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Guncraft (Xbox 360) Review

Despite the title’s implication, Exato Games’ Guncraft is much more than a Minecraft clone with guns. It’s an ambitious multiplayer platform that builds upon a few key elements inspired by Mojang’s gaming phenomenon while standing on its own. While packaged with a variety of content, Guncraft’s low production values and online-connectivity issues frequently took my head out of the action and dulled the experience. All in all, however, Guncraft is a challenging, online sandbox-FPS worth admiring.

Players are thrown into the action as nondescript soldiers geared up with sufficient gadgets and firepower to pepper the battlefield with craters. Each match begins with selecting a class loadout, each with designated weapons, digging tools, and killstreaks. Digging tools allow players to knock out and place blocks on the fly as well as create premade buildings and terrain like bunkers, tunnels, and towers. Killstreaks allow players to call in drones, tanks, turrets, or abilities, each of which has its own controls. Players can customize their appearance by coloring a wide selection of unlockable clothing and gear.

Here is some early Guncraft gameplay:
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Despite the loadout variables they presented, premade classes didn’t feel properly balanced. For example, the Assault class comes equipped with a drill that rapidly digs out blocks at a machine-gun fire rate, whereas the Fight Sniper’s “equivalent” is a hammer that knocks out blocks at a markedly slower rate. I found that digging up blocks seemed too essential a mechanic to competitive play for there to be such a stark difference between class digging ability, i.e. stronger fire power usually didn’t make up for a decreased digging rate. Furthermore, the Assault class’s assault rifle seemed to trump all others as it was able to accurately snipe players across the battlefield and handle well in close-quarters situations, all while retaining its rapid full auto fire; and so, battlefields tended to be packed with Assault players. Balancing issues may seem resolved by the option to create custom classes with personalized loadouts; however, I felt that a finer balance between default classes and equipment stats would encourage more experimentation with equipment.

Guncraft’s world is built with intentionally “basic” blocks and minimalistic textures. Maps are large and colorful and can feature huge showpieces like vast UFOs and dragons to fight on. Extra rooms, corridors, and buildings are well-crafted and can make for frantic gun battles. Crafting the environment proved to be a great part of the fun; I often found myself digging out a tower wall to create a sniper nest or digging into a field for a much needed foxhole.

While the game world looks good and runs at a smooth frame-rate, characters have extremely limited animations and jagged movements, as though animated at a lesser frame rate. Simple actions such as “crouch” and “aim-down-sight” have characters jump between positions which can be disorienting in the midst of combat. Questionable sound production between music and sound effects often weaken the experience. Frankly, the guns don’t sound great and consequently don’t feel as good as they should. Rapidly knocking out blocks with a hammer would cause the “dig” sound effect to skip every third animation. Most maps remained quiet until music suddenly kicked in halfway through a match. Overall, control and character actions felt thin.

An impressive amount of game modes come packaged with the vanilla game, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Lava Survival, Onslaught, Spleef, Racing, Paranoia, and Free Build. Modes like Race, Spleef, and Paranoia can be intricate but come packaged with detailed tutorials. Lava focuses on the sandbox elements of the game, pitting players in a free-for-all wherein they must cause others to fall into lava by knocking out the blocks from beneath them. Onslaught is a co-op, wave-defense mode wherein up to four players must survive incoming waves of NPC spiders, armed troopers, drones, and more; its variety of enemies really surprised me as each enemy class featured unique attacks, movement, and behaviors. Paranoia has players collaborate to detect and kill a zombie queen hidden among them before she turns everyone into zombies. Free Build, available for online and offline play, allows players to create and build with limitless resources. Split-screen capabilities allow for two players to verse each other or head online together to compete in matches of up to 16 players.

Wouldn’t be a game without Zombies

Interrupting multiplayer matches were occasional spells of lag that temporarily broke the game. I quite often found myself invulnerable to fire as enemy players choppily moved across the field. Disconnecting and reconnecting to the match typically solved the problem but spoiled the fun. Spawn points in competitive matches also proved problematic, spawning enemy players literally on top of my character. These are likely simple launch issues that’ll get solved with a patch down the line; however, I feel they’re worth mentioning as this is the current state of the title.

The complex web of mechanics and modes inside Guncraft is what makes it shine beyond its production faults. Even common game modes like Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch are made not-so-typical by the depth of the title’s mechanics. My first instinct in Deathmatch was to run around blasting players à la Call of Duty and, sure, Deathmatch could be played so plainly. However, I found that the maps were too flat and wide-open to get away with standard FPS-ing for long. Learning how to incorporate building and digging became key to out-playing others online. Once all online players incorporated placing blocks and premade structures to their strategy, the battlefields came to life; the ever changing environment was a blast to navigate, craft, and recraft. For example, In one Capture the Flag Match, I found that the area separating flags – just a wide flat surface – was way too open to safely traverse. I instead used the quick-build feature to construct a long, steel tunnel to cross the field. Half-way through the tunnel, enemies began entering from its opposite end so I had to dig my way to their flank before I could blast them.

Guncraft features an ambitious amount of content and complexity not often seen in online shooters. Despite any visual and mechanical similarities to Minecraft, it’s an altogether distinct experience that does a great job of blending the sandbox and shooter. While some may understandably be unable to get past its overall underpolished production, those that do may find an exciting multiplayer experience worth returning to. A free demo of the game as well as the full game, priced at $14.99, are currently available for download from the Xbox Marketplace. Pick up the free demo to give the game a feel. As long as the devs continue to support the title with fixes and content, I would say this is a fun departure from other FPSs well worth your consideration.

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