Red 5 Studio went all out at this years PAX Prime promoting their new free-to-play FPS, Firefall, as it headed into its beta testing phase. Adverts, fliers, and even statuary for the game filled every nook and cranny of the convention center, and even seeped out into the surrounding areas of downtown Seattle. A nerd could hardly turn around without being bombarded with some form of Firefall marketing or gameplay footage. Luckily at least one of those things, the gameplay, was worth all that attention (the marketing is a whole other story, which I’ll get into in a different post).
Firefall or Firefail? We shall see! (Sorry but they made that way too easy)
The game is definitely a whole lot of fun and feels very polished even at this early stage of development. I demo’d the multiplayer as a Recon class (one of the four currently announced classes, the other three being Assault, Medic, and Engineer) and had an absolute blast. The jetpacks that all classes come equipped with add a great three-dimensionality to the gameplay and works especially well with the Recon class. I found several cozy little nooks on rooftops and mountainsides from which to spy on my targets, who all crumpled quite satisfactorily to the ground as I sniped them from my perch. The rounds were fast-paced, but not so frenetic that it was hard to keep up with what was going on and you could switch armor (called battle frames) and even classes on the fly if you wanted to change tactics. Now, I know these all sound like basic components of this genre, not all that different from Team Fortress 2 if it had jetpacks, but there is one major perk that Firefall has over almost all of its competitors: gender selection!
Lady snipers in the house!
I know it seems like a small thing, but honestly being able to have female characters makes me vastly more interested in the game than I ever have been in TF2 (pyro fan-fic aside). However, that interest is greatly tempered by how gender was implemented in Firefall. All of the female versions of the classes are sexed up compared to their male counterparts, but two of them, the Engineer and the Assault classes, are particularly egregious examples of the ‘sex sells’ mantra getting in the way of logical armor designs. The female Assault wears only a small pair of booty shorts underneath her battle frame that leaves her midriff, cleavage, and most of her legs bare. The male Assault, while also bare-chested, is wearing full length pants underneath a battle frame that covers most of his chest and about half of his legs. For the Engineers, the male is wearing a body suit underneath his battle frame that is missing one of the sleeves. The female Engineer is wearing the same suit and battle frame, except that in addition to being one-sleeved, her body suit is also only one-legged. As I’ve said many times before, the lopsided sexualization of women in games sends out very particular messages to the players: that these women, and perhaps even all women, are there first and foremost to be sexy and sexual for the presumed heterosexual male gamer with any heroics on her part coming in as a distant second to her status as a sexual object.
Amazing! A mecha suit with both a boob and midriff window!
The outfit.... doesn't even make sense....or look sexy, just exposed
Now this is, of course, all based off of the demo I played that was a pre-beta build where the maximum amount of customization offered to players was hitting a randomize button right before entering a match. I am assuming/hoping that there will be a much more extensive character customization process in the full build of the game. Perhaps, even one that let’s the player choose the arrangement of the bodysuit underneath the battle frames. Let those who want to leave their bare skin exposed to the flames of a jetpack do as they please, and let those of us who appreciate fully armored women go about putting the first group out of their crispy-fried misery. It’s a win-win scenario and I honestly don’t understand why more games, especially those who tout customization as a primary feature, don’t choose this route more often. Allowing both male and female characters to have both skimpy and covering armor/clothing/whatever gives everyone the option to play the games as they want without being forced into the role of sex object just to play the game.
Overall, Firefall is a ton of fun to play, even in this early stage of development and it gives the genre a much needed advancement with it having women as options for all classes. However, the current gender differences in the battle frames for the Assault and Engineer classes make this a serious case of two steps forward, one step back. I’ll be keeping tabs on the game as it progresses through it’s beta, but whether or not I play it at launch may end up revolving solely on how they handle criticism of the female battle frames and what, if any, changes they make to them.