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new guns, fabulous armour bling

"War. Face. WARFACE. War? FACE! Warrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr faceceeeeeeeeeee!". The University of Bielefeld's articulatory phonetics department has me hooked me up to their consonant stretching apparatus. The Cawood Minnesota cheek holder made it sound rounder, while the Roser Koenig* mouth gag made me drool it out in wet clods. I said it over and over for a full hour. At one point only dogs could hear me, and they howled in derision. It's no good. I can't configure my mouth to make Warface sound any less ridiculous, not even with academic help. After extensive testing, we concluded that it was a silly name. So I approached my day at Crytek with swollen jawed trepidation. I was going to hear that name.

A lot.

But first I'm introduced to Gface. This isn't fair, Crytek. I wasn't prepared for a bad rap name. You haven't seen much of Gface. It's Crytek's attempt to capture a rather specific feeling that founder Cevat Yerli had when he visited a Korean internet cafe in 2007. He walked in, sat down, and observed: "What happened is a flood of people came in, and they played multiple games together one after the other. They zapped through the games. And zapping through the games was possible in Korea at that time. First, the games were actually free. And second, they decided together what to play. And third, even if they were not all together at the same time and same place, some were online, they all made decisions about what to play together. And we said effectively at that point: this is actually an amazing group dynamic. They have fun, like they go to a cafe or bar. They enjoy the time. It's social. And this was very inspirational, and formed the foundation of Gface. This is about playing together live."

Gface is the foundation for Crytek's previously noted free-to-play future. It is the pillar that Warface, and all other Crytek games henceforth, will balance on. # It's actually rather neat: it flips the notion of an in-game friends list around, with you all gathering in Gface in the browser before you head into a game. Everyone gathers in a chat room called the Life Bar, rather than ChatFace or MouthFace or WordFace, but it can be expanded into a table of sorts. The decisions are made on that table. What game, what level, what game mode to play are all suggested and voted on by the group. All the games will be free, so there's no barrier to selection. You'll be able to zap and you won't leave anyone behind. It's basically a virtual internet cafe.

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In this instance the connected journalists are zapped into Waaaaaarfacccccccce. The team stands together in the menu screen, like a proud squad of elite commandos judging each other's clothing decisions. If you fiddle with your loadout, others will see the changes on the character model. What class you've selected is also represented (from Engineer, Medic, Sniper, and Rifleman). If you're off testing out a gun you want to buy in the safe room, the model will be shooting. Weapons can be augmented with add-ons, like additional scopes and barrel mods. The same is true for armour, with premium helmets blocking flashbang effects, or letting you spy an enemy's bomb placemet. It's a mix of earned and bought, and if you've joined the game as a team you'll be offered group deals. You'll even be able to buy presents for each other.

"This helmet matches your Warface!"
"Oh stop, you."
"It will. If you don't buy it I will."
"Well, I'm not going to stop you."
"Guns for everyone!"

With your new guns, fabulous armour bling, and tightly integrated group dynamic, you're ready to show the world your Worf Ace. There are two game modes: co-op and versus mode. Co-op is fulfilled with the "Daily Challenge", a series of missions that teams can compete in. You don't have a choice as to what mission, so we're choppered into a vaguely Middle-Eastish villagey place that's so in vogue nowadays. It is a street. There are men with guns.

The levels are built for co-op, so the teams can move through different routes and outflank the enemy. I spawned as a Rifleman, carrying extra ammo to share with those in dire need of lead. The AI is mean and sharp, and despite the flanking space the street affords our team, they chip away at our health. Teamwork is key, and a good medic will be helpful if you don't want to spend your money: one of the things you can buy is a Resurrection Token that'll instantly pop you back into the action. Remember when used to be called extra lives? These can only be bought with real-world money, and they're only used in co-op. If you don't have a Resurrection coin or a swift medic, you'll pop back into life at the next checkpoint, full of health, ammo, and armour.

