We took our miniaturized mechs for a spin in the early Southeast Asian version of Softmax's free-to-play Gundam-themed massively multiplayer online game.
Readers from Asia may be familiar with the long-running Mobile Suit Gundam spin-off called SD Gundam, which caught on with fans in various forms, such as manga, trading cards, and capsule figures. The mini mech phenomenon did prove popular in video game form as the turn-based strategy and brawler titles like the SD Gundam Force and SD Gundam G Generation series. South Korean company Softmax decided to make a massively multiplayer online game based on the popular spin-off and launched the game way back in 2007 called SD Gundam Capsule Fighter Online.
Four years later, Bandai Korea agreed to publish the game onto North American servers with OGPlanet. As for Southeast Asia, Shanda Games will be launching its version early next year. After checking out an early build of the latter version, we suspected as much that the game will appeal to the hardcore Gundam fans.
For starters, the game will feature all of the Gundam mechs from all eras, ranging from the Universal Century timeline to the Future Century era. Customization options for each mech are plentiful. Apart from being able to purchase certain robots, either through the standard cash shop or buying random mechs through the Gashapon screen (akin to a capsule machine, only with pilotable SD Gundams), gamers can deck out their mechs with custom paint jobs and stickers by spending points earned in battle.
Players can also assign different operators for missions; these pilots essentially make you earn more experience points and currency for a fixed number of days. They're used mostly to speed up a player's level grinding as most free-to-play MMOGs are purposely slow in this regard.
Players control their Gundams with the keyboard and mouse. You use the WASD keys to move your mech around while you use the mouse to look around and aim. All attacks are done using the left mouse button; you can switch between melee and ranged attacks using the number keys 1 to 5. As you aim by moving your mouse, you can auto-aim onto moving targets by clicking on the right mouse button.
Covering a lot of ground on a map requires you to double-tap the WASD keys to boost; you press the spacebar twice and hold it down to double jump and hover, respectively. Clever use of the mech's dashing is required to outmaneuver human opponents, though you have to take into account the boost gauge as it depletes when you're frantically blazing around.
When we were checking out the controls during the training missions, we only had access to up to three weapons; the charged shot attacks and special moves (which invoke a cinematic-style attack when it connects) were only available when the game goes into a closed beta stage next year. Still, what we experienced in this build proved that it will take some time getting used to the game's controls and the mech's maneuverability. While not as complex and lumbering as robots in the MechWarrior and Steel Battalion franchises, we're just glad that the tutorial gave us some leeway in piloting our selected Gundams in the heat of battle.
Speaking of which, the game utilizes a rock-paper-scissors element when determining Gundam types. The red rock icon means that your Gundam is melee focused, while the green paper icon means that it's suited for sniping opponents from afar. The blue scissors icon means that a Gundam is balanced between using close-ranged and long-ranged attacks. Rock property Gundams are strong against scissors but weak against paper, while paper property Gundams are strong against rock but weak against scissors.
You can probably guess what scissors property Gundams are strong and weak against at this point. However, this doesn't mean that a rock property Gundam will obliterate a scissors property Gundam. Skill still matters in the long run, but in terms of damage dealing, the former will have a slight advantage.
The rock-paper-scissors system also helps in picking multiple Gundams for online skirmishes. For four-versus-four battles, gamers will have to pick multiple Gundams to slot onto battleships so that when their main pick dies, they can switch to the next one mid-battle. As such, it's usually better to pick a varied mix of Gundams with different properties.
For our current session, however, we only could pick one for both Mission mode and online Versus mode. We went for the MSA-0011 S Gundam, which was an AR-ranked mech with pretty high stats and top-class weaponry. Even with that advantage, we had to get used to the controls as the mech's default speed was slow. We had to rely a lot on its boosts to navigate on the stage.
One single-player mission had us protecting a non-player character mech for an amount of time, while another took place in deep space where we had to blow up supply crates and kill a specific number of enemy mechs to complete the stage. What was unique about the latter mission was that we had to take into account vertical movement in space; we had to keep watch of enemies above and below us.
When we faced off against another player online, we fought in both a train station and an area with a giant elevator at the center of the map. The former stage had moving trains we could use as vantage points and makeshift transportation from one end of the map to the other, while the latter had the aforementioned elevator that went up and down during intervals. What these maps had in common was cover, which we used effectively to avoid our opponent's long-ranged attacks. Our quick boosts across the map helped get us to higher ground.
We had a few qualms with the minimap on the interface. The information so far only displays the location of your objectives but not surrounding enemies or their vertical positions. This proved detrimental on our first try of the space mission as enemies blindsided us from all corners of the map, and we didn't know where they were located. We also had a lot to say about the game's not-so-polished graphics, but to be fair, the game was made back in 2007 and is tailored for computers with low specs.
Gamers in Asia looking for their miniature Gundam fix can check out the closed beta test that will be held in early 2012.