Dust 514 preview: Contractual murder

Here's that Gamescom preview where I tell you how shocked I was about a game I didn't expect to be all about. You've been warned. Still with me? Great. Dust 514, a first-person shooter MMO cross-platform experience from CCP Games, is without a doubt the biggest surprise for me of Gamescom. At the end of a long week of previewing dozens of games, I didn't expect to be blown away by the little hyped game from the Icelandic devs at CCP, but here we are.

As promised, Dust 514 ties the bizarre, often unbelievable world of EVE Online and its reality reflecting politics into an instanced first-person shooter MMO, seamlessly combining both games into a universe ("New Eden") that's been thriving for years now on PC. But CCP did more than offer lofty promises in a preview session I attended earlier today in a private hotel suite near Gamescom -- a team of devs from various CCP offices demonstrated the madness in real-time.

Make no mistake, Dust 514 is no Huxley. It's a very real MMOFPS with very deep economics and political systems tied to EVE Online, and it's already incredibly impressive, even though it's not set to launch until next summer.%Gallery-131217% As a CCP rep runs across a massive battlefield in Dust 514, he can see the enemy ship in the distance. In just one of the game's various multiplayer battles, teams of corporate contractors are progressing their command ship from one side of the map to the other, pushing towards various objectives along the way. And while the battle is interesting -- there's a variety of vehicles, people, and bullets as far as the eye can see -- it's the reason that the battle is happening that piques my interest.

A corporation somewhere has put out a contract on that planet for reasons unknown, and you're just a mercenary with an empty wallet looking to earn a quick buck. Only that corporation is run by actual human beings, and there could be any number of reasons that the contract has been placed. Moreover, that contract derives from an actual person who's using in-game cash to pay out other actual human beings who are completing the contract.

Ready for things to get more bananas? Let's say you're on a planet, shooting dudes with your space gun, and you need some assistance. Say, a series of high-powered laser beams from an orbital ship, just for example's sake. You could always ask your buddy who's sitting at his PC playing EVE Online to do just that by sending him the coordinates. And just like that, lasers rain from the sky, destroying that pesky tank that simply refused to stop firing missiles in your direction. That also happens in real-time via cross-platform chat.

Again, if I weren't watching the developers actually do this in front of me, I'd be reticent to point out how insanely impressive it was. But as the dev leading the demo progressed through the map, eventually taking the enemy ship and completing the contract, I found myself more and more shocked. The combat itself looked a bit rough, but the game is still a ways out and, for a game in pre-Alpha, it appeared more than competent, mechanically speaking. And though I wasn't shown in the demo, things will apparently get even more insane with a commander (another actual human being) taking control of the enormous command ship.

If it weren't already clear, I think you should be paying attention to Dust 514 over the next year. Beyond the compelling game, its base-level ties to all things EVE Online are a first in the console market. And with such a low price barrier to entry planned, I have high hopes that it'll bring a sea change in the way gamers see microtransaction-based games.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.