As far as game names go, “Crasher” is just tempting fate. The Spectrum’s “Don’t Buy This” was an interesting exercise in truly honest naming, I’ll grant you, but Crasher? Crasher is not the sort of name you want associated with your product if there are any technical hitches, and – while I’ve yet to have the game actually crash – Crasher features plenty of technical problems and a mind-bogglingly array of issues that, simply, should not have made it into a finished product.
On a more positive note, I actually rather like the game itself.
So hey, let’s start with the good stuff: Crasher is billed as a team-based, vehicle-centric Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, which makes it sound like a fast-paced shooter – something like a motorised Unreal Tournament, or Quake 3. It’s not. The closest true analogue is to something like a vastly sped-up commercial release of World of Warcraft’s PvP arena: health is plentiful, watching your energy is important, your basic attack will automatically fire as long as you have a target and are facing in the right direction, and success is really dependant on movement, positioning, and the use of your vehicle’s four unique abilities.
Players, in two teams of up to five, compete across one of two modes. There’s Crasher Territory Control, which is essentially King of the Hill, and Crasher Battle Arena, in which the two teams duke it out until one team is completely destroyed. Upon joining a server you’re asked to choose a vehicle from an array of 15, each of which falls into a rough class archetype. Some are great at close-range damage; some excel at range; some heal their allies; some can construct turrets.
Despite only having four abilities apiece, it’s astonishing how unique many of the vehicles are. None of the abilities are shared, and most vehicles require you to play in entirely different ways. Of the two healing vehicles, one has a beam that massively heals a target of your choice, while the other has a chain heal that bounces around all nearby allies. One ranged DPS vehicle can spend a few seconds building a drone (which can be targeted by enemies) that essentially duplicates any attacks you make, hugely increasing damage. Another vehicle can create an invisibility bubble. Another can hurl shurikens that massively damage all enemies in a straight line. Another turns into a giant meteor and drops on enemies, which I think bears re-reading. Experimenting with new vehicles and learning both how to use them and how to use them in tandem with your allies is as fun a learning experience as starting a new class in an MMO, without having to grind for hundreds of hours to see their full strength.
That said, levelling plays a part here, too. As you win matches you earn experience, and levelling up unlocks different primary weapons and perks that let you customise each vehicle further. A flamethrower might seem a smart choice of weapon for a close-up damage dealer, but perhaps you’d prefer a long-ranged plasma cannon so you can do some damage while closing in? Do you want to use that perk slot on upgrading your armour by 10%, or your damage by 5%? By the time you’ve played for a few hours, you’ve got a bevy of interesting options. Some are simple numeric tweaks, while others give rewards for pulling off in-game feats, like hitting three enemies with a single attack, but none make the game feel unfairly weighted towards those who’ve been playing for hours.
The arenas themselves are also fairly diverse. Abyss starts all vehicles on the top floor and gradually collapses, dropping players to lower levels. Sand Fire is a fairly basic arena that plonks powerful power-ups on raised platforms, requiring some nifty use of the jump power-up. Eruption is a tiered arena with a gradually rising flow of incredibly damaging lava, forcing players up and up.
Which is where we hit the first snag: there are four maps, total, in the game. Although a free one has already been released and there are presumably more incoming, the three mentioned above are all in the CBA game mode, with CTC – by far the most played mode – having a grand total of one map, Entalia. I like Entalia, but what I’d like more is a bit of variation, rather than playing the same map for hours at a time because nobody else wants to play CBA.
And there we hit the second snag: player count. Crasher isn’t dead by any means and the player count is growing steadily, but servers appear to be region-specific, meaning that if you’re in Europe and fancy a game at 2am then you’re out of luck. There are no bots to play against and no practice modes to mess about with. There is a flipside to this: the smaller playercount means that you’ll inevitably run into the same people every now and then, and the community has an actual sense of community, which is astonishingly rare in a multiplayer game.
Finally, the third snag, which is in fact a gigantic super-snag made up of smaller, lesser snags: technical issues and oversights.
Some are minor but mind-boggling, like the fact that two maps have a description that reads “(description)” when you host a server, or the fact that there’s no way to see how close you are to the next level – but there are far too many of these things. Players have a “Rating,” which appears to be fixed at 1500 and remains unchanged no matter your wins or losses. The end-of-round scoreboard has a huge section for achievements, but there don’t appear to be any achievements. Why are these here?
These are tolerable problems, but there are plenty that aren’t. Servers sometimes spontaneously die, leaving players able to talk and drive around but unable to shoot or capture areas, which some might consider a bit of an issue. But the biggest problem is it’s incredibly rare to have a game in which nobody drops out, because – while skill plays a part – this is a game balanced for equal teams. It might seem harsh to lay this at the feet of the developers, as every multiplayer title is plagued by people dropping out when they’re losing, but it’s something else when two of your teammates have somehow dropped out between the loading screen and the game starting. Players can’t join once a match has started, so in these situations you have to choose between being utterly steamrollered, or quitting and finding another match, and this happens far too often.
Yet, despite this, I like Crasher. What it does, it does well: there’s little else quite like it out there in the market; it has a solid and (mostly) friendly community; the maps present are unique and interesting; it has the oh-so-addictive joy of levelling up and getting new toys to play with; it has 15 very different vehicles to get to grips with. Despite the issues it’s a great deal of fun when it works as it should, and there’s a huge amount of potential here. I’m genuinely looking forward to spending more time with it when it’s been patched and expanded into a state befitting a product that’s on sale, rather than a beta mistakenly put on the shelves.