HalloweenJack frantically switches his useless shotgun for an Uzi, replacing the first gun - which, unhelpfully, looks almost exactly the same as the second one - in its invisible holster. He begins firing at the two clowns in front of him (part of the Rogue gang) and is genuinely impressed as they duck, roll, and return fire. He aims for the chest with the first one, and he dies instantly - HalloweenJack, that is. There isn't enough time left to respawn. The seven-minute timer has expired, and he's booted out of the instance. HalloweenJack comes to a horrible realisation: he was outsmarted and outgunned by two MMO mobs, historically at the lower end of the AI spectrum. Our hero considers logging off and hanging himself, but then he has an epiphany...
To a certain extent, every MMO requires a bit of make-believe. We need to dip into that remarkable, childlike ability to construct fantasies out of the everyday, lest we lose interest in the DPS and the PUG and the bippin' and the boppin'. It's how we see a freakishly broad-shouldered Paladin rescuing a struggling postcard-village from banditry - rather than, say, Nige from Brighton trading hit-points with yet another identical cluster of instantly-respawning NPCs while his wife shrieks at him to scrub the shower recess.
It's a testament to the talents of their respective developers that all the art, music, world design and narrative that gets slathered over World of Warcraft, EverQuest II, Warhammer Online and associates is able to distract us from the sheer meaninglessness of the these games' underlying mechanics. In this regard, Vogster's CrimeCraft is no different - of course, this time it's more "Yeah boy" than "Have at thee" - but in order to really appreciate it, you have to go one step further: you have to pretend it's an MMO.
It isn't, really. While CrimeCraft may well be marketed with a view to pulling the rug out from under APB's feet, it's actually a gigantic, brilliant con. In playing it - the MMO part, anyway, or so we're led to believe - I'm indirectly reminded of my early experiences with Ultima Online. Back then, this whole MMO thing was a pretty exciting business, and arguably promised a lot more than it eventually delivered. But when a visiting friend chanced upon the box and asked me to demonstrate, even my most masturbatory justifications yielded little more than a dismissive, "Oh, so it's basically a 3D chatroom." He was wrong, of course. For one, Ultima Online was 2D - ha! - but also, I'd actually seen 3D chatrooms, and they weren't this cool.
Remember VRML? I do: I recall a bunch of soulless companies integrating pathetic, ugly 3D hubs into their websites, and then swiftly abandoning them when people discovered how heinous they were. I even tried to make one myself: I spent a few bored hours erecting a blocky haunted house with a guy who had a half-lizard face, and then I stopped and went back to fantasizing about Gillian Anderson.
What does all of this have to do with CrimeCraft? Well, that's exactly what CrimeCraft is, minus Ms. Anderson but with a fairly competent online shooter stitched to its right hip. You create your edgy urban avatar - who has about three possible facial permutations, and an equally limited selection of hideous hairstyles (think Pete Wentz at 40, twice-divorced and addicted to crystal meth) - and then you're plonked into the supposedly dynamic, bustling epicentre of Sunrise City, where gangs rule, policemen are eight feet tall and do nothing but stretch occasionally, and everyone who isn't giving you a quest or selling you something has the exact same character model. And, initially, it all looks like a proper MMO. The first guy you see is one of those gigantism-afflicted policemen, and he has an exclamation mark over his head - signifying, as it does in WOW, that he has a quest to offer.
You're passed like swine flu between a small group of helper NPCs before finally getting a go at holding a gun and using it to shoot people until they are no longer alive. Obviously, I'm excited. CrimeCraft promises to combine "the best aspects of a shooter and a MMORPG", and I'm interested to see how that holds up, latency-wise. I look around. No Rogues. Oh, right - I have to enter an instance. Well, it's a newbie quest. Makes sense. Off I go, and I'm immediately astonished at how solid and reactive everything is. My previously slippery walking animations are suddenly weighty and purposeful. When I click, I shoot. After years of attack queues and die rolls, this is refreshing.
"This is refreshing," I comment to no-one in particular.
"I can't believe Marge Simpson is going to be in Playboy," I add.
I exit the instance, and start looking for other combat opportunities. Worryingly, all of them follow the same pattern as the first. I try out the PvE ones before moving onto PvP. CrimeCraft's PvP component is obviously the game's paramount attraction. It has four modes - Shootout (team deathmatch), Riot (vanilla deathmatch), Snatch 'n' Grab (capture the flag), and Turf War (capture control points). I have a go at each of them, but am far too terrible to get anything substantial out of the effort.
"Still," I think again, "this is refreshing."
"I wonder if she'll take it all off or just be in lingerie or something," I muse.
Truth be told, some of these are quite enjoyable. The team modes are exactly what you'd expect from an online shooter circa Quake III, and the action is surprisingly smooth and immediate, especially considering I'm half a world away from the vast majority of CrimeCraft's current players. [The game has had an official European launch since Alex wrote this - Ed.] It's also incredibly fast-paced, which can, at the best of times, distract you from the horribly drab scenarios you're pillaging. I find it unbelievable that it's almost 2010 - a decade after Old Man Murray - and we're still running through virtual warehouses, factories, and other assorted crate farms.
CrimeCraft's shooter component is completely unimaginative, but it works, and it works better than some of its lower-budget rivals. Vogster might have thought to integrate it with its pointless hub world, though, because the two sides of its first MMO don't really make sense when sutured together. Explain to me, for instance, how I can be walking through the neon-lit CBD of a crime-beleaguered metropolis, stride through a gate, and suddenly be in a rural sawmill, or on an offshore oil platform.
The whole thing is almost adorably ham-fisted until you notice the avarice lurking in the shadows. CrimeCraft requires a monthly subscription of $4.99 a month, or $9.99 for a Premium subscription, which nets you some potentially controversial bonuses like a faster level gain and better loot drops. You could also play for free, but the already-limited experience is so hobbled there's no real point in doing so. Weirdly, it appears that regardless of which subscription you have, Sunrise City's billboards are still plastered with ads for real-world products.
On top of your subscription, there's also the 'gold bars' currency, which is separate from in-game 'credits' and allows you to purchase premium items. In other words, you have to pay for monthly access to CrimeCraft, and then you have to pay for things that, in any other MMO, would come with your subscription - the full range of selectable faces for your avatar, for example, or the ability to change your gang's colours. You do get a few bars each month to tide you over, but if you want the good stuff, you'll need to pay. It's a needlessly complex and exploitative business model, and, quite frankly, I can't see it flying with the non-lobotomised.
Perhaps in an effort to offset any dissent, CrimeCraft includes a passable weapon customisation and crafting system. In addition to swapping around purchasable "skills" and other performance boosters, you can slot upgrades into your existing guns, or build one of your own from raw components. It's not particularly meaningful, though, because every gun looks pretty much the same, and when some pimple from the opposing team can instantly knock you out with the all-powerful knife attack - thanks, Modern Warfare - do the few extra damage points on your shotgun really give you that much of an edge? You can craft clothes, too, but you're working from boring templates. Vogster could have at least let players run a bit Second Life in Sunrise City's lifeless streets - you know, let them tweak their appearances, enjoy a few "Want to see my vagina? I made it myself!" moments - but I guess they wouldn't make any money from doing that.
So, as a result, you get an atrocious MMO wedded to a fleetingly enjoyable multiplayer shooter. Had Vogster just focused on the latter component, it might have had something worthwhile on its Ukrusserican hands - Modern Warfare meets Saints Row, say. But as it is, HalloweenJack's inclined to hang up his nondescript firearms and retire to a life of Sangria and quiet Mexican oblivion. Don't cry for him, Sunrise City: the truth is, he never loved you.
4 / 10