Y'know, this is honestly the most enjoyable objective-based multiplayer FPS I've played in absolutely ages. Unfortunately, it looks like it was pretty much dead on arrival and Boss Key have fundamentally misunderstood how to make a game appealing to a modern audience. Plus, matchmaking seems to have become broken over the last few days.
It's basically a bunch of different Capture the Flag and King of the Hill modes, with minor adaptations to spruce them up a bit and make them feel more competitive. They all work and they're all fun - barring Blitzball, potentially, which can often see one team dominating the other and winning the match in about three minutes. Boss Key have pushed the idea that this is an FPS that brings a skill requirement back into the genre and there is some truth to that. While it's got the Hero Shooter thing of having different characters with wildly differing abilities and weapons, the main thing that you have to learn in this game is how each character moves and how best to make use of thir individual styles of movement.
Each character has a unique jump, for example, plus a unique dash move. One can run more or less constantly, one has a stamina bar that empties pretty quickly, another has a slide move that pushes enemies backwards on contact, a fourth warps forwards. Where the jumps are concerned, some can double jump, some can triple jump, some are that plodding that they barely leave the ground. And you can combine jumps and dashes to find new moves - the robot dude, for example, can convert a jump into a sudden crash to the ground if you change your mind midway.
I guess the obvious USP here is that maps contain areas of extremely low gravity, which adds to the complexity of battle. It's not Descent, but it has that same thing where the other team members could be above or below you, as well as in front, to the left, etc. One character has a move that can create a low-gravity zone wherever they want.
I've really enjoyed getting to grips with some of the characters and finding how best to use them in different situations. There are others in here that feel way out of my comfort zone and that I'm really struggling to do *anything* with. The Assassin is the one that feels most difficult to use properly, but when you consider that most games end with an Assassin player as MVP, it backs up the claim that this is a game that you have to play skillfully in order to be any good at.
But it's a game that's also got some fucking massive problems. The first - the one that most reviews have mentioned - is that it does nothing whatsoever to make it look like it stands out from the crowd. I'm sure there's a lot of technical skill on show here, but there's very little understanding of how to make a game read clearly. Everything has lots of detail, but characters can be stupidly difficult to see. Put it this way: the designers felt the need to put a red outline around the enemy team so that you stand a chance of seeing where the hell they are. That's indicative of a whopping great failure at the heart of your visual design.
Another issue comes with making a team-based game that demands a level of skill above and beyond what the mainstream FPSes ask for. I've had some absolutely wonderful matches in this, really epic-feeling tug-of-war games where teams are evenly matched and everybody clearly understands what it is that they're doing. But I've had others - an increasing number, actually - where I feel like I'm the only person on the team who understands that this isn't just a fucking deathmatch. When you die you have a cooldown period before you spawn again, and you can use this to look through the eyes of your team-mates. The number of times when I've done this and realised that none of them are making any effort to play the objective is depressing.
And now the fatal problem: barely anybody's playing. I've seen people saying that they've seen the number of concurrent players on Steam drop to as few as 13. I'm playing on PS4 and I've had evenings where it's been impossible to find a game. Most evenings, the games I do ghet into don't have a full cohort of players. Fuck, I keep coming across the same people and that absolutely should not be happening for what is still a new game on a platform with a massive installed userbase. It's not the price that's keeping people away - the game's just over £20 on PSN - so I guess the utter lack of publicity, combined with the lack of clear visual identity, combined again with the fact that lots of people presumably think this is just another attempt to cash in on Overwatch's popularity... I guess those are the things that are killing it.
Boss Key are supposedly making efforts to increase the player base. The main one of these misses the point spectacularly. They're adding in team deathmatch. After saying that they wanted this to be different than other FPSes out there, their solution to the problem of a lack of players is to introduce a mode that's in every other FPS. And deathmatch just doesn't fucking work in this game - the character skillsets are tuned entirely around the objective games. They're also talking about introducing proper ranked matchmaking, but I don't see that doing anything other than making it even more difficult to find a game. At the moment, some of the existing matchmaking stuff seems to have broken, too - lobbies aren't loading up a new game after one ends, for me, I'm just left sitting on the results screen with no movement and have to drop out. This means that if I do find a game with a bunch of decent players, I get that one game and then lose them as I have to exit out to the title screen.
I was loving this game the previous couple of weeks. This week, it's just depressing me.