Arctic Combat is an online multiplayer war-themed shooter based on a free-to-play model, which at first made me roll my eyes. I mean at this point online multiplayer games are rolled out by the bagloads with every retail game, like a prize in your Happy Meal. It even came with Spec Ops: The Line, a game that was created to be a deconstruction of the entire war shooter. So I wasn't exactly sold on it, but having messed around with it for some time, I've actually come out with a positive spin on it. If you're looking for a totally free, whiz-bang shooter, it's actually great.
Also – it's called Arctic Combat not because the game takes place in the Arctic, but because the global conflict is over resources in the Arctic Ocean. I feel that's important to clear up, because my first thought about a game called 'Arctic Combat' with a desert map was, “Did you guys think this through totally?”
The game's free-to-play mechanisms are based on gaining Points through combat. By playing, you accrue points, and lots of them – thanks to the charitable Webzen, I had an account with a lot on it, which left me much room to play about. Points unlock weapons, including everyone's favorite array of Modern Warfare go-tos, like the MP5, the AK-47, the SCAR, the M4A1, the Colt M1911, or the Desert Eagle. As of the beta, there's only a handful of guns in the game, but with any F2P microtransaction game, more will be added in time. And, similar to most war games, you get primary and secondary weapons, in this instance limited to large weapons, sidearms, and two grenades.
Further, you can equip Skills, which come in two different sets – Attack, which are weapons like RPG-7s or unmanned assault vehicles, you only get one of, and can be earned through killing streaks. To ensure balance, you can't keep the weapons past your death. This neatly nixes the Modern Warfare 2 issue where a rifle-fueled rampage is ended and restored instantly as they save all the perks they get. Then there's Passives, which are perks like Detect Bomb or Overcome Crisis, which give you perks instead of weapons.
And, lastly, you can get hats, goggles, faces, or other cosmetic changes. Some do nothing but look cool, like goggles, whereas others like hats or faces give you bonuses to experience or points earned per game. There were buttons on many of my primary guns that said “Modify,” but it was greyed out and I could find nothing in the shop – presumably, this has yet to launch.
Much of the game's bonuses are temporary – Passive Perks in the beta lasted only fifteen days, my RPG-7 perk lasts about a month, and all guns are subject to decay. Decay and replacing these items naturally racks up a bill to invest Points into. Thankfully, the costs are not too steep, you can sell many items, and out of about eight games which lasted ten minutes, my trusty M4A1 only suffered 1% durability loss, and that's only because I was using it.
You have four weapon loadouts to chose from when you set up your character, and each gun or grenade can only be placed in one slot per copy of the gun. This plus weapon decay sounds like more free-to-play finaggling, but it's actually quite unobtrusive, and feels as natural as picking up characters or perks in a MOBA like League of Legends. And, further, since it costs nothing to play, the game being more lenient with its perks feels natural.
Through playing, you can acquire more items, too, which are grab-bagged depending on successful games. Sometimes you get cosmetic gear or perks, but most of the time you get what MMO vets would call 'vendor trash.' It's just generalized rewards that you sell for additional points, dubbed Gold Bars. You also acquire Passives, most of the time unlocked through play, or store coupons, which gives you free items.
And, like good old classic military shooters, racking up more and more games increases your experience and rank. With rank, you gain access to the more complex modes. As of yet, Team Deathmatch is your first option, Free For All is your second, and Domination and Search and Destroy are unlocked with rank, with seven maps for all modes. Domination is point-capturing, and Search and Destroy is bomb-planting. Finding games with the matchmaking system is easy as hell, and better yet, there's bot support. If you're sick of getting slaughtered by stupidly good players, drop into a bot game and have some practice runs.
The combat itself is fairly smooth, which is a relief – there's very little Counter-Strike: Source recoil-jerking, and guns appropriately aren't guaranteed to land in the precise point you're aiming at. The difficulty is in reaction times and tactics, and good aim. And, like most shooters, everything for gameplay balance is plotted meticulously, aimed at a much more low-key, close-quarters action shooter.
Possibly the most noteworthy thing about it is that Arctic Combat feels very classic – it's a far departure from most modern shooters with regenerating health like Call of Duty, or Halo's space-jumping, or Battlefield 3's ridiculous usage of armor and helicopters. It feels like original Modern Warfare, with a much more classic spin, medpacks and all, and it feels engaging as someone who hasn't liked multiplayer on war shooters in some time.
Sidearms like pistols can be retrieved quicker than rifles. Knives do more damage than swings with rifle butts and have slightly longer range. You can carry two grenades, and they can be different types provided you have the amount you need. When people are killed, they drop medpacks, which restore 25 health. The fragility of health means the killing streaks at four and above are much harder to get, and since they do not carry over after death, used or otherwise, killing streaks are much less snowbally than Modern Warfare or its kin.
Most of the maps feel very close-quarters, a huge departure from the Battlefield expansive Dragon Ball Z empty fields for tanks and helicopters. In that way, it's like older games, like Team Fortress or Counter-Strike. In fact, one map I found to be eerily familiar to good old Counter-Strike's Dust2.
The graphics are nothing to write home about, but they get the job done - I prefer that as a F2P game it have lower system requirements, because it means a higher pool of eager players to play with. No empty lobbies for a shooter means an engaging game. The audio tends to fall over itself - sound effects correctly boom and blast, but it's hard to pinpoint where noises are coming from without the minimap. Plus, much of the voice acting has the feel of an anime dub from the 90s. The death cry of "Goddamn it!" is said fine, but feels slightly off with inflection and tone.
I think the main thing that captivates me is the potential of Arctic Combat, and I don't mean that as an insult. As of right now, in beta, it's got very fun combat, and it's free to play. It's new while capturing the feel of Call of Duty and giving me unlocks to slowly earn over time, and the F2P mechanism isn't obstructive at all. In fact, the repair bill feels like when I play Need for Speed and I have to repair my car after a race. Given that it doesn't require cash (indeed, I'm not sure what cash buys you yet), it feels perfectly natural.
All that it's missing is tons of unlockables, equipment, perks, and more content of that sort, and that's undoubtedly going to be rolled out over time. It's not going to hook me as League of Legends did, but it's very welcome on my computer in case I feel the itch. The fact that it's free is all the incentive I ever needed.
Julian "Mirai" Williams