The latest entry in the now rapidly growing "it's like Minecraft but with guns" genre owes as much to the iconic indie sandbox game it draws from as it does to games like Call of Duty and Team Fortress 2. Guncraft may wave its influences around to an eye-rolling extent at times, but it adds enough fresh elements to the pile to round out its punchy build-and-shoot gameplay and keep you tinkering away between rounds. While matches are intensely dynamic--thanks to a solid range of classes, a few clever gadgets, and some brilliant arenas to battle across--the extreme level of customization is where the crazy fun is really at in this multiplayer shooter. Building your own customized guns and character skins from scratch is awesome, but building a giant angry Chuck Norris head to plunk down on the battlefield and taunt opponents with? Simply sublime.
It turns out trying to frag your foes is a lot more interesting when the world around you can be decimated and rebuilt on the fly. Guncraft's frenetic firefights seem fairly straightforward at first--at least until players start getting inventive. Speed-burrowing underground and popping up behind your enemies, erecting impromptu fortifications, and other building-centric sneakery are all feasible tactics on the battlefield. You can also just blow the crap out of the landscape, which is satisfying on its own.
That's just the beginning. Outside of the arena, you can build and save custom prefabricated structures and other elements for use in combat. All you have to do is mine enough materials from the battlefield first, and then you can instantly drop your creation down and watch it auto-build itself. Transitioning between building and fighting opens you up to getting sniped from afar, but it's a thankfully quick jump between toolsets. This dual thrust to build and battle adds an unpredictable and sometimes hilarious fluidity to matches. You never quite know what to expect, and the results can be pretty outrageous.
Guncraft's high-energy matches breeze along at a zippy pace when you have a good-size crew to play against. There's a respectable range of classes to pick from, each with a unique loadout. From snipers and machine gunners to assault soldiers and demolition specialists, there's something here for all player tastes. And like many elements in the game, skins and loadouts can be customized, too. Thoughtful additions, such as grappling hooks, rocket packs, droppable turrets, parachutes, Predator vision, and even vehicles, add spice to the tied-and-true Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes. In a nod to Call of Duty, some of these cool extras are tied to kill streaks, which makes getting into a slaying groove rewarding. Using this gear to get around and cause havoc in interesting ways keeps matches from growing stale too quickly.
It also helps that the battlefields are really well designed and inventively crafted, despite their blocky look. Some of the game's best stages are user-generated levels from the community that were selected by the dev team, which adds some incentive to build your own in the level editor and upload them for others to play. The diverse arena designs are full of color, and they range from natural settings and bucolic barnyards to bustling cityscapes full of skyscrapers and chaotic carnivals.
The best, by far, is a meticulous re-creation of the Battle of Hoth from Star Wars, complete with Imperial walkers and Rebel bunkers entrenched in a snowy hillside--all made out of blocks. Maps can get quite huge, too, which makes the array of tanks, choppers, and hoverbikes in some levels a welcome addition to thrash the environment or your adversaries with. While powerful, these sweet rides don't last long under heavy fire, keeping things balanced.
When you need a break from all the standard pew-pew, a few of Guncraft's more peculiar game modes offer a great change of pace from straightforward running and gunning. Meteor Survival, for example, has you battling across stages that are systematically being destroyed by flaming meteors raining down from the sky. Instead of being killed outright, gunned-down opponents turn into snowmen for a few seconds, making them prone to getting caught in a meteor strike.
Lava Survival offers another variation: lava slowly rises upward through vertically oriented maps, and your goal is to get foes caught in the rising tide while everyone battles upward. Getting knocked out of commission doesn't end your run entirely, however, since you turn into a spirit with limited rechargeable energy that allows you to grief opponents by freezing them or destroying blocks they're standing on. It's a delightfully sinister twist that keeps you engaged even after you die in these more specialized matches. Other modes have you defending against waves of robotic invaders and working to build a mighty doom machine before your opponents do, and that's in addition to several other upcoming new modes in the works.
The variety is certainly here, but as of this review, you can't always find enough players to fully populate a server for the type of match you're hoping to play. While there are usually enough players around to find a game to dive into, the multiplayer community is sparse at times. But downtime isn't necessarily a bad thing in Guncraft. Visiting the foundry lets you dive into crafting your own skins, levels, and--best of all--guns. The interface works much like the main build mode. It's accessible and easy to pick up. You lay out blocks along a stage area that has an arrow to orient your barrel direction. From there, it's just a matter of building up a handle for your gun, adding a barrel and other cool-looking accoutrements, and then plugging in stats for your deadly masterpiece. The scale takes some getting used to at first, since it's kind of weird to be designing weaponry the size of buildings, but once you import it into the game itself, it becomes normal size in your character's hands.
Guncraft doesn't get high marks for originality--it's a pretty obvious mash-up and one that has been done before, albeit not as successfully--but the developers do layer lots of cool ideas onto the core ingredients they borrow from other popular games. Given the room for creativity in both creating your own content and bringing fresh tactics to the firefights, it's an improvement that's appealing, particularly if you dig Minecraft's aesthetics and flexibility but obsess over racking up insane kill streaks. There's still room to grow, but Guncraft is off to a good start.