What do you get when you cross Minecraft
with Call of Duty
? The result is Guncraft: Blocked and Loaded
, a multiplayer game that is primarily a first-person shooter but is also one where players can destroy and rebuild the battlefield on a whim. It garnered decent reviews when it launched on PC. Now that the game has been adapted for the Xbox 360, will it have done enough to make its mark amongst the large number of shooters that are already available on this console?
This game wears its influences on its sleeve but Exato Game Studios' has managed to merge its influences into a game that doesn't feel like a clone. The shooting mechanics are the tightest part of the game, with headshots being far more effective than a shot aimed at any part of the body. No kill feels lucky; no death feels cheap. Borrowing heavily from games like Call of Duty
, the game offers players a variety of classes and weapons with which to obliterate your enemies. Success is rewarded with the unlock of killstreaks, like the Bunker Buster overhead missile or the AI SAM turret. Larger maps also offer a range of vehicles and stationary weapons, like tanks or turret guns. There are many ways to dispatch your opponent.
Where this game differs from Call of Duty
gameplay, though, is in the complete destructability of the environment. I'm sure that most of you are thinking about the Battlefield
series right now but, unlike this series, when we say that everything can be destroyed, we mean everything. Can't find your way into a building? Shoot/drill/blow a hole in it. Got an enemy in a great spot where they can't be reached? Destroy the ground from underneath their feet. Need cover quickly? Drop a grenade and create a crater in which you can escape the crossfire. The war-torn battlefield at the end of a match will never look the same as the pristine environment that it was when the match started. It is the ease with which you can destroy anything that makes the matches so unpredictable, as enemies can come at you from any direction, including through the floor.
Kill or be killed
As we stated in the introduction, the game also draws heavily from Minecraft
. This isn't just from the blocky appearance of the characters and environments either. You may be able to destroy an environment with ease, but you can also rebuild it on the fly too. Build Mode allows players to choose from a number of materials and build something block by block. Pressing another button allows them to select from a series of preset structures, called Prefabs. These can range from simple structures that will appear immediately, like a wall that you can take cover behind, to more complicated and elaborate builds that will be constructed from the ground up over the course of seconds or even minutes, such as a tower complete with spiral staircase. While it sounds amazing to be able to just drop a tower in the middle of a battlefield, the chances are that an enemy has destroyed the lower section of the construction before it has been completed, rendering it somewhat useless.
With these three main gameplay mechanics in mind, the game offers a range of game modes. Those that prefer to put emphasis on multiplayer shooting will want to pluck for modes like Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch, which do exactly what they say on the tin. You may even want to try Paranoia, which divides players into humans and zombie queens and leaves them to work out who is on what team. Those that love destruction may want to try out modes like Lava Survival or Spleef, where the objective is to drop your enemies through the floor to their death rather than using the traditional method of bullets. If you prefer construction, you can try Capture the Flag. Why? Well, most players spend the duration of the match trying to create the largest barricade around their team flag rather than capturing the flag of the other team, resulting in a rather boring stalemate when the time eventually runs out. The ability to build on the fly does have its disadvantages too. Then, just to head in a completely different direction, you can pick Race mode. Yes, really.
The Poseidon map
Competitive modes aside, there is a co-operative mode too -- your atypical horde mode, called Onslaught, which pits teams of up to four players against waves of spiders, soldierbots, flying drones and something that was soon dubbed the "leaping snake of destruction". You'll see what we mean as soon as you reach wave four or five. It is this mode where all of the game's elements are really put to the test as you won't survive through your shooting skills alone. Co-operation between players is key, otherwise you will barely make it past level 10.
At the end of each match, you earn XP based on your performance and this goes towards a series of unlocks via the new level-up system, something that has been added to the XBLA version as the game makes the transition away from PC. As players level-up they will unlock, character classes, perks, kill streaks and customisation options. Unlike the PC version where players could create their own skins, the game instead offers an extensive character customisation menu where you can customise the clothes that the characters wear and the colour of each part of the body. By the time the player has unlocked everything, there will be thousands of different combinations, all of these are purely cosmetic and offer no effect on your in-game performance.
Character customisation menu
As well as customising the characters, players can also build their own weapons block by block in the Guncrafting mode, or build their own Prefabs. Then there is the Free Build mode that lets players create their own maps. It is here where a player's creativity is really put to the test. If you don't have any imagination, the game already ships with a wide variety of maps including some that are exclusive to the Xbox 360, such as a recreation of the airship Poseidon. There is even a selection of the best maps that have been created by members of the game's PC community, such as the Atlantis map. Despite the game's blocky appearance, each of these maps has a beautiful appearance and it almost seems like a shame to destroy them.
At this point, you would be forgiven for thinking "so far, so good". Well, this is where the major problem starts. When there are few players on a map, everything runs smoothly. When the lobby starts to fill up, severe lag means that most players are left unable to do anything. Bullets don't connect with the enemies. Opposing players skip across the screen. Grenades take ten seconds to detonate. Some unlucky players will even be disconnected resulting in their loss of all XP earned during the match. The same thing happens in Onslaught. Even though there are fewer players, the sheer number of enemies can sometimes create the same result. Usually you end up coming out of Xbox LIVE matches to try to find another server. However, as the game offers no choice over your destination, oftentimes it tries to place you into the match that you have just left. It is an extremely frustrating situation and one that really needs to be ironed out.
Play online with a local friend or family member
The good news is that lag is non-existent in local matches, where two players can play splitscreen either co-operatively or competitively depending on the game mode. In something that is a rarity in this day and age, the game even supports splitscreen-online. While that sounds great, it has a tendency to exacerbate the lag issue when in LIVE matches. The HUD can also be quite obstructive when playing with a top/bottom setup as it takes up a lot of the screen. Still, nothing beats the fun that can be created when taking on your friends while sitting on the same couch.
The final word must go to the subject of achievements. Unfortunately, most of them fall into the grindy category. There is no quick method of destroying 10 million blocks, building 500,000 blocks, killing 10,000 players or earning $5 million and this game will definitely turn into a timesink. On the surface, others appear difficult. A 20 kill streak would intimidate all but the most seasoned of shooter fans until you learn that this, like most of the achievements, can be earned in splitscreen mode. The only one that is likely to cause people any problem is Pacifist
, where a player must win a 16 player race without using any powerups. That one is just as hard as it sounds.
When all is said and done, the fact is that the game is purely a multiplayer shooter. The tight shooting mechanics, pure destruction and extensive building/customisation options are all well and good, but when the game can't handle large numbers of players to the point where lag renders the game unplayable, the community won't stick around for long. The concept is great and the execution is seemless in local multiplayer. Take it online and you have to hope that you don't get too many people/enemies on the same map at once. This is not a successful formula for a shooter that needs to stand the test of time, especially this late on in the Xbox 360's development cycle.
- Wide variety of game modes
- Extensive customisation options
- Splitscreen online
- Severe lag
- Grindy achievements
The reviewer spent eight hours playing all of the game's modes both in local play and online to the best of her ability. She also enjoyed the fact that she could play a new game with her husband while sat on the same couch. Her 1337 5KilLs won her 7 of the game's 30 achievements but there is a lot of grinding to go. This XBLA copy of the game was provided courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of this review.