Concept Crash: Ace of Spades

Concept Crash: Ace of Spades

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Welcome to the first round of Concept Crash!

Concept Crash is a series where I examine genre crossovers. I’ll be taking a look at games that took two very different ideas and mashed them together, for better or worse. This week, I’m examining a game from 2012 that attempted to mix Team Fortress-style shooters with Minecraft. Yes, we’re looking at Ace of Spades.

[Please keep in mind: This is not a review. Even if two ideas don’t blend well together, the resulting game can still be a lot of fun, and vice-versa.]

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THE CRASH:

Ace of Spades was originally developed by Ben Aksoy. His version is still available online for free, but will not be discussed within this article. Instead, I will only be examining the payware version of the game developed by Jagex, as they decided that their version of the game was worth money, and therefore the more polished product.

Like Minecraft, Ace of Spades features a world made entirely of small blocks that the player can create or destroy to alter the landscape. Each arena is made of thousands of these blocks. The player can dig through them using a digging tool, and can create structures by placing single blocks or using pre-made configurations. These range from simple walls and platforms to sniper towers and guardrails.

Like Team Fortress 2, AoS is an online shooter in which players pick a class to play as before entering the match. For example, the Miner class can dig faster, plant explosives, and use a block-chewing rocket to forcefully carve through hundreds of bricks at a time. The Rocketeer, on the other hand, can’t dig well but he can jetpack over obstacles, place turrets, and generally muck up your nice, “safe” sniping spot.

This game looks like a Minecraft player's wet dream. Seriously.

This game looks like a Minecraft player’s wet dream. Seriously.

THE IDEA:

In theory, FPS gameplay and Minecraft sandbox arenas should work pretty well together.

Imagine setting up your own sniping spot wherever you want, with no access points and a secret tunnel leading back to your spawn room. If that doesn’t tickle your fancies, imagine rigging it with explosives and laughing while clearing out a few dazed and confused snipers whose hidey-hole just got leveled.

Still, class-based gameplay is pretty fun, right? Being able to use one class’s abilities to counter the strengths of another usually leaves me feeling satisfied. Therefore, in a game that lets you change the landscape at will, any class should be able to create an advantageous situation for themselves, and make any class fun to play.

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WILL IT BLEND?

The long answer is “yes”, but the short answer is, unfortunately, “no”. The concepts that Ace of Spades attempts to mix should work well together, but a poor execution causes Ace of Spades to miss the mark.

The Team Fortress 2-style class-based gameplay seems woefully incomplete. For whatever reason, Jagex decided to make only four classes… Which wouldn’t be so bad, except that many assets are shared between different classes. The Rocketeer and Sniper, for example, have the same digging tool, and three of the classes share some of the same pre-fab buildings. The Commando class, on the other hand, has not only a minigun but can use grenades, a fast digging tool, and two different types of rocket launchers.

The result is class combat that is, for lack of a better phrase, over-specialized. Specifically, every class specializes in helping your team’s snipers, and avoiding the other team’s snipers. Want to kill things? Play Sniper. Would you like to use the Minecraft sandbox arena to your advantage? Better play Miner, so you can level the terrain for Snipers or create trenches to avoid enemy Snipers. Want to place turrets to take out enemies? Too bad, the other team is entirely snipers that don’t move into range and will shoot you down the second you blast off in your obnoxiously loud jetpack. Want to use your minigun to take out the enemy and inflict massive damage? You’re now at the mercy of your team’s miners. You can only pray they built a good enough tunnel to the other team’s base so you can avoid the snipers.

The Sniper class is overpowered, and the game revolves around finding ways to circumvent getting shot in your oversized, blocky head. That’s class-based combat done wrong.

Ace of Spades sniper

Although the Minecraft sandbox elements are not as prevalent as they should be, when they do come into play, it can make the rest of the slough seem worthwhile. Though you won’t be building a giant fortress (as I hoped when I first booted the game up), slapping down walls and digging trenches is a lot more fun than you might think. I remember one particular game in which a teammate and I worked together to tunnel out the entirety of the enemy’s spawn. The massive structure collapsed into the ground, and left me with a feeling of delicious schadenfreude. Unfortunately, these instances are infrequent at best.

More important than the lack of destructive fun is that this game misses what makes Minecraft’s gameplay so much fun: creation. You’ll notice, I didn’t say “destruction”, or “setting up pre-made structures.” No, the key to utilizing a Minecraft-style sandbox is to encourage creativity. Setting up pre-fab sniper towers or digging large tunnels underground does not count as a creative experience. In truth, there’s no time to create fortresses or ramparts because most weapons kill you in seconds, and a headshot is an instant kill.

There's nowhere you can't camp.

There’s nowhere you can’t camp.

So, while you are designing your ultimate doom fortress, the enemy team has already stolen your flag four times. It makes the whole process feel worthless. What’s worse, there is no game mode (apart from the “zombie” mode) that emphasizes survival; there are only various versions of capture the flag, territory control and deathmatch. Ace of Spades is sorely in need of a last-man-standing style of game in which a player can put up his or her own defenses and really dig in (pardon the pun) to the Minecraft aspects of gameplay.

Ace of Spades takes one step forward and two steps back at almost every possible opportunity. While it combines two good ideas that should work, in theory, its execution is fair at best and downright annoying at worst.

VERDICT

Ace of Spades just narrowly survives the crash, but dies en-route to the hospital.

Please... Don't.

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  1. Somewanwan says:

    So sad. I used to have fun back when the beta was released, digging trenches, digging below other people’s trenches and shooting blues in the face. I guess that just “more of the same” isn’t bad all the time.

  2. Hardcore Bro says:

    When I saw the title “Concept Crash: Ace of Spades” I thought this was gonna be about great concepts that crashed in execution. (Looking at you Tribes Ascend).

    Good review! Hoping to see Natural Selection 2 next :)

  3. Gig says:

    For a better Team Fortress / Minecraft clash gameplay I’d recommend King Arthur’s Gold.

  4. Aiekamer says:

    Great article; love the idea of this series. Looking forward to more!

    I have to recommend Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath for what I think was an effective cross-over of genres (It’s about the only one I’ve played, though).

  5. Cameo says:

    I really enjoyed the classic mode they offered.
    probably more than the rest of the game modes.

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