Preview: Ace of Spades
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It's like Call of Duty...but, you know, it's blocky...
Although they're a smaller developer - and haven't got the triple A titles like the big guns have, Jagex are certainly building something pretty big; something that deserves...nay, demands...your attention. At this point I'm willing to bet that a number of you have at least heard of Minecraft - heavens knows there's at least one Yogscast Minecraft video on Youtube's front page each day. I'm also quite confident that you've played at least one class based shooter in your life, and if you live on the internet as much as I do, then it's bound to be Team Fortress 2. Now, imagine combining the mining and building structures in Minecraft with that totally crazy, fine crafted and massively re-playable joy of Team Fortress 2, and you'll be some way towards understanding what Ace of Spades is about.
From the time you load up your first map the first thing on your lips will inevitably be "Damn...this looks a lot like Minecraft”. Well, I can't blame you. The blocky world is very reminiscent of Mojang's international best selling mining sim, but the key difference is how much more destructible the world of Ace of Spades is.
Rocket launches blow massive holes out of the ground, whilst pickaxes and shovels allow your team to dig behind enemy lines, great escape style. Furthermore, there's no need for crafting, and this is a good thing. The sheer fast pace of the game means there is little time to think about creating grand palaces and lava lakes. Rudimentary walls and prefabricated structures can be thrown up at will to afford more protection, but you'll be more worried about being shot in the head than to think about what colour your front door should be. With the build I played, anything user created has the same strength as the rest of the blocks in the world, meaning they couldn't be relied on for real protection. However, as of release, it is quite likely that anything placed onto the map will be stronger, and more likely to stop you from having your limbs blown off.
One thing that really sets this game apart from the inevitable Minecraft comparison is gravity. There are many times where it gets frustrating in Minecraft, where you may chop down the bottom of a tree only for it then to float in mid air, mocking you with its levitation. Well, in Ace of Spades, you'd be foolish to think that a tree - floating or not - will keep you safe for long. Anything that is securely attached to the ground comes crashing down to earth, shattering into hundreds of tiny blocks. The perch that made you an unstoppable sniper now became a one way free fall to death. This becomes a very serious threat when playing on the map Zombie Mansion. There are many pillars and balconies that allow dominance of the whole map. However if they lose their foundations, they become little more than digital dust. Its a great game play element, where beating the enemy isn't always about being the best shot, but more about using the environment to your advantage.
Take my long distance blockiness!
Ace of Spades has four classes that you can play as, each with their own individual weapon load outs. The Soldier has a basic pickaxe, as well as your standard weapons such as a rifle and rocket launcher. You'll find that most people would go for the soldiers easy point and shoot way of playing. The Scout utilises a sniper rifle for long range kills, and has a superior speed to the rest of the classes, allowing him to climb mountains and pick off the opposition before they even know who's shooting them.
The real fun, however, begins when you choose the support classes, Engineer and Miner. The Engineer has a shovel that takes bigger chunks out of the scenery than the pickaxe, and can lay a turret for people to use, mowing down the enemy. Oh...and they get land mines (many a time you'll leave one for some unsuspecting opponent to accidentally step on, and soon after here various swears from the poor soul who fell into your trap). As for the miner, (a personal favourite) - what he lacks in serious fire power he more than makes up with scenery destruction. His super spade eats away at the landscapes, and his drill gun allows you to bore tunnels through to you other teams' spawn point. For those of you coming across from Minecraft, he's likely to be your first port of call. Most of the time you'd find me digging holes to the bottom of the map, only to then come up right behind a foe and head shot them with the miner's rifle. The amount of fun I had blowing up the scenery with the miner did mean I didn't play as the other classes much, simply because their load-outs weren't as cool; but then again, your regular fps player will probably lap up the Soldier and Scout classes and enjoy them more than the supportive roles of Engineer and Miner.
As of this time there are two main game modes that I have played. There's your usual death match, with Greens vs Blues in a fight to the most kills, and Zombie survival. In Zombie mode, one player is the Zombie, and it is their task to kill and infect the other team till there's only one survivor, running around terrified from a horde of much faster, much stronger undead. The Zombies must rely on raw physical strength as opposed to weapons, so their strategy must play out a lot more tactically - dig a lot and attack when least expected. This is helped by the fact that the Zombie can view everyone on their mini map, whilst his victims are left blind to his position unless they actually see them with their naked eye. The result? A very tense game mode, one that actually instils horror in you, not from the sudden appearance of the Zombie, but from the 'not knowing where and when he or she will strike' element.
It's a preview people!
Right now the game is going through its final testing phases, and there are a few bugs to iron out...and some graphical issues that I hope get resolved. One very broken feature is how Zombies are able to use an Engineers turret, allowing them to use a weapon when they are thought not able of such activities. Other minor fixes that I would like to see implemented is better death animations. When you kill someone, they just go into a T-Shape and immediately appear flat on their backs. This may be a design choice, due to the blocky nature of the game, but it does feel like your weapons don't have much punch. Why not have the block man's head fly off. It can't be that violent - I mean after all, it looks like Lego...and that can't be graphic, right? Other things I know will be changed include a better Zoom on the Sniper rifle, and the possibility of remote controlled sentry guns, very similar to those in Team Fortress 2.
Ace of Spades is a game that I am looking forward to, especially the community integration that has been promised. A map editor has been talked about by Jagex, and in a world where the building blocks of a level are literally blocks, it's no little wonder that mappers will want to get their hands dirty and make things for others to use. Plus because it's an indie title and multiplayer only, it's also going to be at a low price! Everyone's a winner here!
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