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The Firing Line: Arctic Combat hands-on

Jef Reahard

Poor Arctic Combat. It's not that there's anything majorly wrong with Webzen's new 8v8 shooter. It's actually a fun little diversion. Unfortunately, it went into open beta close to PlanetSide 2's launch, which means that a lot of PC shooter fans are probably still embedded on Auraxis and unaware of AC's existence.

I first saw the title at last summer's E3, where the PR folks at Webzen and the devs at Battery Studio were kind enough to let me get some hands-on time with a pre-beta build. Fast forward six months and I found myself messing around with the open beta and launch client this week. I also found that my opinion of the game is largely unchanged.

I was pleasantly surprised to be guided through a tutorial upon logging in for the first time. Even though shooters are probably old hat to most gamers by now, AC doesn't assume so, and the quick training course serves as a great primer for a true newb or a quick control layout summary for genre veterans.

There's nothing out of the ordinary on this front. W, A, S, and D still do their thing, as does R for reloading, E for melee, Control for crouches, RMB for sight aiming, and F to pick up additional weapons or interact with the environment. One small annoyance was the need to exit out of the client in order to up the default 1024x768 resolution, but as I said, no biggie.

Something you'll notice right off the bat is Arctic Combat's presentation. The game itself is beautifully rendered, and the menus and lobby screens are easy to navigate. Joining a game (or setting one up yourself) is a snap, and the whole production feels like Call of Duty X instead of your average free-to-play shooter.

Arctic Combat - Pistol user
Gameplay is hit or miss, really (sorry I had to). There's a bit of lore about World War III or some such, but honestly I didn't care, and I doubt you will either. The maps are quite nice, though. There are about a dozen of them for now, and despite the title's name they're not all set in the arctic. The New York City map was particularly memorable, and overall the game provides plenty of wide open spaces for long-range combat as well as smaller areas for close-quarters fighting. There are also a few nifty instances of environmental weapons sprinkled throughout the maps (think RPGs, wall-mounted machine guns, etc.). I know, there's really nothing revolutionary here, but it's fun and reasonably polished, especially considering the price point.

Bum-rushing Rambo types will die quickly, as it doesn't take many hits to bring down an opponent, and the maps reward both patience and layout memorization. AC's bots are also quite merciless, so if you can't find a human opponent for some reason, fire up the game's AI mode and prepare to get your butt kicked.

The shooting mechanics are OK, but in my humble opinion the game could use a bit more recoil on most of the guns. After spending a couple of weeks playing PS2 for several hours a night, I found that Arctic Combat's spray-and-pray seems a bit anticlimatic and sometimes downright boring. Unless you're a true beginner, you'll come out of most matches with a bag full of both kills and XP, which is used to rank up and unlock the standard CoD-style gear upgrades.

Arctic Combat - Sniper
As for monetization, I played several hours this week and had a good time without dropping a dime. I never felt disadvantaged relative to the folks I met in various matches despite the proliferation of weapons and gear in the cash shop. Yep, as I mentioned above there is a gear component, and your avatar has an inventory management screen through which you can equip various weapons, accessories, and passive abilities (health regens and the like).

One major annoyance was the cash shop spam that occasionally scrolls across your screen like a big red stock exchange ticker. I realize that F2P games live or die based on their ability to tempt people into parting with their money, but there are less intrusive ways to go about it.

Toward the end of the week, I somehow ended up with nearly 60,000 cash shop points, but whether that was a result of gameplay or a Webzen promotion is unclear. There is a lot of gear in the item store, too much for me to say definitively whether Arctic Combat crosses any pay-to-win lines. I suspect some of you might disagree with me even if I did offer an opinion there, as the term is entirely subjective.

Ultimately the game is a decent little time-waster if you're predisposed to military shooters, but I can't see myself doing much more than dabbling in it when I need a break from bigger, deeper games. Don't take my word for it, though. Arctic Combat is free-to-play and freely available right now on Steam. It doesn't bring anything new to the table, and it's fairly limited in scope compared to titles like PlanetSide 2 and DUST 514, but a certain amount of care is evident throughout, and it's one of the more enjoyable lobby shooters I've played in recent months.

The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.

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