Warface is (take a breath) a free-to-play online competitive multiplayer and co-op all-action first-person shooter from Crytek.
For the past 10 years, Crytek has staked its reputation on building graphically strenuous video games for generally high-end PCs. Crytek built the first Far Cry as well as the Crysis series. The more recent Ryse: Son of Rome and Warface shift the developer’s PC-only focus to a development schedule embracing consoles.
But how did they come up with that laughable name “Warface”? It comes from a excellent source, actually.
In 1987, Stanley Kubrick directed and produced a Vietnam War film called Full Metal Jacket. The first, most-memorable chunk of the movie takes place in Marine Corps boot camp. While standing at attention in the barracks, one of the privates makes a John Wayne joke. The drill sergeant gets mad. He walks over to the private, punches him in the gut, asks him why he joined the Marines in the first place, then tells the private, “Let me see your war face!”
“Sir?” the private says.
“You’ve got a war face? Aaaagh! That’s a war face. Now let me see your war face!"
Beyond the name, Crytek’s Warface has nothing to do with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. There’s no boot camp, no Marine Corps, and the wooden expression in the soldiers’ eyes is a dead giveaway that there’s no war face either.
As is standard for online shooters, Warface is all about the grind for experience points and leveling up. And, as is standard for free-to-play shooters, how much (money) you put in determines how much (experience) you get out. To be clear, you can keep your wallet shut and play a solid game of Warface, no doubt. But money greases the wheels of experience-based commerce. So, forking over a little money for Crytek’s efforts will speed up the grind.
Free-to-play is the revival of the arcade, folks. Some developers are going back to making money the old-fashioned way: one quarter at a time. Well, one seven-day five-dollar gun rental at a time, anyway.
Before you even hit the landing zone on your first engagement, you’ll notice that—more than bullets—statistics are flying at your face. The loading screen is flanked with leaderboard numbers. Gamertags stack up on the left and right, bragging over who landed the most headshots, who rifle butted for the most melee kills, who racked up the highest score multipliers, who exploded the most explosions, and who likely abandoned their teammates in order to nail the fastest time through the level. If score chasing motivates you, you've come to the right place.
Warface isn’t about war. It’s about the commodification of war. It’s not about making money; it’s about spending money. And, much to Warface’s credit, it’s not about being an army of one; it’s about being all for one and one for all. Except for snipers. They’re pretty much out for themselves. Aside from those ghillie-suited gunners, however, there are an atypical number of co-op features to dine on.
You can hoist each other up to double-tall heights, securing the high ground. When a bad guy with a riot shield knocks a teammate down, you can give hime a hand and get your buddy back on his feet. When you’re out of ammo, the rifleman on your team restocks you. When you’re armor is shredded, the engineer pieces it together. When you’re turned into swiss cheese or flatlining on the deck, the medic can patch you up or break out the defibrillators and give you a shock to the heart. Again, the snipers can’t contribute to the group hug except to take out targets from a distance, which, admittedly, saves lives in its own way.
All four classes populate the co-op and versus modes. There is no single-player campaign in Warface. It’s multiplayer all day, every day.
A cursory storyline weaves through the co-op missions. The story is of a privately funded military outfit called Warface, and their even-more-privately-funded enemies, Blackwood. There’s talk of some men in suits that hold the marionette strings of the global economy, but those guys never fire a single bullet—which means they’re irrelevant, as far as gameplay is concerned. Forget the men in black. It’s time for some sprint-slide-shotgun-to-the-face action.
In versus modes, things are clear cut. If you're Warface, you’re yellow, they’re blue. So, if it’s blue, shoot it. Naturally, those rules apply vice versa for Blackwood. Populating both sides of the conflict are the bread-and-butter rifleman, the techie-guru engineer, the back-row sniper, and the heaven-sent medic.
The rifleman is your ideal mid-range combatant. He packs fully automatic rifles, and enough ammo for himself and everyone else on the team. You’ll see him more than anyone else in team deathmatch, because nobody seemingly has time to repair your body armor, bandage your wounds, or defibrillate you when your life expectancy is less than 30 seconds as it is. Despite being called “team” deathmatch, there’s a lot of individual initiative at play. Team deathmatch is hampered by spawn campers, since each team has only one spawn point. The opposing side can quickly reach and sit on your singular point of entry. I did it all the time.
The engineer likes submachine guns. That means rapid fire, but shorter range than a rifleman. He comes in handy during plant the bomb because he places and defuses explosives faster than anyone else. More often than not, plant the bomb ends with an entire team getting wiped, not when any long-fused bomb actually goes off.
