I’m typically hesitant to jump into MMOs. I’ve always viewed them as huge investments of time and money and, even with those that I’ve been extremely interested in, my enthusiasm tends to peter out within a month or two. I’ve had difficulty with the monotonous gameplay, grinding, and the silly fetch quests. However, when I was given the opportunity to take Crimecraft out for a spin, I was eager to see how a blend of the MMO experience with FPS sensibilities would work. What I found while previewing the game, was something interesting and different, but not without flaws.
CrimeCraft is the work of Vogster Entertainment, a company best known for the DS and mobile Robocalypse series and the XBLA title Unbound Saga. Headquartered in New York, with offices in Eastern Europe, the company is pioneering the MMO/FPS hybrid, which they call Persistent World Next-Gen Shooter (PWNS). CrimeCraft launched in 2009 and has seen a series of episodic updates since then. When I loaded up the game to start a new character, I found a fairly streamlined creator that featured a handful of options for face, hair, and clothing. Thankfully, as you find and equip new gear, your appearance changes. Expect to see a lot of similarity for the first couple of hours, though.
After building my toon, I was thrown into a firefight and had no idea what was going on. For some reason, the game decided to put me into an in-progress PVP instance immediately upon starting. While the game plays much like any FPS (WASD for movement, left click to fire, right click to zoom, and assorted sprint, crouch, and roll buttons), I found this introduction to the game jarring. I quit out of the match rather than carry it to its conclusion, especially since I was up against players leveled in the 40s and 50s. If this was intentional, I have to wonder how many people continue to play. Thankfully, when I exited the match, the game began properly. There was an attractive comic book-style introduction to the world of CrimeCraft and Sunrise City. The world’s oil reserves have been expended and, as a result, society has crumbled. Your character begins in a refugee center with a lengthy tutorial.
The pacing of the tutorial is generally good, though there are some quirks. For instance, I quickly ran out of ammo in the first mission. I let myself get killed because I thought I had no choice. In a later mission, you are instructed on melee combat. This is information that should have been presented up front, especially since melee attacks are typically one-hit kills. The instructional missions run you through purchasing and upgrading skills with each new level (with four new abilities opening up every 10 levels or so); equipping multiple weapons, ammo types, and boosts, like health packs you can carry with you; and taking side quests to earn cash and items.
All dialog is handled like a traditional MMO. You walk up to an NPC, click on them to get assigned a mission or collect a reward, and then go off in search of the NPC who will create the instanced arena. Unlike other action-oriented MMOs like DC Universe Online, CrimeCraft does not feature seamless transitions between exploring and combat. Rather, the pacing feels more like Mass Effect 2, where there is a firm delineation between the talking and the shooting. Mission types include your typical “kill X enemies” and “collect Y items.” Thankfully, the fetch quests are more interesting than other games in the genre. Instead of looting dead enemies, the collectibles are scattered around the map. Often, they are marked on your mini-map. However, when the game has you wandering around with unhelpful messages indicating that you aren’t in the right place, it’s frustrating. I encountered this early on as I had an NPC with me that was supposed to be acting as a guide.
First, I had a difficult time figuring out where to start the mission, as the instance-creating NPC had the area listed as something different than what the quest-giver called the zone. Then, instead of leading me through the map like the game told me should happen, the guide wandered around, sometimes following me and other times simply standing around. That same NPC had a messed up name tag when we were in the instance, and I encountered this bug a few times throughout my time with the game. Thankfully, I lucked into finding the right area and was able to complete the mission. I did enjoy the escort missions when they worked, not because I love that type of activity (I don’t, usually), but because it provided something different from standard MMO mission types. The NPCs involved are often able to fight back once you rescue them, giving you some extra firepower on your rush back to the evac point.
I also ran into an odd situation involving a major boss during the tutorial. I defeated him and he immediately spawned again. Then, when in a completely different PvE mission on the same map, he kept popping up. Another example is that, through the course of the game, I exposed a guard as a traitor. Even after he was dealt with, he appeared in the base and continued to be a mission source. Things like this break the narrative flow. CrimeCraft isn’t the only offender, but these are odd issues to find in a game that has been out for nearly two years. This odd blend of area-based and instance-based combat is a blend of MMO and FPS, but it uses odd components of each for the mixture.
Once you are out in the world, missions start to involve the PvP aspects. There are number of game types including Riot (Deathmatch), Shootout (Team Deathmatch), Snatch n’ Grab (CTF), Robbery (a CTF variant), Turf War (Control Points), and Capture the Zone (a variant on traditional Capture Point gameplay). Often missions will require that you kill X number of opposing players along with a second objective. The Bleedout campaign, 10 episodes of approximately 2 hours of content each, feature a variety of PvE missions and a story that fleshes out the different gangs in Sunrise City.
