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With 7.5M users in Russia, Crytek’s free-to-play shooter Warface is coming to the U.S. (preview)

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Crytek is bring its Warface first-person shooter online game to the U.S. soon. This is all about taking triple-A-quality shooting games and reinventing them as low-barrier, free-to-play titles that you can play with minimal hassle on a wide variety of hardware. It’s the kind of game that you can play at work while you’re goofing off, or, rather, on a lunch break.

The game has already been live in Russia for almost a year, and it has more than 7.5 million users who play it for free. In the U.S., Trion Worlds will publish the game for Germany-based Crytek while Tencent will take the game to consumers in China. Nexon will deploy it elsewhere in Asia. In the U.S., Crytek is staging a couple of closed betas, and then it will launch an open beta in the not-so-distant future, said Cevat Yerli, the chief executive of Crytek.

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Warface, a modern combat game set in the near future, is a big bet for Crytek. Yerli has said that his company will make the transition from disk-based triple-A retail games like Crysis 3 to always-connected, free-to-play online games in the next five years. The quality isn’t as good as the single-player version of Crysis 3, which is Crytek’s flagship disk-based PC game.

But Warface is based on the CryEngine, which naturally provides great graphics and flexible development. Developing with speed is critical in free-to-pay gaming.

Yerli repeated his assertion that free-to-play will rule again in an interview with GamesBeat yesterday.

Executive producer Joshua Howard said at an event yesterday that concurrency rates in Russia continue to climb, with more than 145,000 users on a single server. The game is designed to run on laptops that are 2 or 3 years old as well as the latest high-end gaming PCs.

Yerli said that he began thinking about the foundation for games like Warface years ago when he visited South Korea. He watched people playing games in Internet cafes around the clock for hours at a time with their friends. He wanted to create a game that encourages such social behavior around the world.

We had a look at Warface at a preview event. Unfortunately, the venue suffered from considerable lag with its Internet connection, and the build crashed on us as well. So we didn’t have a fair test of exactly how well Warface will play. But we played it enough to get some general impressions.

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The Warface tutorial

The game is supposed to be a lot more accessible than your typical first-person shooter. So it comes with a tutorial that gently introduces you to the gameplay.

The tutorial shows you how to handle a gun and move. It shows you the basics of playing as a rifleman, or all-around soldier, who can supply ammo to other players; a medic, who can heal others; a sniper, who can take out enemies from afar; and an engineer, who can equip bombs and other heavy ordnance. The classes are designed to be well-balanced. The sniper needs protection and can’t fight well at close range. The medic  is lightly armed. The soldier is vulnerable to snipers. You can go through the tutorial playing each of the roles or just move into a live game.

The game is social in a couple of ways. If your buddy gets knocked down, you can pick him up with a “raise” function. You can help your friends get to higher elevations through the “climb” function, where you pull a buddy up a wall and vice versa. You can slide and shoot as you maneuver through the world.

You do a one-time download of the game, and then you never have to wait a long time again. That means you won’t be hit with continuous downloads that stall the game and turn off the casual player. The game runs like a browser game, but the look is lot more sophisticated. You can play in “versus” mode or “cooperative” play.

“The game itself is familiar enough so that a beginner can jump in and play, but it has enough of its own style and authenticity to stand on its own,” Howard said.

You can play it in long sessions or during short breaks. I’d agree that it’s easy to get into and figure out what you need to do in the game.

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The Gface social platform

You can easily register on Crytek’s Gface online gaming network user interface. Gface is a social platform that can connect people in a game like Warface or in other games that Crytek will deploy on the network. Players can sign up without entering a credit card. The game is independent of the monetization model. Gface makes it easy to install a game, and you don’t have to spend a dime to play it. One of the virtual currencies available in the game can only be earned through exploits on the battlefield.

The Gface online gaming network created by Crytek is aimed at making it easier for players to step into a multiplayer world. It has a library of free-to-play games, not a store, that simplifies the process of downloading and updating a game. If you come back to a game, the title boots as if you’re playing it in a browser.

warface 7As you return to Gface, you log in. Then you can join your friends in a social chat and then immediately jump into a game with all of them. You can buy a new kind of weapon and give it as a gift to a friend.

“That brings social to a game,” Yerli said. “It’s a new social platform built for high-quality online games. It’s about connecting with friends and meeting your friends. The gaming of the future means you are never alone.”

You can purchase virtual currency in Gface, but that will get you shiny weapons, not victory. You can’t buy your way to winning. But Howard had a good point. Once you get your friends on Gface, it’s easier to get them to try new things. It’s free, so people are more likely to experiment and give it a shot. After all, the price is right.

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Warface gameplay

One of the very useful functions in the game is your ability to change the custom options on your gun in the middle of a firefight. You can switch scopes to a long-range sniping scope or attach a grenade launcher to take out enemies who are bunched together.

You can just hit “c” on the keyboard and customize your barrel, undercarriage, or scope. I played a bunch of rounds where the object was to take a bomb to a location and set it off. The opposing team tried to stop us.

Other players had no problems firing accurately. They took me out with a shot or two during first encounters on a regular basis. I wasn’t used to shooting with a mouse and keyboard. Eventually, I warmed up and started dishing back. I couldn’t figure out if the game movements were actually a little slow or if the lag in our venue was the problem. So I’ll reserve judgment on that. But the pace of the game definitely seemed a notch below the fastest shooters.

We played on a fairly conventional combat map, with multiple-story buildings, lots of walls, and all sorts of corners. At first, I had trouble drawing a bead on other players. The guns have a lot of kick, so they’re not so accurate when you’re spraying bullets. Over time, you can work your way up to better, more accurate guns.

The experience wasn’t nearly as good as playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II in multiplayer combat on the Xbox 360. On the other hand, it’s a free-to-play game. It might be just good enough for a lot of fans out there.

So far, Warface has a long way to go before it can claim to be the equivalent “console quality,” particularly at a time when the consoles are going through a refresh cycle. But Yerli is undaunted. He said that the company will continuously update Warface and, five years from now, it will be a very different game that may be able to fulfill the company’s dream.


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