Today I'm previewing three early access titles now available on Steam: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex First Assault Online, Rust, and Hurtworld.
Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex First Assault Online
...Tactical Combat Video Game Entertainment Simulation System. Okay, I made that last part up, but somebody in Nexon America's marketing department really should have reigned in that title a little bit. It can't even be made into a convenient acronym. "Hey, want to play GITSSACFAO?" asked no one, ever.
Anyhow, I was drawn to this title because I love Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (as well as the Ghost in the Shell films). If you're not familiar with the series, it follows a special forces team led by Major Motoko Kusanagi in a sci-fi 2030s Japan where everyone who can afford it is a cyborg. (The overoptimistic timeline is worthy of Back to the Future!) The setting is leveraged to deliver some surprisingly sophisticated philosophical and social commentary—for an anime, anyway. But more to the point, there's also a lot of over-the-top action and a hint of gun-fetishism, which makes the series perfect for a first person shooter. It's surprising, then, that nobody has tried to make one until now.
Unfortunately, the results are mixed, at least at this early stage. I've seen some significant stuttering during some matches, which is a real problem in such a fast-paced shooter. The gunplay also is also ever-so-slightly off. It's got a satisfying, weighty feel to it, but I can't quite get used to the aiming and recoil. Adjusting your aim while looking down the sights is so incredibly slow compared to the pace of player movement that the best strategy seems to be to just never use iron sights at all except at extreme range. It feels like they're taking cues from Counter-Strike, but they haven't quite nailed the experience yet.
I trust that some of these issues will be fixed as the game is developed further, but what's more worrying is the character progression mechanic. Although early access to the game costs money, this is pretty clearly intended to be a free-to-play game, and as such there are already a plethora of unlockable weapon and ability upgrades. There are so many different things to customize that it's almost overwhelming at first. That would be a good thing if not for the fact that the pace of unlocks seems very slow (as if to encourage people to spend real money—imagine that!), and the unlockables don't seem very balanced. A fully upgraded character has clear advantages over a new character, which leads to a frustrating sense of unfairness.
I think this one is worth keeping an eye on, but I don't see it becoming my go-to shooter unless I end up being dead wrong about the free-to-play monetization scheme.
Have you ever wanted a reason to revile, fear and distrust humanity more than you perhaps already do? Rust is the game for you! I'm incredibly late to the party with this game, and with the survival genre as a whole; for a long time I felt, for no particular reason, that it just wasn't for me. I suppose Fallout 4 made me curious about what the genre had to offer. It turns out that the answer is pain and misery.
Don't get me wrong, though. Rust is actually an awesome game. Despite still being in early access, it's very polished, has an excellent core gameplay loop of gathering, building, and defending oneself, and is a lot of fun to play. Although I only played Rust over the course of a few days, I managed to rack up 14 hours on it, which is more time than I devote to most games these days. But therein lies the problem as well: it's a time-sink of MMO-esque proportions. Except that it's even worse than most MMOs, because when you're offline your sleeping body remains where ever it was when you logged out, leaving you vulnerable to being killed and having all of your stuff stolen. So not only does it take a lot of time to progress, but you can easily lose all of your progress, and if you're not constantly playing it becomes more and more likely that that will happen. Look, I made an equation to describe the effect:
It doesn't help that most of the people who play Rust are assholes. During my 14 hours, I once met some friendly players who gave me some items to help me out. Almost every other time I came across someone, if they had the means to kill me, they would, even when I was clearly not a threat and had nothing of value to them. If Rust is any indication of what a real apocalyptic disaster would be like, I'm amazed that humanity made it out of the jungle in the first place.
Still, I think Rust is pretty awesome. The construction system is neat. There are lots of cool items to craft. The maps are huge and fun to explore. The sense of tension is unmatched in any other modern game. If you have the time to devote to it, it's a great game. But I'm probably never going to play it again, because the psychological cost of wondering whether or not anything I've built will still be there next time I log on is just too high.
A newer and lesser-known entry into the survival genre, Hurtworld is Rust but with slightly more forgiving mechanics and cel-shaded graphics. Oh, and no nudity. Did I mention that Rust has nudity? It does, but before you get too excited, all of the character models are male.
Anyway, back to Hurtworld: it describes itself as having "a focus on deep survival progression that doesn't become trivial once you establish some basic needs," presumably as opposed to its competitors. So far, what this seems to mean is that certain resources are more difficult to acquire; you can't go from a basic bow-and-arrow to a shotgun as quickly as you can in Rust. You can also craft cars, which is pretty awesome. Of course, I never got that far, because Hurtworld is also pretty time-consuming.
Hurtworld is clearly the earliest of these three early access games, and I ran into many technical issues while playing it. Lag was a persistent problem, with frequent "de-syncs" where the server thought something was in a different position than my machine did. Some servers seemed to have serious stability issues, with frequent disconnections. At other times, creature AI would stop working entirely. Most importantly, the interface and combat mechanics are very rough around the edges right now.
It's too early to say anything definitive about Hurtworld, but it could be a great alternative to Rust for casuals like me who have jobs and other boring adult responsibilites.