Garagegames, they of the Torque middleware engine best known from Tribes, have today opened up the beta of their latest endeavour, InstantAction. I had hoped for InstantActon, in which I could wander a streaming 3D representation of the birthplace of The Who and that power station they filmed bits of Aliens inside, but this'll have to do.
InstantAction is one of the first of the new breed of browser-based games, a concept best evidenced by Battlefield Heroes and Quake Live. GarageGames have gotten there first, though their take on it is a portal for multiple games rather than a single title. The philosophy's the same - quick to install, quick to load 3D games that run from a browser, require minimal hardware and gun for that curious crossover audience that encompasses both the shaky-reflex casual or lapsed gamer and the points-obsessed hardcore. It's super-big on community - all friends lists and instant chat. And it's super-big on micro-payments, employing its own ActionTokens currency to buy unlocks, maps and, eventually, entire games. That stuff's not in there yet, though. Spammers are, however - the thing's only been running a day, and I've already received junk mail to my InstantAction inbox.
What is there is four free-to-play casualish games. Think Tanks is already picking up a mild buzz, and some speculation as to whether it's the sort of approach to expect from Battlefield Heroes. It's entirely cartoonish (check out the knowingly over-written backstory), it adds enough treacly vagueness to WASD and mouselook controls to ensure hyper-reflex teenagers won't dominate matches, and, yes, it's in functional but effective 3D.
Marble Blast Online is a slick remake of Marble Madness (with nice sound effects), and again accomplished enough that I did a double-take to check this really was playing in a browser. Again, it's predominantly multiplayer - racing other players to collect the most gems before the clock stops - but like Think Tanks I worry that there isn't a great sense of achievement to winning. You see a flash of score table, and then the session ends or restarts. There isn't a vast sense of competition to it or Tanks - but I dunno whether the intended audience needs that, or if it's just my own expectancies getting the better of me. (It's another dread standard TF2 has left for everyone else to try and follow - that's a game where you really know when you've won, both in canny sound effects and in the fine reward of mercilessly hunting down your now unarmed opponents).
Will it be successful? I dunno. It's a giggle, it looks cute and it's very impressive to see this level of technical accomplishment within a Firefox tab, but I haven't yet felt the familiar tingle of compulsion I get from a great casual game. I suspect some sort of persistence and stat-tracking may be key to that, which is one of the more likely reasons Battlefield Heroes will be hee-yu-yu-yu-ge from the off.
All that said, the real jewel hasn't yet been set in InstantAction's crown - knowingly Tribesy shooter Fallen Empire: Legions could attract the FPS crowd in droves.
Anyway, the beta's free, and you're allowed in within seconds of signing up. You can do so here.