Splash Damage is no stranger to free-to-play first-person shooters. Back in 2003 the studio worked alongside id Software to create Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, which was supposed to launch as an expansion pack for Return To Castle Wolfenstein, but ultimately was released as a free, standalone game. In the subsequent years the studio branched out with Quake Wars: Enemy Territory, Brink, and soon-to-be-released multiplayer mode for Batman: Arkham Origins, but now the team is returning to its roots with a new free-to-play game, Extraction.
Many studios in the free-to-play space develop their economic model in tandem with the game creation. Not Splash Damage and its publishing partner, Nexon. To make sure Extraction meets the standards of its designers, many of whom are former competitive gamers, the companies are completely focused on making the game as balanced and fun as possible. Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood says he hasn't even started thinking about the economics yet, but he is quick to point out that pay-to-win will not be a viable strategy with this game.
Extraction takes place in the year 2020. London has been devastated by a mysterious attack, and much of the city is uninhabitable. The only people who venture into these irradiated zones are mercenaries sent in to procure or destroy sensitive data abandoned during the evacuation.
Unlike most first-person shooters, which give you a generic character and let you outfit him with whatever gear you see fit, Extraction features hand-crafted characters, each of whom has different weapons and unique abilities. The demo I played had five of the twenty characters available to players. Thunder is outfitted with a grenade and minigun. Proxy has a shotgun, proximity mines, and a proclivity for engineering. Sawbones is a medkit packing medic, who can also revive fallen players with a defibrillator when he's not taking down enemies with his SMG. Vassili is the recon soldier of the bunch, packing a sniper rifle and heartbeat sensor. The last character, Arty, is good with a rifle, supplies teammates with ammunition, and can call in artillery strikes. Every character carries C4 and can complete mission objectives like hacking, so you're not forced to play as a certain class in particular situations. That said, some characters are better at these tasks than others. Much like League of Legends, Splash Damage plans to continually introduce more characters after the final game releases. Wedgwood teases one may even use the SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) navigation system introduced in Brink.
Most of the game modes in Extraction center on teamwork. Like Battlefield and Brink, you get more points for supporting each other and playing the objective than you ever will lone wolfing it through a match in search of a positive kill/death ratio. The PAX demo tasked one team to defend a position while the attackers tried to hack a train track control panel to realign it the tracks, and then clear out a carriage blocking the passage with C4 to clear the track for an inbound train containing highly sensitive data. The objectives must be reached before the timer expires, and once the attacking team fails or is successful, the teams switch sides. Whichever team completes the objectives the fastest wins.
The asymmetrical map design keeps the action in front of you (no Call of Duty style getting shot in the back every 20 seconds), and the maps offer several routes to take when assaulting each objective. Teammates automatically yelwhen lout of medkits and ammo if they are running low, which helps teams work together even if someone isn't keen on turning on his or her mic.
Already two years into development, Extraction is scheduled to enter a closed beta in a matter of months, with a PC release tentatively planned for the end of the year. Maybe by then, the game will be polished enough that Splash Damange and Nexon can start talking about the business plan.