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When Starship Troopers Meets Gears of War
Reality Gap is not a well known company. They do not have their products advertised all over the web or across mobile phones or on television. However, Reality Gap managed to develop an MMO that breaks just about all the tiresome trends of standard MMO gaming and ushered in a brand new kind of massive multiplayer experience with BattleSwarm: Field of Honor. It’s a first or third-person shooter layered in with a real-time strategy commander mode. The humans are played like an over-the-shoulder action game (or as an MMOFPS), while the bugs are commanded like a typical RTS; it’s an original and dynamic game design that borrows some similarities from the Savage series. Alternatively, you could say it's the birthchild of Starship Troopers meets Gears of War in the form of a free-to-play MMO.
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In the distant future humans are battling for supremacy against a near countless army of battle-hungry alien bugs. Much like Paul Verhoeven’s original take on Starship Troopers, BattleSwarm features countless alien bugs filling up the screen as they try to kill the human soldiers and overrun their bases on the planet. The plotline is pretty simplistic but I don’t think they needed much more than that to setup the game’s awesome premise.
Much like other MMOs, BattleSwarm runs on the free-to-play/cash shop module that features limited item acquirement. This means that everything in the game that you earn in the game has a limited amount of time of usage and players must either purchase another item when the time runs out or acquire it again by looting it from within a battle. This method of item management works exceptionally well given that players who want to keep the best equipment within the game [without spending real cash] will have to earn it by killing lots of bugs (or killing lots of soldiers).
Unlike typical MMORPGs where everyone piles into a large 3D virtual world, the game world is broken down into segmented, instanced maps that a set number of players can join. In order to maintain balance in the gameplay only six soldiers and two bugs can join per map in the rookie and novice game channels. This may not seem like much but for starting level players this setup works well for ensuring a well paced game. My only gripe with this concept is that oftentimes players on the human side will bail during a fight if they think they might lose, which leaves the other players to fend for themselves without additional help. This wouldn’t be so bad if they added a drop-in option so players in the main lobby could at least assist once they see that a player has abandoned the fight. Other than that minor peeve, BattleSwarm has a great game design concept that was executed superbly.
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There was a reason this game made the Top 5 for imitating Gears of War as an MMO and it’s because this literally plays out a lot like Gears of War when controlling the human soldiers. It’s a standard over-the-shoulder view with the option to go first-person; roll in any direction to avoid projectiles or bombs; or take refuge inside bunkers and pick off enemies from within the concrete structures. Playing as the humans is extremely intense and will have most gamers hunched over, constantly eyeing the action and trying to stay alive amid the epic-scaled battles.
One of the highlights of BattleSwarm is that players on the human side must work together at all times or losing is imminent. Team commands and reactions are conveniently placed within quick-keys that allow players to yell orders and acknowledgements on the fly. This works perfect for tight situations when a base is being overrun on a particular side or some big ‘ole alien juggernauts start lounging around a power reactor.
For the most part, the weapon balance is executed quite well, too, and the variety of weapons (and categories) is quite appeasing. Shooting fans will have their assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, pulse rifles, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, toxic launchers and pistols (among other weapons I have yet to uncover) and to top it off each weapon category has a sub-category of weapons. As an example, there are a variety of different sniper rifles and shotguns (four of each that I’ve counted so far) each with various effects, skins, damage and distance. What’s more is that each gun can also be customized and upgraded using a variety chips that can be unlocked or earned from missions or PvE quests. In other words, item acquirement in this game is deep...very deep.
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BattleSwarm changes drastically on the side of the bugs because it’s literally a real-time strategy game, through-and-through. What’s unique is that players will have a main commander that still requires armor, weapons and skills that can be upgraded. In addition to stylizing the bug commander, players will be able to outfit their stash of bug soldiers with upgrades, various skills that range from creating dust storms so human soldiers can’t see, to calling in bug air-raids that include the blue plasma beams that those giant bug soldiers shot off in the original Starship Troopers movie (although, in the PvP games you don’t see the large bugs who shoot off the blue plasma but in the Player-vs-Environment stages it happens to be a gigantic boss bug that lives underground)
Even though only two bugs can be in a PvP match within the novice and rookie channels, there are a handful of hives that allow the two players to mount an army-sized offense. Standard soldier bugs are used as distractions, or to protect other important leader bugs, while other specialty bugs can be used to carry out special operations. This adds a whole new layer to the game’s versus-style complexity and ensures that the humans must adapt to the changing tactics of the bugs. For instance, a bug commander can send a troop of soldiers followed by a legion of juggernauts (towering bugs that are equivalent to Halo’s Hunters) with a series of acid shooting beetles.
Enumerating the multiple tactical measures that bug commanders can execute would be too time consuming to list here but it’s safe to say that the RTS portion of the game is just as fleshed out (if not more-so) than the extremely well-crafted third-person shooting segments of the game.
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There’s no arguing that BattleSwarm: Field of Honor is easily one of the best looking MMOs released in 2009. The game has amazing looking environments, fair character designs and a strong variety of stylized special effects.
As mentioned before, the humans are designed in the same vein as Epic’s Gears of War; they run the same, shoot the same, roll the same and almost look like them. The major difference is that BattleSwarm has hues and a palette like TimeGate’s Section 8, with a lot of blue tones, cobalt and metal insinuations for a cybernetic cop-feel for the humans. On the bug side the characters are hued with a lot of shades of red (mainly to oppose the human’s shades of blue) but the color scheme works really well because it makes the bugs look believable as an opposing force, especially for the soldier and juggernaut bugs.
The environments are also a noteworthy spectacle worth mentioning given the detail and clarity put into beautiful atmosphere amongst the war-torn battlefields. Of course, given that the game is running on the Unreal Engine all the stages look like freshly produced environments from Unreal Tournament, but that doesn’t stop them from being extremely well crafted.
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I suppose it’s slightly unfortunate to say that the sound effects aren’t quite on par with the rest of the game’s quality. This is not to infer any sort of negative connotation to the audio for the guns, bugs or effects, but it’s simply to point out that the weapons won’t really shake your ears and the bugs being shot don’t sound entirely convincing. Nevertheless, the effects work well for what it’s worth. The music is composed of standard symphonic-rock anthems with a few tunes that even blend in some of the humor and urgency found in Starship Troopers. You won’t be disappointed with the sound but just don’t expect to be blown away, either.
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BattleSwarm: Field of a Honor is a real treat and treasure among all the other MMOGs out there repeating the same thing over and over again. The RTS versus TPS/FPS concept works perfectly in this game, in which it not only requires strategy on the bug commander’s part, but team-work and strategy on the side of the action-hero sized human’s part as well. Couple this in with the excellent graphics, great framerate, RPG-style leveling, numerous weapon and item choices, and a crafting system that’s easy and fun to use, and you have yourself one of the best and original MMOs that you don’t have to pay to play. Action gamers -- and strategy fans alike -- looking for some non-stop entertainment simply can’t go wrong with Reality Gap’s BattleSwarm: Field of Honor.