I decided I would write my inaugural review on a game I have a long history with, one I still enjoy, and one that continues to improve as time goes by: Nexon’s Combat Arms free-to-play (F2P) MMOFPS.
For those of you who don’t know, Nexon is a company that was started 17 years ago in Seoul, Korea, though it recently moved its headquarters to Tokyo. It started as a small start-up with a single title (Kingdom of the Winds) and has grown to offer 30 titles, including Combat Arms. A quick Internet search turned up revenue information, placing Nexon’s annual revenue at nearly US$900 billion. As impressive as that number is, to the gamer it simply means that Nexon is a successful game company that will likely continue supporting its successful titles, of which Combat Arms is one.
For me, I think of Combat Arms as “the poor man’s Call of Duty.” When my friends ask me if I play CoD, I have to answer no, but I recommend that they try CA. As mentioned early on, CA is free to play. You choose a toon and have a permanent set of basic default equipment: an M16 assault rifle, a pistol (I think the default is a Beretta M9), a single frag grenade, a combat knife, and a backpack (for storing additional equipment). There is no map or game mode you can’t play with just this basic equipment, though some modes are much, much easier to survive with the purchase of better/different weaponry.
You don’t have to pay real money for equipment, either. The Combat Arms microtransaction model is very well thought out. When you create a new account, you begin with a fair amount of gold with which additional equipment may be purchased, from better assault rifles to sniper rifles, shotguns, and so on. As you finish games, depending on how well you do, you receive experience points and gold. When you’ve gained enough experience points, you level up – or rank up in this case. As you achieve each new rank, you get access to more/better equipment AND you get a nice big infusion of gold to help you purchase new equipment.
This structure allows access to most of CA’s content with absolutely no cost to the player. As you reach higher ranks, of course, it takes longer to rank up (more XP) and so you tend to run out of gold before your next rank-up bonus. Still, if you can get by with the default equipment and exercise a little patience, you can accumulate enough gold over the course of a few games to purchase a better assault rifle, or a second pistol for pistols-only games, and so on. To summarize, CA’s internal economy is geared toward allowing people to play completely free-of-charge, if that’s what they choose. This places them above many other so-called “free to play” games that place a level limit on free players, reserve access to the best equipment for those willing to play, or restrict free players from accessing certain content.
In fact, Nexon has a “free-to-play pledge” posted on their website, the key points of which are:
And, I hear you wondering, is there enough content to keep it interesting? Emphatically I answer, YES! As of the writing of this article there are 31 different maps, each with its own unique characteristics. There are indoor maps, outdoor maps, and maps that are mixtures of both. There are massive maps that are great for stalking or sniping, and compact maps that are veritable mosh pits. Generally, 2 teams play, and each team can have at most 8 players. But take a map that has two rooms and one narrow corridor and put 16 heavily armed soldiers in it and you have a seriously target-rich environment. Adding to the variety of equipment and variety of environments, there are also currently a dozen different play modes to spice things up.
Elimination is your basic team A versus team B shoot-em-up. With up to 8 people on a team (and the CA interface does its best to keep the teams balanced), the game moderator chooses how many kills are required to achieve victory – anywhere from 30 to 140. The first team to kill that many opponents wins.
Elimination Pro is a variation on the Elimination mode where the winning team is decided by how many times the entire opposing team is eliminated. Once you’re killed in this game mode, you don’t respawn until everyone else on one team or the other is killed. The team that wins the requisite number of rounds wins the match.
One Man Army is just like Elimination, except there are no teams. Each individual combatant can kill any other combatant for points. This is perhaps the moshiest of mosh-fests in the game.
Last Man Standing is the “Elimination Pro” version of One Man Army. It’s every man for himself, and you don’t respawn until everyone is dead. You get credit for being, as the name suggests, the last man standing. Win the preset number of rounds and you win the match.
Search and Destroy is a “mission-type” game. For Team Alpha the mission is to find the bomb and arm it, which then begins a countdown. For Team Bravo, the mission is to stop Team Alpha and disarm the bomb once it’s armed and before it explodes. Like in Elimination Pro, once anyone on either team is killed they don’t respawn until the end of the round. Although only a secondary objective, it’s often a viable tactic to simply eliminate the opposite team rather than going for the bomb itself.
Capture the Flag - Most people are familiar with the concept. We used to play this game on a paint ball field back in the day when our FPS action was meted out with compressed air and gelatin-coated balls of paint. The objective for both teams is the same: make it into your opponent’s base, capture their flag, and return it to your own base. If you’re carrying the flag and get killed, the flag drops where you died. Either a fellow teammate can pick it up and continue the run, an enemy can pick it up and return it to their own base, or if no one touches it for 30 seconds then the flag will teleport back to its original location on its own. The team that successfully wins a predetermined number of rounds also wins the match.
