by Zee Salahuddin
previewed on PC
Browser games eh?
I think part of the reason that I hate FarmVille is because it has forever tainted my perception of what a “browser-based” game is supposed to be. For example, when I first heard that Battlestar Galactica, a franchise I am fiercely fond of, was announced to be a browser title, I had nightmares. I freaked out at the thought of running my own farm and milking cows aboard the Botanical Cruiser to keep my colony alive. City of Steam, however, has single-handedly changed my preconceptions of browser-based games.
Using Unity’s robust Web Player, you can load and play the 3D MMO right in your browser. Actually, to quote developer Mechanist Games, it’s “a full-featured 3D light-weight browser-based industrial age fantasy MMORPG”, which is understandably a bit of nightmare for their PR team. So for the purposes of brevity, we will just refer to it as City of Steam. The Unity engine is robust, cross-platform and very user-friendly. And while the game is fully 3D and runs very smoothly in full-screen, even on dated hardware, don’t expect cutting-edge graphics, animations or mind-numbingly high resolution textures. The fundamental idea is that you can play a full-blown MMO in your browser, and City of Steam delivers.
Learning the ropes
This is a steampunk-esque vision of a highly detailed and intriguing universe called The World Machine, with the massive city of Nexus at its core. There are three races to select from, that can take on the mantle of four classes. The races, humans, elves and greenskins, are further divided into several sub-races, effectively bumping the number of playable races up to nine. Character customization is, as may be expected, fairly rudimentary, with a few options available for tweaking. I was a Stoigmari, one of the human sub-races, during my brief time with an early alpha build, as developer Andrew Woodruff took me through some aspects of the game.
The four classes consist of the Channeler, Warder, Gunner and Arcanist. The first is the divine healer, the second is the melee warrior, while the last two are ranged classes, comparable to mages and hunters/rangers in most fantasy MMOs. I played as a Gunner during the demo.
There was a tutorial that started me off in the world. The camera control took some getting used to, but it is very freeform. I could rotate, tilt, pan, and zoom in just about every way imaginable, allowing me to get up close and personal to the action or enjoy a more isometric view of the chaos. I was aboard a train full of refugees heading for the relative safety of Nexus, and the locomotive was under attack by nefarious creatures. These initial enemies are just canon-fodder, designed to help you understand the basics. One of the things that I have never seen in another MMO for the ranger class is the ability to wield shields. I was able to switch to a two-handed rifle, two one-handed pistols, or a pistol with a shield equipped for the extra layer of protection, at the mere click of a button. Very cool!