Crash Force is a multiplayer, arena-style shooter made by Ascanio Entertainment. It was released in early access on Steam on January 20th, 2017 for PC (and will eventually be released for XB1). You control a hovercraft and fight to the death against bots or other human players, using each craft’s unique abilities and weapons to come out on top. Crash Force’s RPG aspects add a unique spin to the classic arena-shooter genre, and since January it has seen consistent content updates and fixes.
Crash Force is available for purchase on Steam for $9.99.
Before I begin, I should note that the current population of the servers was too low for me to find humans to match up against. Therefore, all comments about the gameplay should be taken with the knowledge that fighting bots is likely to be very different from fighting humans. Still, there are still some aspects that will not change during human on human combat.
The movement of each hovercraft is very “floaty” – you can build up a lot of speed going in one direction, but redirecting your momentum takes time. If you collide with a wall or other solid object, you pretty much lose all your momentum, and become a sitting duck for a little while. There is a strong boost that can completely change your direction, but a lengthy cooldown forces you to save this for emergencies. Keeping up your speed and watching your positioning is key to avoiding as much damage as possible.
Weapons vary slightly from hovercraft to hovercraft, but every craft has a primary weapon and a secondary weapon. The primary weapon is a hitscan (no projectile travel time), low damage automatic rifle. It’s reliable, and it carries a lot more ammo than your secondary. The secondary weapon varies in the type of projectile slightly, but is always a higher damage projectile weapon. This means that while moving around and tracking opponents, you will have to lead your shots, but the payoff is a much larger damage output on your opponent. The biggest drawback to secondary weapons is their limited ammo capacity, so you will want to keep in mind where the nearest ammo drops are on the map.
Both primary and secondary weapons have a sharp dropoff on their effective range, which means at a certain distance your weapons will cease to do any damage. What this translated to in my personal gameplay was a heavy focus on close to mid-range combat, and almost exclusive use of my secondary weapon. However, because bots use their primary weapon only and no abilities, this may not be a winning strategy against human players. Many hovercraft abilities can disable, slow, or heavily damage enemies that are nearby. Even so, I predict that the higher damage output of secondary weapons will still make the primary weapons obsolete.
There are a healthy variety of abilities spread among the hovercraft. Some include teleporting a short distance, deploying spinning razorblades, highlighting your enemies through walls, mines, increased damage at the cost of health, or even spawning a gravity vortex. Some abilities are shared among the same “class” of hovercraft, but each hovercraft has its own unique abilities as well. Most abilities have very long cooldown timers, so you’ll want to keep an eye on the timers while fighting to make the most of them. At this time, there doesn’t seem to be any particular set of abilities that is superior to all others. I expect this will be impossible to determine for certain until more human on human fights can be observed.
Moving, firing your weapons, and using your abilities expends the energy of your hovercraft, which is most easily replenished by flying over energy pads scattered around each map. Running out of energy leaves you as good as dead. You can still shoot back at enemies, but you cannot use abilities and your boosters are all but completely turned off. Controlling these pads can therefore give you a significant tactical advantage.
Leveling your account grants you points into skill trees, which can be used in combination with any hovercraft you choose. These points enhance your hovercraft’s base stats, and can also add new ones. Depending on your preference, you can increase your damage, movement speed, health, or add stats like lifesteal, energy regeneration, and healing over time. You can reach up to level 90, giving you 90 points to put into stat bonuses.
Even without proper testing, it’s easy to see that players with a higher level will hold a significant advantage over those who are just starting out. With this in mind, I am interested in seeing how matchmaking is balanced as the game develops. Perhaps a system that matches players up with other players close to their level, to reduce the discrepancy in skill trees? As the game is still in the process of putting out its main content, I’m not terribly concerned about this issue being addressed immediately, but I do think it should be addressed at some point in the future.
However, I do think this skill tree system has the potential to foster interesting strategies among players. Consider two players with fully-leveled accounts fighting. Each player would have so many stat bonuses that their gameplay would differ vastly from that of a beginner. One player might choose to max out movement speed, making them a harder target to hit or follow, and another might stack points into damage reduction, health over time, and life-steal. The pace of the game, the time-to-kill of each hovercraft, and the mechanical skill required to aim could all change. This level of variability could be what makes the game shine at higher levels of gameplay – but it’s impossible to know right now.
In terms of style, Crash Force’s graphics are roughly similar to Borderlands, but with a “grittier” animation. Whether or not this is a good look is entirely up to you, but what really struck me was how complete and detailed this early access game is.
All of the terrain, structures, environment, and hovercraft themselves feel well-developed, and never once did I stop to wonder if a part of a map was still a work in progress. I would expect most in-development arena shooters to focus on functionality over style when putting out their first set of maps (see Unreal Tournament 4), but Crash Force insists on presenting its aesthetic with strength from the beginning. From the loading screen, to the main menu, and consistently through my gameplay experience, I was impressed. I really feel that the developers deserve credit for not skimping out in the graphics department during beta. As far as I could tell, nothing in the game looked like it was filler.
As of April 26th, the developers also implemented a new shader system, along with a few other visual tweaks.
There were a few small things that bothered me. Firstly, there appears to be a bit of graphical lag, which is more noticeable when activating your boost. Your hovercraft will move through physical space normally, but instead of following its trajectory, the camera will occasionally pause and skip ahead to catch up. Secondly, some of the menu options are difficult to pick out against the background. I regard these as minor annoyances, and nothing that can’t be fixed easily.
By and all, the game looks good to me, from the maps, to the hovercrafts, to the explosions. I’m excited to see what else might be added to adjust the looks of the game, and what future maps and crafts will look like.
I spent most of my attention on the gameplay and the visual presentation of the game, but there were some small comments I wanted to make about the game’s audio.
The soundtrack of the game isn’t anything remarkable at the moment. The loading music is meant to amp you up for the match, and the menu music matches the futuristic sci-fi feel of the game. I feel that the current soundtrack is appropriate, but not especially catchy. This is fine – a top hit soundtrack would be a nice addition to any game, but it’s not this game’s largest problem at the moment. The game is also still in early access, so changes or additions may still be planned. The most important thing is that the soundtrack doesn’t feel out of place or blatantly incomplete.
Most sound effects are complete and satisfying, including weapon firing, explosions, and activating your speed boost. Some of the abilities are lacking sounds entirely, and occasionally the “hit” noise will not register when you’ve hit an opponent. This same noise tends to be very quiet, and personally I would appreciate a more firm sounding “ping” when hitting an enemy.
The audio for the game was acceptable, but not the greatest selling point of the game.
Overall, Crash Force looks like a game with a lot of potential. It's well made graphically, and has good potential for interesting gameplay. It remains to be seen what that gameplay will be like, especially given its RPG elements. The decisions Ascanio makes regarding matchmaking, weapon balance, ability balance, and skill tree bonuses could make or break the game, especially for newer players.
One of the game’s largest problems at this time is the low number of players actually playing the game at any given point. This makes it difficult to make a proper assessment of the gameplay, and fighting bots over and over is not as much as fighting other humans.
As I stated at the beginning, the game is only ten dollars, and there are currently no plans for that price to rise when the game leaves early access. However, early access buyers get some unique goodies not available to those buying after the full release. If you like arena shooters and the way this one looks, I would keep an eye on the game and see what it’s like at full release. If you also like showing off exclusive content in multiplayer games like me, then it wouldn’t be a bad investment to purchase the game now.