Despite what some people would have you believe, Notch and his buddies don’t own the exclusive rights to building virtual worlds out of cubes. There’s no doubt that one glance at Ace of Spades will leave many Minecraft fans muttering calls of foul play between endless mouse clicks, but past the edgy exterior there is a very different, and rather unique, animal. Where Minecraft encourages you to erect magnificent structures, Ace of Spades demands that you blast them, and other players around them, to smithereens in as imaginative a way as possible. Last week I got the chance to go hands on with it, and here’s what I found.
On the face of it, it’s an online, class based, first person shooter, which pits two teams of up to 16 players against each other and asks them to blow their opponents’ blocky brains out. But even this somewhat wordy description doesn’t do it justice. Ace of Spades is what I’d call a ‘Build-Your-Own’ shooter, which puts you into a world where anything can, and will, happen.
Ace of Spades takes the idea of destructible terrain and runs over the hills with it, coming back with pre-planned environments that are 100% destroyable. Every muddy outcrop, every sniper nest (as I found out to my detriment) and carefully constructed building can be completely and utterly wiped out. Weapons are not only designed to rip through flesh, but also to chew through the world around you, reshaping it as you play. It’s like a particularly violent episode of Ground Force: if you don’t like a particular area of the map, you can do as much explosive-fuelled landscaping as you wish until everything is just how you like it.
Remember though, this is still a shooter, and there are always people trying to kill you. So whilst you’re admiring your heavy-handed attempts at exterior design, remember to keep your head down. Most of the maps are expansive and have multiple long lines of site, and although this isn’t the twitchiest shooter around headshots are still king, so you have to make sure you’re hunkered down in cover. Thankfully, you can lay down blocks you’ve carved out of the environment in any way you wish. Building is fast: a click and drag on the right mouse sets down numerous blocks at a time, or you can build ‘prefabs’ – structures that come pre-built – such as bunkers in no time.
As well as being destructible, Ace of Spades’ universe obeys the laws of gravity – and that is no small thing, as it means destroying blocks can be an effective form of attack. There’s nothing more satisfyingthan hacking the legs from an enemy’s carefully built tower to see him, and the blocks around him, tumbling to the ground with a bone shattering thud.
I’m sure you’ll agree that these are all good ideas, but without a diverse set of excellent playable characters they’ll be completely lost. Thankfully, the 4 classes in Ace of Spades are very good indeed. The soldier and Scout bring the pain: the former is an all round offensive class complete with minigun, rocket launcher and rifle, whilst the latter carries a sniper rifle and an SMG and boasts superior speed. There’s the Engineer, who can set up a deployable turret, place landmines or use his shotgun at close range, and the Miner, who turns destroying blocks into an art form.
Of course, it is the way that these classes interact that is the star of this retro show. I played my first match on a lunar base: a large, flat map in which gravity is greatly decreased, meaning jumping is particularly floaty. My choice of playing as the Miner did not pay off early on: he’s quite a squishy guy with not a lot of firepower, which left me in a constant cycle of dying, respawning and dying again. After a while I got fed up and looked underground for inspiration.
Using my class specific super-duper shovel, which tears down rows of blocks at a time, I dug a sizeable hole outside of our base. Then, I used the drill gun (my favourite weapon) to build a huge tunnel spanning the length of the map. The drill gun fires a projectile that takes out any blocks in its path, and it doesn’t stop for a good 50 blocks or so, so I made light work of the terrain, and soon I was in the bowels of the map directly underneath the enemies’ spawn.
Breaking out my shovel again, I dug up until I hit daylight. Ah-hah! I was inside the enemies’ base. Typing into the chat, I notified my teammates as to my superb tunnel and got to work blowing stuff up. I laid sticks of dynamite anywhere I could, taking great chunks out of the building until I was spotted by an enemy soldier and forced to make a rather cowardly getaway back down my own tunnel (I think I actually screamed into my mic a little bit.)
Thankfully, my beautiful team was there to save me. A friendly soldier came sprinting up behind me, blasting his rifle at my assailant, and together we took him down. An engineer soon joined us and as one, we stuck our head out of our precariously placed foxhole. The coast was clear. We looked at each other and grinned. Destruction time.
We pummelled the enemy spawn with landmines and rockets, sending their base crumbling around us. Our engineer set up a turret to offer us some flanking protection as the soldier and I devastated the enemy team. As they all turned to flee, they moved right into the sights of our team Scout, who picked them off one by one with headshots across the map. We all laughed evil laughs. This game is an awful lot of fun.
The core ideas in Ace of Spades mean that the enjoyment you get out of it is only limited by your capacity to experiment. There’s no fancy game modes or shiny kill streaks, just a set of great environments and tools that let you wreak havoc. The game is out on December 12th on Steam with a $10 price point, and as long as the devs don’t throw a last minute wobbly, I have a feeling this could be the next big thing.
You can find out more on Ace Of Spades here at their official site.