It would be far too easy to cast Guncraft off as a Minecraft-with-guns knockoff. I certainly did. In fact, after the first few matches, you may still do that. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a pretty clever multiplayer shooter that just happens to use its blocks for all the right reasons. Guncraft pulls from a number of different sources – Worms, Call of Duty, or even Halo – all to such an effective extent that there’s plenty to be happy about.
A Heart Of Block
At its core, Guncraft is a class-based shooter. You’ll pick your specialty, modify your loadouts, and earn more weaponry as you play. Right off the bat, the game lacks the visual panache and wonderful art direction of a game like Minecraft, but while its rough, unapologetic looks may be off-setting, they dress a very clever game. If you start with Minecraft-with-guns, you get a pretty good idea. Levels disintegrate around you and cover can only last so long. Heavy weaponry, or the game’s myriad of vehicles, allow you to chew up scenery with ease, which can lead to some very tense moments.
Entering the game’s build mode, or tapping the B button on an Xbox 360 controller, allows you to lay down individual bricks or pre-fab structures that animate their way to completion, providing cover or a high perch to escape to. You’ll still wind up running and gunning most of the time because slipping into build mode is impractical for many of the faster-paced modes. It will, however, come in handy in something like capture the flag where you can instantly deploy a wall to block out any of your flag-bearer’s opponents.
Despite the primitive dimensions, the maps that the developers at Exato Games Studios took me on a tour of were plenty imaginative. One is a replication of a carnival. Another is a massive snow-capped Swiss village that runs alongside a massive mountain ridge, ideal for sniping. They even showed me a level that replicated the PAX East show floor. The guns don’t seem to have any fall-off or variability, so long-range combat can be accomplished without needing to specialize, for better or worse. The developers even mentioned importing content from other games, that Swiss village being an example, which teasing some incredible possibilities.
War Is Hell
Being able to affect the environment quickly and easily leads to some very interesting twists in the traditional shooter formula. Yes Virginia, you can throw that old book out the window. A replica of Halo‘s Blood Gulch served as an excellent example of the game’s emergent gameplay. No longer were you confined to learning hotspots in the game as, very quickly, they could disappear. An opposing team could concentrate their fire on your base and blow out a huge hole to make flag retrieval easy. Terrain can be deformed to make trenches. To avoid Blood Gulch’s tendency to become a sniper’s alley, a tunnel system was built underneath the battlefield, which made complete sense as they mentioned it.
Showing off an original mode, Lava Survival, the Exato guys summoned us to Vecter City where a number of impressive vertical structures dwarfed us. These would quickly become safe havens as a plane of lava started its way up the level, choking out anyone left behind. Shooting an opponent in this mode only freezes them temporarily, which is just long enough to be engulfed by flames or allow you to do some devious world-editing around them. Soon, you’ll find yourself desperately scaling these buildings, even hacking out ledges to jump to, just to survive. Once the lava consumes you, you’re converted to a wispy phantasm that can then subtract blocks to finish off anyone who’s still trying to make their way to higher ground. In a Gaza-themed map, I was able to successfully scale a pyramid before a helicopter chewed it up with its powerful machine gun and the lava swallowed me there too. Further still, Exato showed off a formerly Minecraft-exclusive Spleef mode in which you dig out the ground below your opponent while a hazardous pool of lava rests just below the playing field.
That Sweet Flavah
Where Guncraft lacks in showmanship, it more than makes up for in spunk. As a voxel shooter, it doesn’t have a lot of directions to go aesthetically, but its sheer number of playground-ish possibilities is nearly endless. Exato will continue to tune levels as it seeks approval on Steam’s Greenlight service, which seems to favor developers that already have an audience, something Guncraft doesn’t quite have yet. The game is out this Spring for PC, but Exato ultimately wants to bring it to the Xbox 360 and seem excited about what Microsoft and Sony’s consoles bring next generation. Pre-ordering the game will grant you access to the game’s beta until April 30th and while you’re out there, would you kindly give them a vote? Thanks.