It's an oddly unambitious shooter for Crytek, but there's a few Crysis staples in there. The weapons can be tweaked with additional (and earned/paid) scopes, handles, barrels in the game, and there's a nice, speedy movement system that lets you leap over walls and drop into a deadly bum slide. You can even boost team mates up to higher ledges. But it doesn't feel like it flexes any of the typical "maximum" muscles. We push through the level with regular deaths thinning us out, fighting for control of the streets for whatever reason. I was the top killer and the most killed, rushing in ahead of everyone to test out the AI's abilities to hold off a crazy person not using cover and travelling horizontally. Hey, if you give me the chance to slide into combat, I'm going to be scraping my bum like an inappropriate dog. My favourite discovery was that you could wield any weapon while sliding, including melee and heavy weaponry.

The AI tends to camp and fire back with hateful accuracy, so variety is tossed in via mini-bosses. There's a full on man vs mech fight, a chopper, and a heavy gunner. The mini-boss fight should have been a reason to shine, but the heavy gunner we faced had a glaring weak-spot on his rear. All we needed was to get people in position, which meant splitting up and running around and around and concentrating fire. All in, the co-op is a bit weak, but the Versus mode it leads into is a good deal of fun.

The co-op's, flanking style layout is retained is most of Versus levels. Modes include free-for-all, team deathmatch, attack-and-defend, and a bomb planting mode that is best friends with Counter-Strike. I liked that one a lot. The level we played was neatly designed, with a large, human-sized pipe running between the building yards at the bottom of the level for sneaky players, and snakey buildings at the top. The circuitous design had plenty cover and movement options, and each game was quickly resolved. It's also not set in the Middle-East. Other levels will be set in favelas, trainyards, parks. Despite initial impressions, it does have other themes.

Oddly for me, I had a good few games in the free-for-all levels. The first had a building in the centre that gave a good overview of the level while giving me some protection. I ensconced myself, seeding the stairs with proximity mines (toys of the engineer class) and made a pretty good last stand. Then another and another. I know you can't have multiple last stands, but I died every time, and have no other description for what it was. Another level is a farm: buildings slope down to a river, via a cornfield. There's plenty of environmental variety.

It's in Versus that the differences in the classes were more pronounced. I found the Sniper a little overpowered. Even though he has no additional skills to feed back to the team, I was on the losing end of every close and long-range fight I got into with one. I also couldn't tell what modifications people were using. It might become second-nature to long-term players, but I doubt the general public will be able to differentiate quickly between helmets. I did feel that there were a couple of firefights that I should have won, and couldn't tell why.

Does it live up to the name? It's easy to forget that the original Far Cry was b-movie nonsense, and that Crysis was silly (chicken tossing, taking down choppers by throwing things), before it went all serious face. Crytek aren't above mocking their creations as this Warface art shows.

It's a notion I put to producer Joshua Howard. That maybe this isn't the game the name suggests? That we're all wrong in thinking Crytek are serious? He agreed: "Warface has this attitude that I respect. And I think you're going to see more of this. We don't have to be this realistic, super-hardcore, militaristic thing. The game does have those elements, but we're not restricted by that. The heavy gunner, you know, that's not real. My US marine buddies would be "pfft", but that creates a great game experience. When you first run into it the heave gunner, you're view of Warface changes. And the first time you see the mech. The fact that we're willing to have a little fun with it, and have a little attitude, I think is fine."

Hah. By admitting he liked the attitude, and wanted to have a little fun with it, he'd fallen into my trap.

