Trying to verbalise the Crasher experience with mere words is a daunting task. The game's producer found this out first hand as he tried to explain what the game was about without the aid of a demo, PowerPoint presentation, or even screenshots. Admittedly language was somewhat of a barrier, developer Punchers Impact is a French studio after all, but right up until the moment I got my hands on the game, I couldn't conjure up the vaguest image of what it might be like. With any luck, this preview won't leave you feeling the same way, because Crasher is an interesting game built on an interesting concept.
The game is one of a rare breed known as M.O.B.A. If this acronym eludes your gaming vocabulary (as I must admit it did mine), know now that it means Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. But what does that entail exactly? In terms of Crasher, it means that 10 players can fight in the same instanced environment, jumping behind the wheel of an armoured vehicle to wipe each other from the face of the map. It's a third-person affair, with expansive 3D environments playing host to the carnage. The interface will remind many people of World of Warcraft, with commands that live in a little rectangle running across the bottom of the screen. Also like WoW, each move has a cool down period which determines how often it can be used. Consequently, the game plays out in a very similar fashion to an MMORPG, albeit a much faster one without quests, guilds and grinding.
To help complete this picture of the game I'm trying to draw in your mind, imagine (if you can) a steamy night of passion between WoW and Twisted Metal, with Crasher being the subsequent love child. While it shares mechanics from both parents, it has enough distinguishing characteristics of its own to be something quite different from either. Although a League Mode has been announced since I saw the game last month, my time with Crasher was spent with the TvT (Team vs Team) mode, which pits five players against another five in a vicious battle for terrain.
The object of this particular mode isn't that dissimilar to King of the Hill. You race off to a target as indicated by your map, which you proceed to fight for possession over with the enemy. After you've driven them from the area (quite literally), and loitered about the vicinity for long enough, it will eventually fall under your control. From here, it's a simple case of defending the area for as long as possible, with points building up the whole time you're able to do so. Within this framework a lot of different types of gameplay emerge. Racing, attacking, defending, and strategising are all components of the same overall experience, with different roles available to the player depending on their choice of vehicle.
Vehicles come in numerous shapes and sizes: two-wheeled vehicles are the most manoeuvrable, ideal for recon and scouting. Three-wheeled vehicles are also nimble but more resilient than their two-wheeled friends. They're also good for setting up traps outside of combat. Finally are the four-wheeled badboys, who, much like tanks in an MMORPG, will be at the frontlines of your assault. Each type of vehicle (dictated by it's number of wheels) has numerous classes within it, offering plenty of variety and scope for team customisation.
Each vehicle varies in speed, armour and firepower, and has a number of skills unique to its class. Finding one that suits your own style of play is important, because ultimately it's the strength of the team as a whole that will determine who is victorious. One player might therefore want to adopt the role of a healer, with a vehicle that is able to repair its battered comrades. Another player might prefer the role of a Tanker, which can increase its size to ram enemies out the way. Four skill slots are available to each Hero, ranging from missiles and elemental magic to abilities that can change the very shape of the land. There's also an experience system in place that allows players to learn new skills and abilities as well as improve attributes such as speed, strength and HP.
Crasher is an interesting first addition to Punchers Impact's CV, but problems could well surface if it's unable to explain the concept of the game to the wider audience. Those who still don't understand what the game is all about might be pleased to learn that a beta will be available in mid November, allowing players to check it out a good few months before release. Based on my time with the game, I'd say it's worth checking out. It looks good, invokes fierce competition, and most importantly - it's different.
Crasher is releasing on digital distribution platforms in January 2011.