CrimeCraft

Gang reflex.

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.

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Combat is fast and merciless - leave your macros at the door.

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.

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