Do you remember that bit in Call of Duty? You know the one I mean. You were a guy—a war guy—and you ran around a corner to find another war guy running in the opposite direction. Yes! This was your moment. Your raised your RDS and sprayed hot 5.56mm NATO into his exposed back, earning you a hundred points, a kill, and a little shot of dopamine. Then, disaster! Another war guy ran around the corner behind you; the screen turned red; you died. Do you remember that bit? You must do, because it happened to everybody, everywhere, every day for the last seven years.
Warface is Crytek’s free-to-play stab at Call of Duty’s deathmatch formula, which it spreads across multiple modes, bundles with a thin handful of new ideas, and shackles to an ever-present storefront. Warface is the game you play if you fancy running in a circle shooting people in the back but don’t want to pay full price for the privilege—which is a reasonable notion—and also the game that you play if you are ten years old and your parents won’t buy you something better. I know that because the voices I’ve heard in-game have, universally, been children; on one occasion I was lucky enough to listen to someone get told off for not doing their homework. That brief moment of kitchen sink drama was the most fun I’ve had with Warface, a game that is otherwise as oppressively alright-I-suppose as you’d expect from the lovechild of two business models.
Warface has the quality of something that you played once in a sticky-floored arcade during a half-remembered summer holiday. It should smell of cigarettes and old carpet. It’s low-rent in the way that lightgun shooters traditionally were, and it’s this, rather than the Call of Duty-shaped hole it aspires to fill, that gives it a personality. It’s not a substantial thing—it never reaches House of the Dead or Area 51’s shit-but-kitsch territory—but it’s something, and when Warface’s angry red LED damage indicators are bursting from the body of a stricken foe there’s a little of Time Crisis to the experience. You could scratch this same itch in innumerable other games, but Warface scratches it nonetheless.
You can press a button to slide along the ground on your butt and earn bonus points for killing someone while doing so. One of the better modes is a bit like Counter-Strike but with rubbish maps. There’s a capable co-op mode where you fight your way through a series of warzone-themed alleyways blasting pigeon-brained AI and sometimes tangling with helicopters or mechs or tanks, an experience that scales up through a series of difficulty levels and that, in its final stages, requires some actual coordination. It’s very repetitive, but it looks okay and it’s free.
Then, Warface asks you to pay for something. Respawn tokens for co-op, seven-day gun rentals, skins, boosters: you are never free of ways to spend, and while there’s no stopping you grinding away there’s no ‘purchase everything and leave me alone’ button either. This is the type of free to play system designed to drain you slowly, and even if you can resist the call of booster packs and treat the game as a disposable distraction—which is what you should do—the storefront doggedly pursues your attention in a way that grates.
CryEngine means that this is one of the more technically impressive free-to-play games you’ll encounter, but I wouldn’t call it pretty, not exactly. It comes close to the bar set by the big-budget shooters it’s aping, but suffers for environments and character designs that never reach beyond the deeply familiar. On the plus side, it scales well on different systems—essential for a game like this to find the audience it needs—and it’s been built using a versatile toolset that, on paper, should allow Crytek to keep it updated with maps and modes. On the down side, powerful tools haven’t resulted in particularly good maps. They’re boxes to kill each other in, and in twelve hours of play I quickly became tired of running circuits around container yards.
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