Joystiq hands-on: Combat Arms

We recently had the chance to check out Combat Arms, the free-to-play online FPS brought to US shores by Nexon of America. Nexon is best known in the states for its unique side-scrolling MMORPG Maple Story. Despite the company's grounding in the MMO genre, Nexon chooses to see itself as a purveyor of online games in general. From online racing in Kart Rider to virtual karaoke in Audition, the company publishes or develops a multitude of multiplayer experiences. Its extension to first-person shooters, in that light, makes a great deal of sense.

What's surprising is not that Nexon has chosen to jump into the FPS genre, but that the offering is as good as it is. The company has combined elements of mindless combat shooters like XIII with the multiplayer tactical orientation of a game like Counter-Strike. In doing so, it's delivered a title that can be as explosion- or strategy-focused as players want. And, of course, it wouldn't be Nexon without some unique twists -- namely, the incorporation of its successful microtransaction-based business model.

We spoke with Min Kim, Nexon's VP of Marketing, and Herb Yang, Combat Arms product manager, to get a full understanding of what the title had to offer. We talked at length about game elements like patching and gameplay while taking on the developers in a few matches.

Min Kim: What we are trying to do is to emphasize socialization. If you look at American FPS games, they all kind of look pretty similar. We saw on the Korean market games coming out that, from a Counter-Strike player's perspective, were kind of sub-par. Frankly I didn't think that they were that great. But the funny thing is, you play where your friends are. And that's where people are playing with their friends, because they added all these customization features. Guild names and other things that just weren't in the original Counter-Strike. I think that opened up a totally different market for first person shooters. Probably the biggest game in South Korea right now is an online FPS. You don't really think FPS games when you think Korea, but that's the case.

One of the things that I think that really worked for them is that they made the game more casual. FPS games are very hardcore; it is a very precise and difficult thing to do. When I first started playing them, I didn't enjoy them because they weren't all that exact, too easy. But for a casual audience that makes a lot of sense. It is a lot more fun versus having to pinpoint every single shot and getting your butt kicked.

Herb Yang: We have about six maps in the game right now. We are probably going to be releasing one in a couple of months, and we have four different game modes. We are going to be adding more game modes in the future as well. You can tweak a lot of the settings, as well. You can set no explosives, pistols only whatever. There are really a lot of different game options that you can play.

Despite the differences, this game obviously borrows a lot from Counter-Strike both in customization and the community features. Your character over to the left can be customized with pretty much with most modern day weapons. We are going to be adding weapons with each batch as well. But right now there are about 30. Each weapon can also be customized with other weapon mods.

Because this is geared more towards the casual user we don't want to limit you in terms of classes. You can play with whatever weapons that you like. Some of these body items have functionality too. All our weapons and items, we can buy them through the in-game currency. GP is the in game currency. A lot of people get confused – they think you are paying cash to buy weapons and gear. You're not; everything that has any sort of functional game benefit is going to be purchased or obtainable by any player even if you don't spend any cash.

Gallery: E308: Nexon America studio tour

Min Kim: And that is one of the approaches we take with all of our games. We look at each game we've put out before, whether it's Maple Story or Kart Rider, and thought about Combat Arms to figure out what the commercialization model should be. So for Combat Arms, because it is a first person shooter, we know that weapons are sort of at the core of the game. There is no magic gun that you can buy.

We have a bunch of different options, to figure out if you like this gun or that gun. GP is gained through playing matches. So every match you play you are going to gain a certain amount of GP. Depending on what sort of match type the formula skews you toward the different objectives. So if you are playing capture the flag you won't get as much GP from just killing people.

Essentially you are renting the gun for the day, or a few days. If you make enough money that day to kind of get beyond your costs, you make a profit. I don't think anyone would buy like all the guns just to use in one day because you would never make all that money back. I think that adds sort of an RPG inventory management system element to the game. Plus, you can actually pick up any weapon off the ground. That is another good way to try out a weapon for no cost.

Herb Yang: Plus, certain of our items you can only get once you achieve a certain rank. These flash bangs you can't get until rank 6 or something. The weapon mods aren't locked based on your rank, though. We want to make sure that the mods are balanced for fairness. Even higher ranked players don't get an advantage over lower ranked players then. As you look at all of these weapon mods they have like penalties associated with benefits. It's a sort tradeoff. The way we look at it is that the more you rank up the wider your range of options become. Not like you get a stronger gun or anything like that. That is something that is very conscious on the part of the development team.