch – but the developers at Adhesive Games are promising several unique ones, including the base-destroying Siege mode. Like other F2P games, customization is a focus here; Hawken features three mech classes and the ability for the player to mix and match armor and weapons between them. Best of all, each class will have its own skill tree, which allows the player to progress as they play a certain way. The number of maps have not be announced yet (although the developers are promising varied locales), but what is shown has been impressive so far. It doesn't bring much new to the table for the genre, but for a free-to-play title, it definitely stands out among the rest. Open beta begins on 12/12/12, so it's not long before everyone can get their hands on this impressive shooter.
Winner: Hawken (PC)
The free-to-play market has exploded like no other gaming segment has over the last year or two. Plenty of subscription MMOs have switched or will soon switch to an F2P model, but other games will be using the same idea. My free-to-play winner has to Hawken, but it was a tough choice between this and the runner-up. Hawken sees you fighting in fully customizable mechs from a first-person perspective, with no two mechs looking or behaving exactly the same. The game is being built on Unreal Engine 3 and looks simply stunning. The action is fast-paced, the movement of the mechs actually looks like you are in control of many tons of destruction, and what person can resist a mech game? Hawken will release on December 12th this year, so I think I know what I will be doing to escape during the holidays.
Runner-Up: MechWarrior Online (PC)
Like I said, it was a tough choice between Hawken and my runner-up in the F2P category, but I had to put MechWarrior Online just below Hawken. That is not a slight on MechWarrior Online by any means, just that I had to choose only one winner. MechWarrior Online is one of two MechWarrior games in development (the other being MechWarrior Tactics), but this one looks to capture the essence of the past games perfectly. It is built using CryENGINE 3 and should look absolutely stunning when it launches, but there is not a whole lot known on the game yet. We do know you can form a lance (four-man squads) and customize your mechs however you like, an upgrade system is present just like the past games, and it will be from the first-person perspective, but I just need to know more about it and how it will handle compared to the past games.
Winner: PlanetSide 2 (PC)
PlanetSide 2 is a massively multi-player online first-person shooter set in a persistent world featuring three player-controlled factions. Players battle for control of various battlegrounds using a variety of weapons and vehicles , with up to hundreds of players battling at any one time. There are a ton of different stats that are tracked and leaderboards, along with a variety of customization options, not just for characters, but for vehicles as well. But most importantly for a free-to-play game, though items can be bought for real money, all items that affect gameplay (such as weapons) can also be purchased using in-game currency. In other words, this is not one of those dreaded pay-to-win games. The other appealing aspect is that the game is running on an in-house, built-from-scratch, PC-exclusive engine, designed specifically to handle PS2. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) is still working on optimizing the game, shooting for a solid 60 frames per second even with hundreds of customized player on the screen at once (no small task), but an engine built for that purpose is certainly the right step. SOE also has a long pedigree of MMO development, so network and server stability should be of little concern.
Runners-Up: RaiderZ (PC), Hawken (PC)
If you're looking for a free-to-play game that's more of a traditional MMO, look no further than RaiderZ. Many people cringe when they hear "F2P MMORPG", with visions of horrible, poorly translated Asian MMOs from back in the day. But the free-to-play landscape has drastically changed over the past few years, offering up Triple-A quality titles without a mandatory price tag. RaiderZ is visually stunning, with varied environments and over-the-top monsters and weaponry. Combat is very active with dodges and parries, and monsters can be quite brutal, throwing you or even eating you alive. PlanetSide 2 may be more unique, but RaiderZ is certainly shaping up to be a quality F2P MMORPG.
Maybe you're not looking for either a MMOFPS or MMORPG? Don't worry, developer Adhesive Games has you covered with its upcoming free-to-play mech combat game, Hawken. Being developed on Unreal Engine 3, what sets Hawken apart from other mech combat games is its fast pace and accessibility. These aren't your slow-moving monstrosities with complicated control systems. Even then larger mechs are extremely fast and Adhesive Games has worked hard to make it accessible to everyone. As of now, the maps have been designed to be optimally played 5v5 to 8v8 (this is not an MMO). It should be noted that that limitation is not a tech limitation, it's simply the number of players where the pacing of the game matches what they're going for. It's quite possible, if demand is there, that larger maps are created for more massive battles. Like PlanetSide 2, anything affecting gameplay can be earned by playing the game, with most micro-transactions focusing on aesthetics. If you have any interest in mech combat or are simply looking for a slightly different shooter experience, you'll definitely want to keep you eye on Hawken. The open beta will begin 12/12/12.