I step out from the pale blue illumination of the Vortex portal and onto the sterile metal balcony overlooking the streets of Brooklyn, New York. In the mall entrance ahead of me, a mob of men wearing skateboarding safety gear frantically run back and forth, unsure of what to do with themselves. I push my way through them, walking down the white tiled ramp to the market terminals. I log into one, browsing the created items when a burst of gunfire suddenly erupts behind me. Everyone starts jumping and strafing, like popcorn kernels thrown into hot oil. They start firing blindly to try and defend themselves from this random attacker, leaving me riddled with bullets and energy weapon fire. Welcome to Face of Mankind.
Just like the title of this MMORPG, the game itself seems so vague and obtuse that it’s almost impossible to accurately describe. The closest approximation I can make would be like someone trying to make a Deus Ex MMORPG. I know that sounds exciting, but it’s all based on one primary concept that might alienate a lot of players: everything is player-driven. All the organizations are run by players, all the items are player-made, and even the police force is run by players who actively try to capture criminal players. It’s a pretty high-concept idea, and one that depends entirely on a large and active player base. Due to this, you’ll probably be able to decide if Face of Mankind is a game you can get into or not within the first few minutes of playing it.
It’s very easy to feel directionless. You’re pretty much thrown into the universe after a quick tutorial that explains the game mechanics for combat, resource mining, and item production. There are no classes, player levels, or restrictions on anyone. If your character dies, you’re revived in a cloning facility and lose one of your limited clone bodies, along with all of your unequipped items. If you run out of clone bodies and the credits to buy them, your character will be permanently dead. You pretty much have full access to everything in the game right off the bat. There are very few NPCs around and the few NPC quests available are shallow and provide little benefit. Most of them consist of talking to a NPC, walking across a hall to talk to another NPC, and then talking to the original NPC again. The best way to get started is usually to join one of the player factions, such as the Law Enforcement Department or a corporation. These organizations usually have support for new players and provide a steady income of credits. You aren’t tied to one faction forever and can switch between them every eight hours. If being a mining-focused corporate worker isn’t working out for you, then you can just pop over to the law enforcement faction and try to arrest criminals.
Face of Mankind is definitely banking on the idea that you’ll love the random experiences you can come across enough to forgive the tremendous lack of polish everywhere else. The character models are bland, the game world feels empty, and the environments feel like I’m playing a Half-Life mod, but for some reason I just find it interesting to play because of the experiences it offers. Once I started the game, I joined Vortex Inc., the company behind the instant travel teleporters players use to warp between planets and different areas. In the faction chat, one of the wealthy players started ranting against the current CEO, saying he was unfit for the job. The CEO, in standard faction drama action, revoked the complainer’s faction privileges and fired him from the corporation. The fired player ended up spending cash to hire a mercenary faction to camp and kill Vortex Inc. employees around the Tokyo offices, resulting in the Vortex security forces and the mercenaries battling it out. After being killed in the skirmish, I checked a security panel and saw he had become one of the “Most Wanted” players, making him a priority target now for the Law Enforcement Department.
The roleplay focus of the game means most of the player base have higher than average spelling and grammar skills compared to other online games. I was never really able to get into the whole roleplaying thing myself, but if that’s your cup of tea then you should probably consider checking it out. It’s very common for new or bored players to suddenly start firing their weapons in populated areas. This makes the first loading zone, Brooklyn, probably one of the most dangerous to be in. You’re pretty much guaranteed to constantly hear gun fights going on between other players, or between criminals and the police. There is a decent amount of environments to explore, but most of them feel pretty empty. You really have to be able to make your own fun, or get creative with the players and setting to truly get into it.
There’s a lot of potential for greatness here, but I’ll be amazed if this game goes anywhere beyond the small niche player-base it already has. The design puts a lot of the burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the players to create virtually all of their own content. If there aren’t dedicated players willing to create their own corporate and political intrigue, then there is literally nothing to do in the game. The gameplay mechanics feel too clunky and stiff for FPS fans to get into it and the lack of a solid structured environment for new players gives it a steep learning curve. It’s pretty much the only game of its kind out right now, and free to play. I would highly recommend everyone give it a shot to explore to the different ideas at work here, but don’t go in with high expectations.