When there's a single entity that dominates its niche as thoroughly as World of Warcraft dominates the massively multiplayer online game space, it's a daunting task to go head-to-head with it. Thus, a company that wants to get in on that massively multiplayer money needs to go to the margins and explore new gameplay styles and genres in order to interest players looking for something beyond the world of orcs versus humans. This has contributed to an exciting explosion of MMOGs for every taste and style. Vogster Entertainment was banking on this with CrimeCraft, an MMOG built around an enjoyable carnival of gunplay and mayhem. If CrimeCraft's world lived up to its aspirations, it might have become the "WoW alternative" one might expect from an MMOG with "Craft" in the title.
The basic premise is simple enough. A worldwide economic depression causes the collapse of civilization. The United States falls into anarchy with individual cities and regions controlled by warring corporations and the remnants of local municipal governments. The last remaining "free city" is Sunrise City. This former beach resort town, which resembles Miami, is run by an interlocking assembly of six rival gangs who keep the peace in the city center while defending it from the assaults of outsider gangs and other cities that constantly splash against the city walls. You play as a refugee from the wasteland looking to make a new life in Sunrise City and work your way up from the streets to the upper echelon of gang leadership.
Like Guild Wars, CrimeCraft is completely instanced; it's built around three city zones that act as game lobbies and social areas. These offer you the chance to load up with different weapons, weapon modifications, clothing, and accessories that give a variety of bonuses and special abilities. From these zones, you'll have access to a dozen or so maps that run the gamut from "industrial warehouse full of junk" and "dockyard full of junk" to "chemical plant full of junk." Once in these areas, you'll run and gun at other players wielding a variety of traditional shooter weapons. These range from pistols and shotguns to sniper rifles and rocket launchers. Given how much time you'll be spending in these areas, it's good that this player-versus-player portion of the game is its strongest attribute. While CrimeCraft is controlled from a third-person perspective and there's no jumping (bunny hopping is replaced with an equally effective roll maneuver), it shouldn't take long to get the hang of the game's slightly unusual skill requirements. You'll quickly be able to delve into the many nuances and strategic options that make the gameplay varied and quite interesting.
For example, crafting is built around four different professions (tailor, gunsmith, engineer, and chemist) that create upgrades, armor, boosts, and weapon mods that can significantly affect your killing power in combat. These items are created using crafting materials that drop in player-versus-environment instances and give even the hardest of hardcore PVPs a reason to occasionally get into a bot match. The game also offers variations on traditional shooter gameplay modes, including Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Assault and Defend on every map, which keeps the player base rotating through the different scenarios and the PVP from becoming stale. Even better, the PVP shooting is well balanced enough that despite the variety of weapons, boosts, and armor available, it's skill and teamwork much more than equipment and character level that separate the winners from the street meat. A level-20 character may not have an easy time against a level-40 character, but it's certainly possible for the 20 to take the 40 down, especially if the level-20 character works with a team.
The problems with CrimeCraft really begin with the minimal MMO shell that's been put around the good-but-unexceptional PVP gameplay. PVE content is thin on the ground and poorly constructed. Much of it consists of basic questing for the first seven or so levels. The rest is the traditional "kill 10 foozles and bring me their heads" along with a decent achievement-style system that offers experience, cash, and perks for completing certain goals in combat. This simplicity isn't the real issue, however; it's the fact that the PVE questing zones are the same maps used in PVP--only populated by rapidly respawning bots. That means you'll be running around shooting things randomly in a zone that isn't crafted to provide any sense of place, narrative, or progress. There is a boss that spawns in after a few minutes, but there's often no reason to kill him. And even if there is, it's awfully tough to get a group together to kill him when the rewards are often greater for just hanging around the treasure drop points (which never change) than completing quests. It's no wonder that players are keeping their time in PVE instances to the minimum that is necessary for keeping the crafting professions supplied.
Indeed, the game's biggest issue is that it's not really much of an MMOG at all. Because the game has no shared world outside of the noncombat city zones, there's no sense of exploration or connection, no identification between players, and no opportunities for the spontaneous stories that develop from chance encounters. As graphically attractive as the three city zones are (and they're all suspiciously clean with a ton of advertising for such real-world companies as Atticus and Best Buy), it doesn't take long before you realize that they are annoyingly large multiplayer lobbies that force you to run around to do stuff that could just as easily be handled by a series of menus. This sense of disconnection and player fragmentation is worsened by not having combat in these shared spaces and nothing but traditional PVP gameplay and poorly constructed PVE missions. Where's the actual "crime" in CrimeCraft? For all that, you're supposed to be a member of a criminal gang, but you don't rob banks, run drugs, mug old ladies, or do drive-bys. Instead, you'll behave in ways that mark you as more of a soldier operating in a well-ordered fascist state than a supposedly lawless thug in anarchy.
From a technical standpoint, CrimeCraft seems to be operating well. Servers have been up pretty consistently while the level of bugs and major lag spikes seems minimal. There has been an issue when the server population gets too high. We've seen a bit of lag in both the lobby areas and the combat instances, but it's never been so bad that we considered leaving the game to wait it out. Considering its complexity, the game kicked off in a remarkably well-balanced way, though even here, there are certain problems. Players have quickly figured out the optimal specs and loadouts that give too much of an advantage in combat, and at the moment, light machine guns and sniper rifles are the combos to beat. The dev team seems active, though, and has been in communication with the player base since launch.
Ultimately, what really hurts CrimeCraft is completely separate from the game itself: the price tag. The game's initial MSRP was $49.99 US plus a $10 a monthly subscription fee (the first two months are free). This was quickly lowered to $39.99 but even at that price, the game raises more expectations than it's prepared to fulfill. You'd think that a "persistent world next-gen shooter" would have a persistent world. What you get instead is a static universe filled with traditional non-player character vendors, crafting facilities, auction houses, and a distinct lack of adventure. Players can form themselves into gangs to compete against other gangs, but this is nothing more than a ladder and scoring system. Nothing the player does effects the world one iota. There's no fighting over turf, and nothing you do will actually affect the city. As fun as the PVP battles are, they're ultimately meaningless in a larger sense. What CrimeCraft offers is available in a lot of other shooters that give players their endless battles without the monthly fee. Players who want to truly customize their avatars even have to use more money in a microtransaction system that feels excessive on top of the monthly fee. When you add the in-your-face ads all over the place, you might start to wonder why you're paying good money to be marketed to and nickel-and-dimed.