Developer: CCP Games / Publisher: CCP Games, Sony Computer Entertainment / Release Date: TBD 2013
If pulling off cross-platform multiplayer functionality is supposed to be a challenge, CCP Games has certainly made the task look easy. The developer of the 10-year-old EVE Online is expanding its sci-fi MMORPG universe to the PlayStation 3 with Dust 514. An even bigger accomplishment for CCP is that Dust 514 is not a retitled console version of EVE Online. It instead expands the EVE universe by taking its players to planetary ground level in first-person. As a recent hands-on session showcased, there’s an impressive degree of interactivity between these PlayStation 3 troops on the frontlines and the PC gamers making tactical decisions from space.
January 22nd marked the game’s entry into open beta, with its official launch due later this year. Ushering in this latest phase was the reveal of the game’s orbital bombardment feature. In the same way you can call in a gunship or an aerial strike in other first-person shooters, Dust 514 offers the possibility of turning the tide and cleaning out heavily fortified opposition with a single command. Unlike most other shooters, Dust 514’s bombardment comes from space, triggered by either a live PC player or an NPC. Naturally, one shouldn’t expect a constant rain of energy beams from the sky. The ability to bombard your enemies is something you have to earn through performing well and playing a lot, much like special attacks in Call of Duty.
PS3 players might not have the cushy, seemingly safe comforts of a ship in orbit, but they’re certainly not underequipped; even better, they know how to make an entrance. By jumping out of a sky high Mobile Command Center, you and your squad make a dramatic leap to the hot zone…and without a parachute. You instead use the Inertia Dampener—which slows you down—to survive impact. You can also arrive in style from a low-flying and armed personnel transport. If you’re crafty and brave, you can use this vehicle to save yourself a lot time and fly it over an enemy squad, after which you can simply jump out to attempt a close quarters killing spree once you land on the ground. Such lethal moves should come easy for the Assault class players, who can arm themselves with either a ‘Frontline’ loadout of classic sci-fi assault rifles or an equally effective laser. Other available classes include the familiar anti-vehicle Heavy, a support class (named Logistics), and the sniper rifle-equipped Scout.
We played a mode in the traditional Conquest format, though Dust 514 gives you additional targets beyond capture points. This includes accessing tactically advantageous supply depots through hacking. Furthermore, these maps are large enough that it’s not unreasonable to request a transport for better mobility. Imagine being able to call in a Pelican for all your Warthog needs in Halo. You can do essentially that in Dust 514. You just need to survive 15 seconds for the transport to arrive. The Warthog-inspired vehicle in this game is called the Methana and comes with the familiar rear-mounted gun. And yes, Dust 514 also has the Scorpion equivalent, the Gunnlogi, which you can also call in.
Considering this level of cross-platform ambition, it’s easy to cut some of the mediocre production values some slack. The graphical textures aren’t remarkable and the framerate could be better—it is, of course, still in development—but at least there isn’t any slowdown to get in the way of the gameplay. Many light sources bloom appropriately and far-off missile launches are an eye-catching distraction. It’s also tempting to look up and see how the action in the sky is as busy as what’s going on at ground level. The orbital strikes are great to watch as well, especially if you’re the one initiating them. It begins with a wide beam of light, which is then followed by a series of other beams in the same area. You find that some beams do not hit anything significant while other ones make confirmed kills.
This kind of connectivity between Dust 514 and EVE Online makes one wonder why more developers do not explore this kind of cross-platform functionality more often. What’s equally significant is that Dust 514 will be free-to-play, following the recent trend of console F2P announcements such as Spartacus and Happy Wars on the Xbox 360.