E3 2012: Dust 514 feels great on its growing battlefield

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Our previous glimpse at CCP Games’ upcoming free-to-play PlayStation 3 first-person shooter Dust 514 offered little more than a taste of the core mechanics. The map was a small one, and while there were plenty of other players to shoot out, the demo didn’t really capture the scope of the experience. CCP offered E3 2012 attendees a look at the larger game with a more spacious map, and one filled out by a variety of vehicle roadways and fixed emplacements. Outer space setting aside, it felt like on of the more sprawling Battlefield 3 maps, a feat which becomes more impressive when you realize that the ground covered in the E3 demo only amounts to a tiny portion of the planetary map that the battles unfolded on.

Players have the option of choosing a spawn location when they drop a soldier into battle, a process that involves looking over a map of the area for likely hotspots. Zooming the view out here reveals an enormous map, with the playable area cordoned off for the E3 demo not even accounting for one-eighth of the total landmass. The full, final game will open everything up, offering players unfettered access to the whole of the planet.

e3 2012 dust 514 feels great on its growing battlefield dust514 04Let’s back up. Dust 514 is a spin-off of CCP’s exceptionally popular EVE Online MMORPG, unfolding entirely within the bounds of the game’s single-shard universe. EVE is unique among MMOs for grouping all of its players into a single, shared space. There are no servers running identical versions of the game. There’s just EVE Online and its many players, all of whom are given a free hand by CCP to make the fictional galaxy their own. For some, that amounts to nothing more elaborate than being an interstellar trader. For others, it could involve joining the game’s troublemakers in trying to break the economy. CCP has built EVE Online to be self-sufficient and self-policing, and this process of putting the power into the hands of the players has, for the most part, worked.

Dust 514 carries that idea forward into a new genre and on a new platform. The idea in the MMOFPS is that each player-soldier on the ground is a gun-for-hire who is being paid by one of EVE‘s human-controlled corporations to complete an objective or set of objectives. In a perfect world this will amount to an ambitious scenario where players on the ground in the PS3 game will be aided in real time by their benefactors in EVE, who can offer tactical support like orbital strikes. The reality isn’t quite there yet, though the E3 demo did an admirable job of demonstrating how well the core mechanics work.

The lone map on offer for the show was set to an objective-based game in which two teams vied for control of three different control points. Scattered around the map along each faction’s front lines were a variety of anti-vehicle and anti-infantry turrets, emplacements that could all be hacked by any member of the opposing team and turned against its former owners. Vehicles are requisitioned by individual players rather than spawning in specific locations, and wide lanes provided easy access for everything from light personnel carriers to heavier tanks.

e3 2012 dust 514 feels great on its growing battlefield dust514 03The E3 demo unfortunately didn’t manage to capture a sense of the game’s scale, with only around 10 players participating out of the 32-player cap. There’s a lot of potential in the range of options available to you, however. Not just in the on-the-ground combat, but also in the cross-game MMO-to-FPS play and in the dangling carrot of unlockable gear that you’ll constantly be reaching for. A companion app that is coming to the PlayStation Vita will even offer players the opportunity to mess with their loadouts remotely.

None of which is particularly new information. The real takeaway from the E3 2012 hands-on is that Dust 514 continues to take shape as a serious challenger for the retail heavyweights in the online FPS world. The mechanics of running around and shooting at other players is only getting better, and the newly revealed larger map offers a compelling glimpse at the sorts of military sandboxes that fans can expect to see in the finished game.

Putting aside the collaborative features offered on the MMO side and just looking at the nuts and bolts of what CCP’s shooter is, it’s easy to compare Dust 514 with any number of other popular titles. The big diffeerence, of course, is that this game will be entirely free when it launches later this year. And so the pressure’s on for the developer’s of out most popular online FPS experiences, as players will soon be asking why they need to pay $60 for this multiplayer shooter or that one when they can get the same thing for free right on their console.