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District 187: Sin Streets Preview

District 187: Sin Streets appeared on the Steam store in the back end of November as a free-to-play first-person title. It's still being marketed as a Beta, so we are not in the position to provide an in-depth 'review' on the game. However, having had a quick match against CJ Games' producer Jon-Enée Merriex at this year's gamescom I was keen to see how things had developed since then and sunk a few hours into the game.

There is some vague plot hidden within this game, although you will be hard pressed to find it. Having met with the CJ Games team, I am aware that the game is set in the near-future, where society has degraded due to an economic collapse and gangs are battling with SWAT teams for control of the city (what city, I do not know). Had I not been told this by the production team, I would be none the wiser having played the game for several hours.

The first noticeable thing about District 187 is that despite installing through Steam, it appears to load up though a separate Netmarble launcher, which requires a different login. I found this a bit odd really - a game launcher being launched from inside another game launcher (Netmarble launching within Steam). I mention this as it should be noted that after installing the game on Steam, the Netmarble launcher has to further download and install some game files, so don't do what I did and just leave the Steam installation running and come back when you are ready to play. Thankfully, both installations are small so you shouldn't be waiting too long to get going.

District 187

For background, Netmarble are a subsidiary company of the larger CJ Group, a massive South Korean conglomerate which includes arms dealing in everything from TV channels, food stores and pharmaceuticals, as well as the game's development team, CJ Gameslab. It's not your traditional developer/publisher structure but the group are now trying to break into the Western video game market with this online FPS.

Graphically there is very little that will blow your socks off here, with character modelling, animations and textures all being very unimpressive and distinctly dated in comparison to the standard in today's gaming. No doubt this is a conscious decision on the part of the development team to keep the system requirements low, in order to make the game as accessible as possible, but it's certainly not going to inspire anyone who has even the most modest of gaming PCs.

I wish I could say otherwise, but gameplay is equally uninspiring. There are several different game modes on offer including team Deathmatches, one-life per round affairs, bomb placement missions, e.t.c. and the gameplay is perfectly functional, it just all feels a little 2003 in terms of quality and there is virtually nothing that adds anything unique to this over any other titles. In many ways, the game plays like Counter-Strike: Source, but nowhere near as good.

District 187

It's a free-to-play title so naturally is supported by an in-game store, which takes both real-life hard currency as well as 'gold' which is earned by competing and performing well in games. All of the available weapons are purchased by gold only, although certain premium packs paid for with real cash do give you additional gold to spend. The number of weapons is limited, around 20 in total including sniper rifles, assault rifles, shotguns and melee weapons, but likely to expand and increase as the Beta moves on.

Also available are various character customisation options - again quite limited in number at this stage - such as hairstyles, hats and outfits. Some are cosmetic only and purchasable with gold, others offer minor gold and/or xp 'boosts', so you earn a certain percentage more than usual, and these are hard currency purchases. There are also gold and xp boosts available for purchase alone, as well as such special items as resets for your kill-to-death ratio.

Weapons are never permanently owned, rather they are 'rented' for a set number of days depending on how much gold you are willing to spend on them after which time you will lose them. They can also be customised with additional add-ons such as scopes, decals and silencers which also cost gold - although it is unknown if you will 'lose' these modifications should your weapon rental expire before you renew it.

In an odd move, cosmetic character customisation options are also rented, not bought. As a direct result of this, almost every single player encountered online looks identical as nobody seems to want to splash out on an alternate hairstyle when you could be saving towards an AK47 and there are no non-priced customisation options. This kind of rental system encourages constant play so that you can keep your weapons and appearances without them expiring, but the gameplay doesn't back this motivation up.

District 187

CJ Games have a couple of interesting looking free-to-play products on the horizon with Hounds and Monarch. Hounds is an online, post-apocalyptic 'zombie' MMOFPS with emphasis on PvE gameplay and character customisation based on equipment sets. Monarch is a fantasy MMORPG in which the player must recruit and train troops who while fight alongside their avatar in huge PvP battles and can even trade these troops with other players. Neither will pass as AAA titles, but both seem to have something District 187 desperately lacks - innovation.

As it stands now District 187 has nothing to offer in an already oversaturated market of multiplayer FPS titles. Even as a free-to-play title the dated and uninspired gameplay isn't likely to keep many players sticking around beyond a few hours after installation. I'm looking forward to seeing what the company have in store with their upcoming titles, but unless District 187 changes considerably from its beta form it is certainly not going to be the game that makes CJ Games a household name in the Western market.

Ewok | 22nd December, 2012

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