Many times during my time with CrimeCraft, I was reminded of Borderlands, a game that often felt like an MMO, especially when playing with friends. Unlike Gearbox’s masterpiece, though, there are no classes in CrimeCraft. Every player has access to the same skill set. It is simply your skill choice that changes how you play the game. Are you going to be an explosives expert, focusing on grenades and rocket launchers? How about a stealth expert with enhanced active camouflage, sneaking behind enemy lines to knife enemies in the back? Maybe you’ll focus on a defensive build, with a turret and camouflage disruptor. There is a lot of variety, and you can even create different profiles to mix and match your abilities for the right situations. At any one time you can have two abilities loaded up. Passive abilities are available to increase your longevity, fire rate, accuracy, and health/ammo drops. Your passive abilities take up a skill slot, so it’s important to choose carefully. Once you hit level 30, you can use a third skill slot to further specialize. If you decide you made the wrong skill choices, with enough in-game currency, you can respec and select again.
The game’s visuals and audio are passable, with the highlights coming in the introductory scenes for each chapter. In-game, the animation and effects are serviceable, but nothing spectacular. Explosions and gunfire are fairly generic and I couldn’t perceive any difference between the sound of a pistol and an assault rifle when fired. The menus are smartly laid out and I never had any difficulty finding what I needed. Once I understood what the crates awarded/collected from missions were (more times than not they have crafting items to be used or sold), I had a better understanding of what I was seeing in-mission. Crates are littered around the battlefield and standing over them for a couple of seconds adds them to your inventory post-combat. In many ways, the game has a very thorough tutorial, which unfortunately makes the holes stand out that much more. I was disappointed that there was very little music in the game, making Sunrise City feel like a very lonely place.
An additional level of character customization arrives late in the extensive tutorial, as players are tasked to choose one of four crafting professions. Unfortunately, the descriptions are not well explained, though it’s easy to figure out that tailors make clothing (armor) and chemists make boosts and medicine. The other two (weaponry and engineering) seem very similar and I was sure of the distinction. I chose to take up tailoring in hopes of building myself some armor that would prolong my typically short lifespan. Crafting is a simple affair. Once you craft the widget that allows you to purchase recipes and then buy those crafting guides from the appropriate vendor, it’s time to get down to business. In the game’s crafting menu, the required ingredients are displayed. With a simple button click, the item is constructed. As you craft more, your level increases, further allowing you to take on more advanced recipes. Each profession tree branches, requiring players to pick one or the other. For those that enjoy crafting and want to take on a second job, Vogster is offering that opportunity as a premium purchase.
As with most freemium games, CrimeCraft offers a good deal of content without having to ante up. There are two different subscription tiers that offer a variety of bonuses including a monthly gold bar allowance (translated from real money and used to make purchases at the “black market”), discounts on in-game mail and auction house services, and premium access to tournaments. Unfortunately, membership also affords significant bonuses to earned experience, loot drops, and cash awards. This makes for a significant difference in progression across membership tiers. There was some chatter in the game as I moved through the different areas, but I wouldn’t call the servers densely populated. The bit of conversation I did overhear was a few people who were angrily shouting about the state of a mainstream MMO. In fact, each time I logged in, both servers reported “Low” population. I never did have a hard time finding battles running, but the level discrepancies were fairly large.
The Black Market is CrimeCraft’s in-game source for things you can purchase with gold bars. Gold bars can be purchased with real money. They sell for $.05 per bar, with bonus bars given for purchasing larger bundle packs. Black Market items include simple color modifications for weapons at 5gb each and go up to 400gb ($4) for some premium weapons and 600gb for complete gear packs that come with weapons, armor, ammo, and bonuses. The packs are themed for different roles like sniper and medic and come with recommendations for specific skills. Individually, these won’t break the bank, but over 50 levels, the Black Market gear will start to add up. It’s still far less expensive than a monthly MMO subscription, and you can choose not to purchase these items, but I have to wonder if players that take the free road remain competitive with those that buy top tier gear.
I appreciate what Vogster has done with CrimeCraft and clearly, after two years, there is enough of a paying audience to keep the two servers online and new content coming. The Bleedout campaign provides a good measure of single-player content for those that want to take a break from PvP or level up in order to stand a fighting chance in PvP. For MMO lovers looking for something different, it’s worth checking out CrimeCraft, especially since its Free to Play. For FPS fans that got a kick out of character customization in Borderlands and may have wondered what all the fuss is about MMOs, the only thing you have to lose is a little bit of time. Give it a shot.
Review copy provided by publisher.