CrimeCraft has its work cut out for it. It’s coming out during a period of gaming where MMOs are as common as an FPS was in 2004, as no less than 16 top-shelf Massively Multiplayer Online titles will be hitting the consumer market by 2011. Somehow, CrimeCraft has to figure out a way to trump them all. First among its many challenges will be to convince the general consumer that the name is not, in fact, a joke. The tongue-in-cheek title–an obvious reference to the uber-popular World of Warcraft–speaks to the developer’s aspirations as well as their willingness to tackle the world leader head-on. CrimeCraft tries to meld the experiences of the MMO genre with the fast skill-based gameplay of a third-person shooter, at which it both succeeds and falls short in various ways. At E3 2009, Vogster was kind enough to give me a guided walkthrough of the game. In my admittedly brief hands-on play session, I was able to experience the combative shooter gameplay but was not allowed to catch a glimpse at how the matches would be tied together with the MMO overworld. What I did play came with mixed results: I was a little surprised, a little confused, and a little impressed.
Both the shooting and adversarial modes of CrimeCraft are quite fun, as this part of the game seems to play quite well. I was able to pick up the controls within minutes and felt that the game was solid enough to compete solely as a shooter. The only issue that I found was that the visuals aren’t exactly gorgeous. It’s not that the graphics look bad–in fact they look rather good for a realistically styled MMO–but they look dated during the multiplayer matches. This is mainly because the animations for character movement are borderline hideous in most cases. It’s an issue that many players will be able to overlook if they aren’t really concerned with graphical fidelity, but others may find it distracting in this age of glitz and over-zealous particle effects. It’s important to note that CrimeCraft was not a finished product when I played it, and this article is not a final review. However, I simply hope that these issues are chief on Vogster’s to-do list as the game enters its beta stage and is readied for store shelves.
The level that I played was a broken down industrial warehouse, and had all the trappings that you would expect from a multiplayer shooter: sniper posts, sabotage points, and a copious amounts of tea bagging. It was clear that Vogster has no intention of making PvP a tacked-on gameplay device, but rather full-fledged game unto itself. Tying these matches together are the common areas where players can participate in all of the everyday activities found in an MMO: banking, buying/selling on the auction house, interacting with friends, joining gangs (like clans or guilds), etc. Unique to CrimeCraft is the ability for gangs to specialize in a certain market. During my play session, a developer excitedly explained that they hoped gangs would eventually become powerful enough to corner a market on certain goods. Whether it’s guns, ammunition, food, or performance enhancing drugs, your gang can become an economic powerhouse as it raises and lowers the supply–created by CrimeCraft‘s variation on the crafting mechanic found in many MMOs–to create demand. This is easily CrimeCraft‘s most alluring factor in terms of its MMO mechanics. Many other games present you with a wide-world to explore and discover on your own but put the training wheels on tight when it comes to the realm economy. Vogster hopes to let anarchy reign in its vision of a future city ruled by gangs, with minimal government control of the proceedings.
The game also features an impressive amount of customization options that go far beyond the rigid limitations offered by that other “Craft” game. This feeds directly into their system of leveling up. I was told by the developers that they thought it was ridiculous to create a shooter in which players were automatically better just by virtue of having played longer, but also knew that you had to reward gamers for hours spent in an MMO. The result is a system where levelling exists but a head shot is still a head shot. New players will always be able to walk into a match and be on a statistical keel with other combatants. However, levelled-up players will have more tools at their disposal when customizing their loadout, creating a system that is not entirely entirely unlike Call of Duty 4.
So while I certainly enjoyed my time with CrimeCraft, I remain wary that the game may falter in trying to find a balance for their two quite disparate game elements. It could fail if it leans too far into MMO territory, and likewise if it edges towards being too much of a shooter. The game is unique to be sure, but it runs the risk of being lost in the onslaught of other MMOs releasing in the next 19 months. The true challenge for Vogster will be to find a way to separate CrimeCraft from the pack in the months before release.