Me: "I scribbled down a list of alternative names."
Josh: "Yeah. Okay."
Me: "So I'm going to read them out to you, and you can maybe react to them."
Josh: *Laughs*
Me: "The first one is pretty straight-forward, it's just 'Guns! Guns! Guns!', but it does have three exclamation marks."
Josh: "Exclamation marks are cool. You could do 'Guns (to the third)'."
Me: "Alright. 'Next is Sexy Guns'. Sorry."
Josh: "'Sexy Guns?' Okay."
Me: "What sort of game does that say to you?"
Josh: "I dunno. There's not enough sexy nowadays."
Me: "It's quite a manly game, though I'm not saying men can't be sexy... 'Cryme And Gunishment'. Thoughts?"
Josh: "'Gunishment!' *Laughs*'Crymmmmmm...' Anything with a 'y'... We've gone there."
Me: "I've got one here that's probably a little bit distasteful: 'War Cryme'? Again, sorry."
Josh: "'War Cryme'? Yeah... yeah..."
Me: "See, I wrote that down, but only now do I realise what it says."
Josh: "It sort of maybe goes over the edge a little bit."
Me: "Just a bit, yeah. 'Guns 'n' Hats?' Because..."
Josh: *Laughs* "It has the head element, and hats are very big in free-to-play."
Me: "'Police Action Knee'? It might need explaining."
Josh: *silence*
Me: "Okay, so Vietnam wasn't a war, it was a 'police action', and knees are very big in gaming nowadays."
Josh: "That's right! *chuckles*. I don't know if that would be a good worldwide name, though. "
Me: "'War Facebook'?. Though I'd guess..."
Josh: "Yeah. You're not the first one to have said that."
Me: "Erm, 'Rarrrgh!' Which is just, you know, the sound."
Josh: "Because...?"
Me: "If you're running into war, the noise you'd be making with your Warface would be..."
Josh: "Right. Right. Rarrrgh!"
Me: "Do you know what gurning is?
Josh: "What?"
Me: "Gurn? To gurn. It's a UK thing. When you screw your face up to make an ugly face, that's called 'gurning'. So I have 'Machine Gurns'."
Josh: "Ah, see that's very clever, but it's pretty local and pretty specific."
Me: "Well that's why I was asking. Okay, the next would probably change the game quite a lot. It would need to be sci-fi, and have a lead character named 'Ronald'. 'Ronald's Ray Guns'."
Josh: "Right. Yeah. That's maybe a little bit different of a game."
Me: "Yeah. I thought it was a bit too far off the war aspect."
Josh: "But you know, it could be a place where you go in the future."
Me: "It could be the sequel. 'Alas, Poor War-Rick'. So in that artwork with the skull, that's Rick's skull he's holding in the concept art."
Josh: *snorts* "Yeah. That's very good."
Me: "I've got a really bad one coming up. It twists the notion of body parts. Erm, 'War Gland'. Again, sorry."
Josh: "'War Gland'. Yeah... Okay"
Me: "But you say 'gland' to people, they don't instantly think of... they think of..."

I nod to my crotch.

Josh: "I'm not sure I wanna know!"
Me: "I've got one here... 'Worgan'. I'm thinking 'organ' again, but 'war'?"
Josh: "Yeah..."
Me: "So that's my list. Is there any you'd like to keep?"
Josh: "No, I think I'm okay?"
Me: "So you think Warface is better than all my suggestions?"
Josh: "Well. I've never worked on an official product who's name made a lot of sense at first, and names sort of grow on you."

He's correct. I'm sure 'War Gland' will grow on him. I'm expecting a phone call at any moment, in which Crytek will beg for the name. I'll insist on it being called 'Craig Pearson's War Gland'. Would you play that?

Would you play Warface? In the game school yard, Warface hangs around with Modern Warfare and Battlefield. All three are friends, but Warface is the quiet one that's smarter and more likeable than CoD, and not as handsome as Battlefield. It's a good, generous Versus game, one that I'd happily play if I couldn't afford Battlefield, and I'd generally play it over CoD, anyway. If they make the AI a bit less predictable and one-note, then the co-op might grow some muscles. You get a lot for free in Warface, and when it comes out it'll be worth your attention.

*These are all real things and that is a real place.

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