The one word that I could not help uttering almost constantly during my eyes-on time with NetDevil’s space-based MMO Jumpgate Evolution (PC) during E3 2009 was "Wow." NetDevil president Scott Brown demoed a few levels for me, and only gave me the briefest of views of a few battle scenarios and settings, and yet for as little as I saw, I found myself grinning and shaking my head in awe throughout the entire presentation.
Brown reinforced at several points during the demo that Jumpgate is a full-blown MMO in every capacity, and yet, it's also designed for traditionally action-minded players. This is most apparent in the game's combat system, which is based on skill as opposed to statistical probabilities. Also, rather than forcing players to grind away for dozens upon dozens of hours in order to reach the point where combat, and the game in general, is satisfying and enjoyable, ranking up in skill level happens quickly. This ensures that the game's barrier to entry is substantially lower than your typical massively-multiplayer online game.
Now, when it comes to battles, Brown says his development team found that they encountered a bit of an unexpected problem providing such enormous stretches of space for players to explore and fight across: things just spread out too much. This still characterizes most of the player-versus-player combat in the game (and represents one of its most impressive aspects as well) but the game also features fully enclosed areas that offer a respite from the often overwhelming vastness of open-space combat.
The interior map I saw was called "Descent" and featured a seemingly endless array of massive tunnels through which to battle and navigate. By confining your mobility, the developers ensure a much more personal and more frenzied combat experience, and given that the developers are aiming for 150-player support for any particular battle, frenzied is probably a polite word for the kinds of battles this game is capable of producing.
At one point, Brown warped our ship to a random world, and upon exiting a jumpgate (the gateways used to traverse space), we were thrust into the middle of a space battle on par with any of the major battle scenes from your sci-fi film of choice. Massive space destroyers and hundreds of ships (all of which are fully customizable and feature hundreds of different parts, upgrades and weapons) hurtling through space, exchanging neon green and red laser fire against the backdrop of a scene-stealing planetary vista, and that doesn’t even come close to capturing how incredible it all looks running in real-time in front of your eyes.
The game features three nations and 22 factions to choose from at the beginning of the game. When it comes to missions and experience points, the game includes a soft grouping system that will automatically group players pursuing the same objective, and award each with equal amounts of experience once the objective is completed. This is meant to encourage players to group up and feel a sense of cooperation rather than competition. The game also includes Dolby Digital voice support as well as an extremely in-depth leader board system that tracks every single action you take in the game.
There are countless other features that contribute to the gameplay and genearl MMO-ness of the game, but unfortunately, I didn't have nearly enough time to learn even a fraction of what this game is attempting to deliver. So let me just say I was very impressed with my very brief time with Jumpgate Evolution. It might not be for everyone, but it certainly has the potential to attract those gamers who have shied away from MMOs in the past. Seriously, keep your eyes on this one.