Bombing Run Like a combination of Search & Destroy and Capture the Flag, the teams compete to first capture the bomb and then plant it. Once grabbed, the player must carry the bomb to the planting site, plant the bomb, and guard it until the timer runs out while the opposing team tries to disarm and recapture it.
Seize and Secure is a mission mode where each team tries to raise their own flag on a flagpole and keep it there for two minutes.
Spyhunt is the most complicated mission mode. There are 5 “Intel” packages on the map. All players are on the same team when play starts, and each must find and pick up the Intel. Each Intel package confers some bonus to the carrier – increased armor, extra ammo, etc. Once a player has at least one Intel package, that player becomes a “Spy” and is deemed a threat. The rest of the players may now attack the Spy, which will drop his/her Intel if killed. If one player gets all 5 packages, he becomes the “Super Spy.” Super Spy (or “SS”) status means that it’s now you against everyone else on the map. You have to go to the upload point and upload the Intel within a certain period of time, and succeeding wins you the round. To help you against your many foes, once you achieve SS you receive several super powerful buffs and special weapons and defenses.
Quarantine Regen This is another mode wherein everyone starts on the same team. You’ve been quarantined in the map because one or more of you are infected with a virus – and there’s no telling who. As play progresses, the Infected turn into diseased zombies. The human team must find and destroy the Infected while the Infected find and infect the humans. A single touch passes the virus along, instantly transforming a human into a zombie, and to make matters worse the zombies have many more hit points and armor points than the humans.
Fireteam In this mode, all the players are on the same team. There are two maps (Cabin Fever and Black Lung) in which the humans must work together to defeat several waves of Infected zombies, which increase in number and difficulty with each wave. The other two maps (Desert Thunder and Desert Fox) are scenarios in which the team is assaulting a terrorist stronghold – in one case (Desert Thunder) to capture intel and in the other (Desert Fox) to capture a terrorist named “Z,” destroy an arms truck, disable antiaircraft emplacements, and ultimately defend an extraction zone until choppers arrive to evac the team.
Blood Money There’s another mode just hitting the streets around now called “Blood Money” or “Hired Guns.” I haven’t played this mode yet because it only just got released, but from reading the advertisements and watching the trailers it appears that it’s a team-vs-team mission where you somehow also control NPCs. It looks intriguing and I’m excited to try it out.
Game play in any of the modes is accomplished using the age-old standard W-A-S-D keys to move around. A & D are actually side-step keys with camera orientation being controlled by the mouse. The SHIFT key lets your toon run, the space bar is to jump. Activating items like computers and doors, or picking up dropped weapons, is accomplished with the E key. The targeting reticle moves with the mouse and the left mouse-click fires the currently active weapon. If equipped, the right mouse toggles the gun’s targeting scope. Weapons can be cycled through, with 1 selecting the primary weapon (assault rifle, shotgun, sniper, etc.), 2 choosing/cycling pistols, 3 melee weapons, and 4 support weapons (grenades, etc.)
As with any online game, connection speed is paramount and a poor connection will result in lagging. Lagging is particularly deadly in an FPS, because while you think you’re running down an empty corridor everyone else could see you standing in a doorway – not moving and a tasty target. Even if you’re not killed while lagging, it’s irritating to run down a corridor and through a doorway to safety only to suddenly snap back to the other end of the corridor where you started.
These problems are few if you have ample ‘net bandwidth, though, and I’ve seldom seen lagging caused by server loads. Early on, the game had several bugs and quirks that were irritating and there seemed to be map-glitchers everywhere crawling into invisible cracks in the environment model to pick people off from outside the map. This has diminished in recent months, however, and gameplay has greatly improved because of it.
I could go on for five or six more pages with all the details and nuances of this game, having barely scratched the surface. CA supports clans and clan battles, includes a weapon crafting system, and tons of specialized equipment to change the dynamic of the game without unbalancing it. As previously mentioned, I’ve been playing this game on and off since it was less than a year old and it still entertains me. A game with this kind of playability that releases new content out every few months, keeping long-time players and attracting new ones is, in my book, a winner. If you like first-person shooters, I highly recommend Nexon’s Combat Arms.
If you're ready to try it out, visit the Combat Arms website, create an account, download the client and ammo up!
I give this game 4.5 stars out of 5.