Banana Men And Bullets In U4iA's 'Offensive Combat' (Hands-on Preview)

Sorry for the lateness on this one, but developer U4iA's goofy (in a good way) FPS Offensive Combat was a title that I promised to get around to in the wake of our PAX Prime coverage. Bellevue, WA-based U4iA's game is the lighter side of shooting other players online with an eye towards capturing some of the anarchic spirit of fast-paced FPS classics like Quake 3 Arena.

During my hands-on time with the game, I saw a shooter with promise and an opportunity to stand out in a world of grim a serious releases in the same genre. But the same thing that made the browser-based, free-to-play title attractive might also prove to be one of its greatest challenges.

Lead Designer Michael Schorr walked me through some of the features of Offensive Combat. During my half hour or so with Offensive Combat, Schorr wanted to impress upon me that the goal with their game was to create extensive breadth if not depth to the shooter experience for the game's players. The basic narrative-free setup places you in an arena with up to 15 other players in order to blast one another to smithereens. Besides the usual character customization options (loadout, character appearance), Offensive Combat also seeks to make a virtue of some ever-present gamer behavior like teabagging using the PWN mechanic, but more on that in a moment.

Loadouts include a primary weapon (the usual range of assault rifles, SMGs, LMGs, and sniper rifles), along with a range of traditional and sci-fi inspired pistols and grenades. Like Gotham City Imposters, Offensive Combat also allows players to add up to three perks to their character along with a melee weapon. These melee weapons are where the developers went a little silly, pulling out rubber chickens and hunks of ham on a fork alongside the plasma knives and battle axes. All of the weapons will be upgraded with an XP for kills system.

Players "rent" weapons by earning coins from kills and PWNs and looting falling enemies for cash. The rental system is currently evolving with the developers, but the goal, Schorr explains, is to let players experiment with new weapons and loadouts instead of relying on the same gear for every match. Their philospy is that players should spend time to earn money instead of "paying to win," meaning that simply by grinding through the game, players can pick up coins and gold to upgrade their loadout (the only items locked behind a paywall will be vanity content for the player character).

On top of the weapons, players can also add limited-use consumables to their loadout like armor for extra protection or beacons which allows a player to see the location of the last person to kill them anywhere on the map.

As for the PWN system, it's essentially a taunt that allows you to earn a bonus on top of a kill. Within six seconds of taking out an enemy, players have to execute their taunt over their fallen enemy's body, doubling their XP and coin intake.

The actual shooting is responsive, but with that slight floatiness of GCI and Quake, so player characters book across the map at high speed, giving matches a fast-paced feel missing from the more methodical military shooters out there. I didn't get a lot of time to mess with many of the wepaons, but the AR and sniper rifle I used during my time with the game handled about how you would expect.

When I asked him how he thought Offensive Combat might be able to rise above the pack in the crowded shooter field, Schorr explained that his team, comprised of designers of devs with 22 FPS releases between them, were looking to bring something light-hearted and player-centric to the market. In contrast to something like Halo which is about placing the player inside of a preexisting fiction, his team wanted to do something where the player was the fiction, where the draw was customization and a game that reflected how that player wanted to play.

My concern is that that this might not give players something identifiable to latch on to, some kind of central iconography to draw them in. The art style is cartoony, but doesn't have a distinctive stylization like Team Fortress 2. I'm also hoping that U4iA might be able to add a little more sophistication to the game's sense of humor (but to be fair, I've never gotten the appeal of a rubber chicken, so there's that).

As for what to look forward to with Offensive Combat: the team is working on Halo 2-style matchmaking, tools to allow players to prefer and block other players, and easy capture tools. It sounds like U4iA is planning a full suite of tools to make their shooter competitive in the market, but the big question is will players be attracted to the humor and style that they're putting out there?

Offensive Combat is currently in closed beta. You can sign up for a key at the game's official site.

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