I should explain something before I get into talking about an intriguing new game that you can play on Facebook: I don’t like Facebook games. I don’t hate them, mind you. I’m not anti-Facebook gaming… I wouldn’t march in a protest against them or anything, I just prefer consoles, PCs, handhelds, and the odd mobile game. When I receive invites to play games on Facebook from my friends, I don’t blame them for spamming me with invites – there is usually some in-game benefit to them inviting me like more credits or the like – but I usually ignore them. I may also judge them a bit, at least the ones that I can’t convince to play titles like Portal 2, but who have no problem spending hours and days playing Bejeweled Blitz. I like Bejeweled and all, but come on.
So believe me when I tell you that I was as surprised as anyone to find myself writing about how impressed I was with Rumble Entertainment’s Ballistic, a first-person shooter developed by Brazilian studio Aquiris, that you can play through Facebook with no download client. During GDC I was invited to try the game out for myself, and while an embargo prevented me from talking about it, I really wanted to.
On its surface, it’s a traditional first-person shooter, and that includes all the familiar tropes. It doesn’t have an especially deep progression system or weapons library, but the levels are big and well designed, the gameplay is smooth responsive, and it’s incredibly convenient. Aquiris and Rumble have claimed that they are bringing AAA quality gameplay to Facebook and browsers, and I’m hard pressed to contradict them.
If you were presented with the game in its raw form with no explanation, it would be an average FPS, reminiscent of many other free-to-play shooters. Intriguing perhaps, but maybe not remarkable. What makes it stand out is that it will be available instantly to play, with no download client required, and almost any computer (within reason) can play it with ease. You just open the app in Facebook and you are in, or you can go to Rumble’s website and play from there. It certainly isn’t the most sophisticated shooter out there, but it is arguably the most accessible – or will be when it is released. It’s currently in beta in Brazil, and will begin beta in the U.S. this Spring.
The game will offer traditional FPS gameplay modes, including: Deathmatch, Capture Points (akin to Domination), and King of the Hill. The games are all team based, which should further help encourage you to bring your own Facebook friends into the fold. Running the Unity Engine, Ballistic is easily among the best looking browser games ever made. The looks are a minor issue though compared to the gameplay, and that is where the game excels. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it offers an excellent experience in a way that is very, very easy to use.
Ballistic isn’t a jump forward for the genre, nor will it convince people to abandon their consoles and PC games in favor of it. What it does though, it does incredibly well. It offers gamers looking for a quick diversion the option of casually jumping into a game built around one of the most popular genres in the world, and it does so without forcing you to do much more than open a Facebook page. Countless hours are going to be lost to this game, as people planning to just jump on and play a game or two find themselves hooked. More importantly, however, may be what it signifies.
Casual and social games have generally been looked down on to a degree by hardcore gamers, at least in the sense that they are generally viewed as lesser offerings. They are games to play to pass the time until you can get back to a “proper” gaming system. The casual games haven’t been able to mimic traditional AAA games, so they have had to develop within the limited confines of the platform. If developers can continue to push existing hardware and software in order to put out games that are every bit as good as existing AAA titles, then the gaming industry just got a whole lot more interesting, and hundreds of millions of users may suddenly be introduced to the addictive world of competitive FPS gaming.
It might take a while – years at least – before platforms like Facebook and web browers can hope to truly rival console and PC AAA releases, and honestly, it may never happen; gaming hardware is sophisticated and designed specifically for gaming, so the industry is always advancing. But if Facebook and the like can offer a comparable facsimile, a new era in gaming may be about to begin.