A console-level FPS running from a web browser?
The preview build of Ballistic, developed by Brazil's Aquiris Game Studio and published by Rumble Entertainment, was running off their closed beta on Facebook when they showed it to me before GDC. Rumble, a small publisher made up of a team of former Bioware employees, has worked closely with Aquiris to foster the game and grow it as part of an emergent wave of games being published directly on the web.
Ballistic is a class-driven squad-based multiplayer shooter. It started much more simply, with a large skill tree from which players could draw. As Rumble watched, they noticed players adopting specific styles of play and directed Aquiris to use these to create the attributes for the individual classes.
Since I favor more support roles, I gravitated towards one of the two snipers at first, so Rumble Senior Communications Manager Brett Bates and Senior External Producer Jim Tso suggested I play as a Marksman. The name is properly descriptive. While the Marksman's loadout can include either assault rifles or sniper rifles, looking through the scope marks enemy targets on the radar for the entire team. This is especially useful in some of the more labyrinthine maps.
A quick look at the classes outside of Marksman is an odd cross between Mass Effect 3's and Team Fortress 2's, each with their own special abilities unlocked through acquiring a first level. The Tank has Last Stand, which allows him to continue to fight with his sidearm for a short while after being killed. Wraith is a sniper class that cloaks when crouched and not moving, and even the standard soldier class, Vanguard, can slowly heal damage taken over time, as opposed to the other classes which must instead return to a health and ammo station at the base.
Other classes are a bit more standard: the shotgun-wielding Berserker gets bonuses when damaged. Shadow, Ballistic's version of Scout has melee insta-kills, and the Grenadier unlocks extra grenades. Once they had the classes worked out, the guys from Rumble told me, the rest was merely about balancing.
Gameplay in Ballistic is fast, the maps are small-to-medium sized with a lot of corners and vertical gameplay with different levels on just about every map. Since the maps are relatively small and the respawn rate is quick (after death, you get to see who killed you and where they are), while the firefights are fast and revenge kills for which you get an avenge point bonus are common.
In a King of the Hill match, having secured the capture point, the enemy was spawn-camping outside of my base's location to keep my team from advancing. You are invincible while in your base, but it's easy enough for enemies to pool just outside one of the many doors. It's a tribute to the game's balancing that I was able to grab a Tank or a Berserker and totally clean house with the enemy so carelessly close.
Ballistic is free-to-play but it also runs on a subscription model, where you can purchase a fully unlocked version of the game using Ballistic Points, purchased directly from the game's interface. This makes all classes available up front. The game starts you with a a three-day trial subscription, and then gives you the option to purchase more time (between 1 to 90 days). Otherwise, the classes must be bought with credits that can be earned in the game and which you are given 1000 a day for logging in.
Rumble and Aquiris are working on a mobile and tablet version, but they want to nail the controls first. Jim Tso showed me an earlier version of Ballistic running on an iPad with an almost completely grey palette, a far cry from the brightly colored finished product. It was easy to see how far it has come since then.
Rumble Entertainment aims to give players the console experience in browser and mobile platforms, and you can see that in Ballistic. All-in-all, it's a solid shooter, especially for a free-to-play game that runs off of Facebook. The game is also currently available on Kongregate and soon, Rumble's website.