Red 5 unveiled the instanced PvP for its visually impressive free-to-play shooter at this year’s GamesCom. I plasma rifled, jetpacked, sniped, and vampiric beamed my team to victory on the asymmetric assault map Red 5 brought to the show, and came away with a higher opinion of Firefall than ever.

We already knew about the dynamic world events and various cooperative mission types that populate Firefall’s public space, but this is the first taste of Red 5’s plans for PvP. I’ll admit to some surprise that Firefall has no public PvP at all (and Red 5 has nothing in the works along those lines), confining competitive play to balanced instances instead. At least the teams have equal firepower this way.

The attack/defend map here at GamesCom has the team on offense trying to hack a series of terminals within a ten-minute time limit while the defenders do their best to stop them. Afterwards, the teams switch and the former defenders try to beat the attackers’ time. This is nothing we haven’t seen before, but the implementation is solid.

The combat itself reminds me of Section 8 more than anything. Players move relatively slowly, and it takes a fair number of shots to kill someone – the plasma rifle, my favorite weapon from the demo, takes three direct hits to take someone down from full health. While this design slows the game down, it also gives medics a chance to heal their allies and makes epic holdouts against overwhelming odds easier to pull off.

Of the four classes – assault, medic, recon, and engineer – I tried all but the engineer. Their roles on the battlefield are exactly what you’d expect; Firefall is very traditional in that regard. This may have a sci-fi wrapper around it, but tactically it is more akin to Enemy Territory than Tribes. If you like team-based shooters as much as I do, that’s anything but a problem.

Jetpacks are ubiquitous and critical in Firefall. Everyone has one, and the level I played was designed to support vertical gameplay. Finding a good sniping spot, launching over a building to flank the enemy from a side door, or just getting the hell away from a bad situation are the first few uses that come to mind, but the third-dimension tactics that jetpacks enable are beyond count. The boost is limited by a charge meter, but it refills quickly whenever your jetpack isn’t in use.

In addition to the difference in weapon loadouts and native characteristics like speed and health, the classes differ in the three secondary active abilities they can equip. The assault loadout in the demo, for example, can slam down from the air to do massive area damage where it lands, speed across short distances in a flash with afterburners, and boost its damage output for a time. Recon had a teleport beacon and land mines, and the medic could defibrillate offensively or on a fallen ally. The cooldowns are relatively long – I noticed ranges between 45 seconds and a minute – but the abilities are powerful. Of course, in the real game you can customize your loadouts however you like with any gear and abilities that you’ve collected.

Firefall’s PvP doesn’t break much new ground, but what I saw today is an already solid implementation of tried-and-true shooter gameplay. The cooperative elements and dynamic world are significantly bigger draws, as they offer new types of gameplay that you won’t find anywhere else, but I can’t see any reason competitively minded players shouldn’t enjoy Firefall’s take on session-based multiplayer shooting as well.

Firefall will be entering closed beta next month as Red 5 works toward a full December release on PC. No console version has been announced or hinted at at this time.