A few short years ago, the term “free game” was associated with simple, casual gameplay experiences that could be acquired through Flash and quickly tucked away before your boss swung by your cubicle. Those games will always be in demand, but things have changed in recent days. In fact, you can’t even sign into your Facebook page without spotting an ad for the latest free shooteror MMO. Any reasonable person might ask themselves, “If it’s free, how good could it be?” Red Duck offers an impressive rebuttal with their free tactical shooter, Alliance of Valiant Arms.
Peering past the awkward title, any observer will be quick to notice the game’s graphical style. Carefully constructed within the brawny Unreal 3 engine, AVA sports a very modern aesthetic that echoes some of the best – and most expensive – shooters of this generation. It looks quite similar to other shooters, set in against a contemporary Eastern European backdrop. Hardcore FPS audiences won’t stand for mere flashiness of course – a truly great shooter needs to offer depth, scope, and intense gameplay that requires something a bit more cerebral than your typical run-and-gun console shooter.
Fortunately, Alliance of Valiant Arms contains even more brains than beauty. The developers have wisely taken an accessible arrangement of class-based warfare, with three distinct yet uniquely upgradable characters to choose from. The pointman functions as a light infantry reconnaissance specialist. Avoiding the tiresome “lone wolf” cliché allows him to become a vital team element; he’s excellent in a rapid ambush, and essential for determining the whereabouts of hostiles. The rifleman is the balanced class, versatile and capable in most mid-range conflicts. The sniper needs no introduction. He’ll be your long-range marksman, but more susceptible to close-quarter assaults.
Like many similar titles, AVA allows players to swap classes whenever they are killed. This encourages some interesting tug-of-war scenarios. Fed up with the opposing team’s snipers, you might decide to switch classes and try some counter-sniping. Unfortunately, the enemy pointman is expecting this tactic, so he sidles up to your blindside and unloads his shotgun into you. AVA encourages players to think on their feet, but the tactical aspect remains very solid. Players can mark enemy positions, making them a priority for other players who might attempt to weave around and strike on their vulnerable flank.
Alliance of Valiant Arms is equipped with a fairly standard set of gameplay modes, from the classic deathmatch to objective-based missions, such as the frantic “tank escort” mode. While it doesn’t take any great risks on wildly new mechanics, AVA manages to offer a very strong online shooter experience that could easily compete with bigger commercial titles.