Storm puts one eight-man team on defense, while the other eight-man team charges in, capturing strategic points in succession. A quick-on-the-draw sniper can do well here if they can find long avenues of fire. Otherwise, it’s great to be a self-medicating doc or an armor-repairing engineer, since these matches afford both sides a few moments of downtime between objectives.
There’s also a free-for-all mode that is as chaotic as it sounds. It plays fine. It’s just a hot mess to get into, and that’s the point.
At the time of this writing, co-op missions are in dire straits, and have been since launch. One update puts a Band-Aid on server connectivity, while the next one tears open old wounds.
The first couple weeks were additionally wracked with game-breaking bugs. Players got their heads trapped in landing helicopters. Friendly-fire grenades sent teammates into zero-G spins. Helicopters wouldn’t open their cargo bay doors. Enemy choppers went invisible except for a set of rotating blades hovering in the sky. Heavy gunners disappeared in the middle of firefights, which made the next-mission triggers fail.
There were careless difficulty spikes as well. I took on missions marked “easy” that never let a single player survive—on dozens of tries, with hundreds of different players. Too many times I’ve seen full five-man teams gather in the lobby and launch a mission, only to have everyone but one or two players actually appear when the helicopter hit the landing zone. Everyone else was relegated to spectator mode for no apparent reason.
None of these issues seem to affect the versus modes. Versus works fine. Personally, I only found these problems in co-op. It’s made co-op quite unpopular. Most hours of the day, it can be difficult to field a full five-man team, simply because too many players sit there and watch a loading screen for a long time before getting kicked back to the lobby without explanation. If you have that happen too many days—and weeks—in a row, it's understandable when your early-adopter audience writes off that entire chunk of the game.
This, consequently, makes the versus servers suffer heavier loads because no one can get a game going on the co-op side. It’s a shame, because when it works, the co-op is a blast. Even when the bugs were running rampant over the blandly designed missions, voice chat was light and friendly. People laughed a lot. They got along well. It seems that folks enjoyed working toward cooperative goals, and were willing to put up with a ton of technical glitches in order to do it.
Now, to be fair, Crytek doesn’t want this much breakage in their product. They want Warface to work 100 percent of the time, just like the rest of us do. But it’s apparent that, at the time of this writing (which is about three weeks after launch), Crytek has been forced to focus on things other than fixing co-op. Co-op is slowly improving. It’s getting there, anyway. At least, when you can get in.
So, you’ll grab most of your in-game cash and experience points in versus mode. Between missions, you shop for guns and grenades, gloves and boots, helmets and knives. Almost everything is locked away until you unlock it. You unlock higher-tiered equipment by visiting vendors and playing eeny, meeny, miny, moe between the unlockable items.
Say, for instance, that a laser-sighted 1.5x scope is on your wishlist. You pass up the improved medic vest and beefier SMG for that scope attachment. With the scope selected, you then fill up a bar for that item simply by playing. Get enough game time under your belt, and it eventually unlocks the item in the shop. Voila, you whip out your in-game currency (whether earned or purchased), buy the scope, then attach it to your weapon on-the-fly during your next match.
Contracts also keep things interesting. You pay a nominal fee up front, fulfill certain specified conditions, then you get some cash in return by fulfilling those conditions. One example of a contract might ask you to get 10 knife kills during co-op for a $500 bonus. You pay the up-front fee of, say, $200. You remember to pull your knife out during co-op matches. You start shanking Blackwood forces. You, in fact, shank 10 of those bad guys, per the contract you signed. Boom: you get the $500 payout. (Which only puts you at +$300 because you paid $200 up front, but you get the idea.)
There’s always another bar to fill up. But that’s the nature of XP bars. You fill one up, then they give you another empty one after that. Keep them coming, bartender.
For all of Warface’s machismo (flames painted onto equipment; you can practically smell the high-fives from here), the maps end up being pretty plain. There are beat-up South American neighborhoods, beat-up Middle Eastern neighborhoods...you get the point. The architecture is unremarkable, square, and gives the most advantageous high ground only to enemies. Splashes of color may come from a rectangular crate or a boxy car, but the majority of your tour of duty will be brown, sandy, and pale, as you squint your eyes to pick out enemies dressed in brown, sandy, pale uniforms.
Warface is the first free-to-play multiplayer first-person shooter on Xbox 360, and it shows. It’s an important step in Microsoft’s “games as service” model. But, for now, Crytek is working late nights and long weekends, trying to get its head above water, squashing bugs and fending off game-breaking server overloads.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Randy gravitates toward anything open-world, story-centric, character-driven, or reimagined. He prefers strategy over shooting, instrospection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon. View Profile