I still remember when video game reviewers would complain about the proliferation of first person shooters wrapped around World War I and World War II themes. While this doesn’t seem to be proliferating much into the MMOFPS ecology yet, Karma Online: Prisoners of the Dead published by Joymax is an excellent example of this sort of game. I hopped into the open beta to test the game out for everyone interesting in playing. The game is a free-to-play 3D MMOFPS supporting a skill system, a variety of weapons, maps, and a clan system. Except that it doesn’t go any further than that and simply sinks into a sort of FPS mediocrity.
According to the game’s narrative—which I gathered from other sources, the site is incomplete—World War II didn’t end in 1945 and instead Germany has succeeded in conquering the European theater and decided to take on the Soviet Union. Of course, none of this story seems to be available in game. As a player, I was simply thrust directly into choosing battles from the lobby.
The first thing I noticed about this game is that while it seems to have a strong World War II theme—and semi-authentic weaponry for the era—the characters themselves, while being from the Axis and Allies, have Russian, American, and German names, but look ethnically East Asian. This is a motif that I’m starting to see creeping into a lot of games produced by Korean outfits being released into European and American markets: European and American themes with extremely East Asian character design.
Graphics and sound: Dialed the Reality Brownifier up to 11; but the polygons and textures are competent.
From the outside, Karma Online would be a totally competent FPS platform.
The characters are rendered well enough at a distance that I was able to snipe across entire maps and manage to hit people who looked like pixelated ants through my scope. Also, point in fact, some of the far more veteran players (which superior scopes) could do the same to do me and did so at many opportunities.
The weapons all look pretty good, bullets splash through walls and leave bullet holes for a while (although how some of them manage to penetrate feet of solid stone is beyond me.) When fired they produce authentic-sounding gunfire, reloading makes appropriate crunching noises and animates—if I make the mistake of doing something during a long reload animation, however, I’d have to reload again (and again, and again.)
The weird part of this game seemed to come from the voices. Sometimes I’d hear people shouting in what sounded a lot like German—probably “head shot” and “nice shot” and etc. When characters throw grenades they do shout things like “bombs away!” and “grenade up front!” Also, once and a while, I hear random German phrases. I haven’t heard any Russian. I guess it’s mostly just to add a little more atmosphere to what’s a pretty staple shooter.
I didn’t really notice the in-game music at all over the gunfire and mayhem; it makes its appearance primarily in the game lobby. It’s rather repetitive but inoffensive.
Character customization is extremely limited. In fact, I couldn’t customize my character character at al in fashions familiar to MMORPG players; instead, I was able to purchase new characters from the item shop with the in-game currency KP (kill points?) and I could have bought a limited number of extra types of armor and items to accessorize. The armor from the item shop also increases certain types of resistances. For example, the helmet would reduce head-shot likelihood by 5% (or some similar percentage.)
The graphics are okay… I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the textures and polygons on the maps: they were just the staid brown of devastated World War II FPS maps. Nothing really stood out about them and the design seemed to take hints from every other game I’d played.
Gameplay: It’s a first person shooter with World War II elements – that is all.
Initial characters and weapons have terrible accuracy and massive recoil. Also, initial weapons really don’t seem to do the trick when it comes to stopping power; however, that said, even the newbie on the block can take out the best veteran if they get the jump on them. Although it’s obvious that the game is massively skewed towards veteran players who would be able to purchase the heaviest weapons, have the most accuracy increasing, recoil decreasing, and armor improving skills. As a result, players with high rankings commonly stand very high on the chars regardless of apparent FPS skill.
When I bought a new character from the in game store with KP they had slightly different sets of skills than others. Skill points, after being earned through ranks, were shared between the characters I owned. As a result, I could only really über one character with my 8 skill points from playing almost three hours. A very Korean-looking German-uniformed girl, of course (and a Russian one too).
In all there’s a small number of game modes and all of them FPS players will recognize: free-for-all, team deathmatch, demolition (set the bomb), and interception (some sort of tag slash capture-the-flag variant.) Maps were extremely limited mostly medium, one or two very small, and there was one truly huge map with a pair of fortresses and a labyrinth of trenches between. I am not sure what people play on that map, but I ended up in the worst team-deathmatch ever (2×2).
The only stand outs happened to be that I could run silently if I crouched while moving (run slowly silently) otherwise other players could hear my footfalls—and I theirs—as I sprinted across the map. Also there’s sprint: except that it doesn’t work the same way I’m used to. Instead of pressing-and-holding SHIFT to sprint, I would hit SHIFT to toggle sprint and it would burn down a stamina meter. A little bit odd from the norm there.
Next up: Zombies.
There, I said it, this is a game mode appearing in a lot of shooters recently and I’m greatly amused by it. In Karma Online the zombie mode is called “Annhiliation” and it’s played on only one map: a laboratory. Although I couldn’t tell the place from Castle Wolfenstein, I guess it’s a laboratory because the map says that it is. It’s an indoor combat theater with a lot of masonry walls, doors, and random industrial equipment. The zombies spawn at very particular points and it’s a team-based game. We competed against the opposing team in how many zombies we could kill.
I am guessing they were Soviet zombies from the uniforms and look of them, but it’s really hard to tell. There were three zombie types: feeble, strong, and swift infectees. Feeble zombies also had machine guns, swift zombies bore hand-blades, and the strong zombie had a minigun of some sort (and a nice looking helmet.)
My main objection to the zombie mode is that it gets very repetitive and the zombies sound really weird. It rather sounds like massacring a very angry herd of sheep. A solid wall of gunfire, grenade explosions, and the incessant baaing of demonic mutton assaulted my ears as I tried to mow down the inexorable hordes of infected undead.
Fun for a while, but it quickly lost its charm.
Conclusion: The game suffers from mediocre gameplay and a strong imbalance between veterans and newcomers
Karma Online: Prisoners of the Dead falls extremely solidly into the everyday MMOFPS ecology—in fact, I’d say it falls right in the middle.
The World War II elements wear off really quickly because they don’t seem to add anything to the gameplay except for costumes and interesting looking guns. In the end, I ended up playing more of the zombie mode than anything else and even if I played the game I wouldn’t be buying anything. Understand, it’s still in open beta, which means that the item store will probably contain more guns when it finally comes out, but right now the selection feels extremely terse.
Nothing about this game makes it stand out from other MMOFPS on the market or even from multiplayer FPS available on both PC and console. Point in fact, being a free-to-play game probably makes it less compelling than games you’d buy to play on PC and console. So really the only draw will probably be the fact that it’s free from the get go.