Ace of Spades (PC) Preview
I never “got” Minecraft. It obviously had a wonderful sense of place & style, but the sandbox element scared the hell out of me. If you drop me into a world & tell me to do anything I want, I’ll freak out from the lack of structure & direction. It happened in my time with Minecraft, it happens everytime I do something other than play levels in LittleBigPlanet, it even happened when I decided to just buy grab bags of LEGO bricks outside of a set. That kind of laissez-faire, “do whatever” approach to gaming repels me, not because it’s bad, just because it’s daunting & overwhelming to take in all at once.
This is why I am so far enthralled with what I’ve played of Ace of Spades so far. Just to get the easy comparison out of the way, Ace of Spades has a very similar style to Mojang’s smash hit- character design, “voxel” art, the act of shoveling/building, it’s all very familiar. But instead of just throwing you into the world without a care, Ace of Spades decides to take the best parts of Minecraft and combine them with a class-based FPS to make something wholly original & all kinds of awesome.
So the conceit here is that you can spawn as one of the four different classes on either team in this world that features real-time, destructible & re-constructable (think I just made that word up) enviornments. The basic soldier class is solid for short to mid-range combat but is otherwise not particularly useful if you’re looking to build new objects in your environment, the sniper not being too much better but having a nifty, self-explanatory long-range weapon. The engineer can set up an automated turret, but the miner (my favorite class) has an insanely useful rocket drill that blows holes in the environment, making it insanely easy to build tunnels & take out foundations in the level.
Now Ace of Spades was mighty popular in its freeware form, hitting a whooping 2 million downloads in a relatively short period of time. Jagex, the UK publisher/developer, decided on picking up the title & distributing it on Steam, though not without adding some polish & improvements first. The graphics are markedly improved over the original prototype without losing the “voxel” charm that made it appealing in the first place. The classes are a new addition, as are a few of the weapons (that rocket drill in particular). The modes range from team deathmatch to objective skirmishes, but the one I was most drawn to was the “zombies” mode. Much like in the Halo titles, a subset of players spawn as humans (in whichever class they choose), while the other team become zombies. Zombies have no weapons but are incredibly fast & can break though blocks in the environment with relative ease, making sure that no area is safe for the survivors. It’s frenetic & sometimes mindless, but fun all the same.
To be honest, Ace of Spades succeeds because it can’t quite stand on its own without the sum of its parts. The building/crafting mechanic was obviously done before, and the shooting is solid but otherwise standard. However, combining the two makes for an enthralling experience unlike anything you’ve played before. It’s a game that actively encourages you to plan & meticulously craft one minute then think on your toes the next. In one of the “zombies” matches, I chose to build a plot of stairs to the highest tower of the fortress, then proceeded to blow up the stairs, trapping me at the top but slowing down the zombies in return & forcing them to chip away at the foundation (making it much easier to pick them off with my rifle). In another skirmish, I was able to lay a set of dynamite to blow up a bridge, then proceeded to craft a makeshift bridge between palm trees, giving me easy rooftop access without having to reconstruct the bridge. Moments like this, where anything can happen at any time, where no two matches are the same, where you’re limited only by your imagination, make Ace of Spades something remarkable.
I’m estactic that a game like this exists, because it has the structure needed to give gamers a sense of place along with the freedom to do anything they want in the world. It’s a game that gives a great, approachable introduction to a genre that’s typically unwelcoming to new players. And on top of all that, it’s a ton of fun to play.
Unfortunately, Ace of Spades will not have mod support at launch, but Jagex is looking to implement those tools sometime after the game sees release in December on Steam.