Free-to-play games have a stigma that they are not free at all. Of course, you can play unencumbered up to a point; but, just when things are getting good, a horrible and unwelcome window pops up. The gist is if you want more content, if you want more leveling, if you want more of anything, you have to start emptying your wallet. This sad model has left the free-to-play (F2P) space practically a wasteland.
This all changes with the December U.S. release of SD Gundam Capsule Fighter. In a big way, Softmax and OGPlanet aim to turn the F2P stigma on its head with a free game that plays just like a paid title. In other words, every gameplay element, every mode of play, all progressions are available to the player without the solicitation of money. And, to be honest, it has shaped up to be a rather entertaining game to boot. AND it’s Gundam. What more can you ask for?
I had a chance to put the game through its paces and then some, whilst nestled in a corner suite on the 12th floor of the Serrano Hotel, just west of Union Square, San Francisco, Calif. A fairly comfortable setting, two representatives from OGPlanet accompanied my deep dive as we enjoyed the nondescript hotel furniture, each with his own laptop. There were no punches pulled, no holds barred. We went through all the gameplay elements a typical, non-paying user would go through — which means just about everything.
SD Gundam Capsule Fighter is a Massive Multiplayer Online Third Person Shooter (MMOTPS) reminiscent of Sega’s Virtual On series. Countless mechs descend upon each other in various modes of combat. On a high level, expect beam swords, gigantic machine guns, super powerful rail guns and other weapons that explode things. Key to making this game stand out visually amongst mech and Gundam titles, are the capsule based models. These are the Super Deformed (SD) Gundams, the cute toy-like mechs made famous in illustration and the snap-kit models fans can pick up at conventions. Complementing this visual style are the intuitive, simple controls and interfaces. Don’t mistake simple for lack of depth, however.
Players will be surprised by the choices and customizations available to them upon game start. At any given time, there can be 24 Gundam units in the stable or more, ranked C to SS depending on their stats and rarity. Each unit also has a particular combat alignment corresponding to rock, paper, scissor — rock for close combat units, paper for long range and scissor for balanced. Each unit is particularly disadvantaged against the opposite alignment. In other words, scissors beats paper beats rock beats scissors. Knowledge of this system definitely comes in handy as in the game lobby you can view your team members’ rank and alignment as well as your enemies’. Progression allows players to build the stats of their mech and assign various power ups.
SD Gundam Capsule Fighter also lets players customize the appearance of their units, assigning paint to various parts of the Gundam for both sleek and wacky schemes. On top of that, there is a plethora of decals to choose from for even deeper customization. This would be a place where a typical F2P game starts charging money. Heck, even simply building your stable of Gundam units is prime opportunity for charges. Players need not pay for any of it, however.
Playing through the game is enough to earn the right to buy Gundam units, raise stats and customize to the heart’s content. While you can definitely invest real money into buying and customizing units, you can just as well plow through several single player levels and PvP rounds, earning game points to do the exact same thing. In that sense, SD Gundam Capsule Fighter is blazing new trails in the F2P space. It acts as a traditional game where players progress and earn rewards by playing and leveling up. At the same time, those who pay up front get easy access.
Eugene Choi, marketing manager for OGPlanet assures that there is no tom foolery in this model. Players won’t have to worry that paying customers are getting special items and extra power ups unavailable to those who do not pay. It’s just a matter of time that non-paying gamers also get the same units and power ups through game points. It is just a matter of asking the question, “do I want all the good stuff now, or do I want to play for it?”
If there is going to be any real difference between a paying player and a non-paying player, it is the size of the unit stable. As mentioned before, players can have 24 Gundam units or more. Well, the max for a non-paying player is 24 initially, where coin can unlock additional slots. Now, 24 Gundam units in a game where you can only use one unit at a time seems like more than enough. But these are SD Gundams. There is indeed an element of collecting involved, as one tries to catch em’ all like another game full of cutesy yet violent characters.
SD Gundam Capsule Fighter balances the stable limit for non-paying players through an aspect called blueprints. Blueprints in the game allows specific units to be traded for higher ranked, more powerful and better looking Gundams. So even if paying players unlock the good stuff faster, there is virtually no difference in fire power or ranking against a savvy player who chooses to not pay and instead builds a Gundam fleet from the ground up with good, ‘ol fashioned play.
Another aspect in which this game is bound to shine is the wealth of gameplay modes. There are single player and co-op missions steeped in Gundam’s 30+ year history. There are also several team based and free for all PvP modes sure to satisfy every taste. During the preview,Choi, associate producer Andrew West and I first jumped into a co-op mission where we had to destroy several mini bosses before time ran out. This is where the multiple exclamations that this game brought back childhood memories of Virtual On spewed forth. All in a good way, because Virtual On was very fast paced, fluid and exciting, SD Gundam Capsule Fighter brought that same level of intensity while adding its own spin on mech battle.
Whether in single player, co-op or PvP, there are generally three weapons available — beam sword, gun, rail gun, etc. depending on the alignment. Also, there is a unique super attack for each unit that is charged up with every effective hit. Players essentially find themselves gliding from opponent to opponent slashing and blasting away in a flurry of beam sword trails and explosions trying to unlock that special attack. Then, all hell breaks loose. The result is candy for the eyes.
For all intents and purposes, SD Gundam Capsule Fighter is a rather unique game if only for the fact that it’s treating the F2P space quite differently than its contemporaries. While I had the pleasure of previewing this game for a good amount of time, it only took a short description of their model and several minutes of menus and battle to understand this. SD Gundam Capsule Fighter is essentially a free game, with substantial depth and visuals that rival any MMO and TPS game out there.
That bears repeating: this is a FREE game with surprising quality. You would be a rather savvy gamer to download this title upon release. Whether you want to spend some cash on the game or not, that’s entirely your choice. No matter your wallet’s alignment, there is a promise of good times ahead with this one.