A Brief Moment with Firefall, The Free Game That Wants To Be World of Warcraft with Guns

Orange County, California might be bland, confesses one developer of Red 5's team-based shooter Firefall, but the game certainly is not. Armor-bound medics squirt now de rigueur healing ribbons that glow a pale green to extrude life back into teammates wearing primary yellow or red that's too busy for G or B.

I stood for a single round atop a structure that looked like a pirate ship without the ship—all wheelhouse, no wheel-and took pot shots at the opposing team with the scout-class sniper rifle. "Double damage for headshots," reminded the developer whose name I've spaced. "And of course double the experience."

I wasn't too concerned about leveling up a character I'd leave forever in a few minutes. But I did want to get a feel for what the fighting itself played like in the persistent team shooter-think one part Tribes, one part World of Warcraft-because no matter how involving the leveling aspects of the world, if the shooting isn't fun then what's the point?

It's…pretty good. Defaulting to an over-the-shoulder third-person (but easily switched into first-person), putting a few stray incandescent rounds into an enemy player never felt off. Shots hit their mark as aimed.

Yet there is a bit of floatiness to the way my character moved across the terrain. (And I'm not making a bad joke about the jetpacks all of Firefall's combatants wear.) This pre-release version of Firefall doesn't have the solid crunch of some shooters, where it's easy to feel the impact of each of your shots against other players. Hardly a dealbreak-and I'm not doing the best job explaining-but I suspect you know what I mean.

With the announcement of a proper Tribes game coming around the bend, some of the pressure that I've put on Firefall to scratch that itch has abated. (I'm sure Red 5 will sleep better tonight.) And while the small bit of time I had playing Firefall leaves me wanting more, I can't shake the feeling the fighting might be a bit simplistic at lower, newbie levels.

Still, hard to complain about that when we'll be playing for free.