If you're tired of orcs and sorcerers but are still itching to play an MMORPG, finding a viable alternative to the typical ersatz Tolkien, high-fantasy game world is no mean feat. Finding a successful, well-made game is an even stiffer challenge.
Vogster's Crimecraft began life as a full-price retail product in August of 2009, but faced with poor critical and consumer reception, switched to an “unlimited free trial” and microtransaction model a few months later. Tweaked and heavily patched, the game is much more stable than it was at launch, and there is a strong (if not immense) player community around the game. What's more impressive is that the developers often implement suggestions from the players.
You won't find any goblins, trolls, or wizards in the post-apocalyptic, gang-ruled streets of Crimecraft, but you will find many of the other staples of MMO design: crafting, quests, leveling, NPCs, shops, etc. All the battles—whether they be in a PvP mode such as Turf War, Smash-and-Grab, or Shootout—or in one of the story-driven PvE modes, are entirely instanced and entered through one of the main city's portals. A far-too-lengthy tutorial sets the stage and explains the basics.
Crimecraft is at heart a fast-paced, third-person shooter, so naturally most of the crafting and questing centers on creating and upgrading better weapons and armor. While there are no classes per se, like in all team-based shooters, picking the right weapons, armor, and equipment load-out for any given mission is critical. Weapon stats and personal skill level make a big difference in Crimecraft.
The alternative, gangland setting, the focus on modern weapons, the choice of modes and battle types—it's all a nice break from dungeons and giant spiders. Where the original Crimecraft falters is in the presentation. With a complete lack of voiceovers, generic, tepid music, and less-than-punchy sound effects, the world seems bland and lacking visual or auditory intensity. The graphics are just this side of decent but the environments are missing texture and detail and the urban settings are monotonously unvaried. Even fully-populated, heated battles sound and feel undercooked.
However, getting into those battles—whether PvE or PvP—is quick and easy, and though they may lack character, the fights are rewarding and a lot of fun, especially with evenly matched opponents. Forget teamwork, though. Unless you're playing with a team of buddies, the “groups” are usually little more than a list on a screen. Do you ever feel like you're part of some badass, uber-violent gang of mercenary thugs? Not so much.
Things improve—at least aesthetically—with Bleedout, a serial expansion to the base game. Artistically rendered cutscenes in a comic-book style add some much-needed visual panache, and the new voice work is a welcomed change from the chilly silence of the original. Bleedout is a story told in chapters—the first is free, the remaining ten episodes are $2 each. The expansion adds new weapons, armor, quests and story, maps, and a reputation system to the mix, and just generally amps up the look, sound and feel of Crimecraft.
Weary as I sometimes am of wizards and plate mail-wearing paladins, I wish Crimecraft offered a more compelling alternative. An interesting premise and setting is torpedoed by a lackluster presentation, and while Bleedout definitely kicks things up a notch for high-level players, it's hard to recommend Crimecraft for the kind of long-term commitment an MMORPG typically requires.
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