Amazon has finally entered the arena with its first competitive action game.
It took me what felt like forever to get into my final match of Crucible, the new hero shooter from Amazon-owned Relentless Studios that launched at the end of May. I thought I’d quickly dive in for one last look before I started writing this review, play a few more rounds, but after the first match failed just as we were loading in, and the second match took twenty minutes to get started, I came to the unavoidable conclusion that the servers just aren’t busy enough.
Yet, it shouldn’t be like this. Crucible represents a major investment from Amazon and the developers behind it are all clearly experienced and capable. So what has gone so wrong that this triple-A shooter is starting to wobble just a few weeks after launch, so much so that it has already completely vanished from Steam’s current most played top list?
The game itself is a third-person shooter with lots of sci-fi flavour and a focus on quirky character design. In this respect, there’s actually plenty to like. Some of the designs are a tad generic and the line-up is rather disparate, but overall there is a lot of personality in the roster. There’s a story in there somewhere, to try and justify why this band of weird alien creatures and grizzled humans is heading to this world to shoot the crap out of each other, but I forgot it almost as soon as I started playing and I never once felt inclined to re-educate myself.
There’s a solid tutorial to get you up to speed, and the controls are easy to learn. There’s not a huge amount of complexity going on; you can run, sprint, hop, and fire. You’ve got a couple of alt-fire options, and some of these are connected to your main weapon in really interesting ways, for example, Sazan has to switch between an automatic rifle and a shotgun, with each weapon on a timer meaning you have to constantly swap between them or you’re dead. I liked her, and I also liked Ajonah and her sniper-grapple comble.
Each character not only has their own weapons, but they all have unique locomotion to get to grips with, such as the cat-like creature Tosca who sounds like a soccer mom but hops like a rabbit, with a dash that works a bit like Tracer’s blink. The dash for each character is also on a cooldown timer, which can lead to slow movement around the map as you yo-yo between jogging and dashing. This slowness is further compounded by death; after you’ve died and had to wait a short while, you’re dropped onto the edge of the map via a new pod, and then you have to hop, skip or scurry your way across the level. Considering the size of the game’s single arena, which I thought had Mass Effect vibes, this means a fair few yawns every time you trudge back to the ever-shifting frontline.
When you get there, the combat is fast and furious, and usually over pretty quickly unless you make full use of your character’s respective tricks. The gunplay is certainly acceptable, but most of the weapons lack the heft that I normally like in a multiplayer shooter. You do, at least, have plenty of opportunities to use your limited arsenal, as the planet is full of alien fauna and flora that’s out the kill you, especially if you shoot at it first. If you’ve ever killed creeps in League of Legends, you already know the score.
In fact, you can feel the essence of MOBA design everywhere, and not just in the local wildlife that you have to kill so you can harvest its ‘essence’. Over the course of a match, everyone levels up and gets improved abilities automatically added to their character, and this is done by banking essence at the various stations that are dotted around the place. Working together to enhance the team is a wise move, but once the upgrades are applied they rarely made a significant impact on my approach to any given situation.
There are a couple of modes to choose from at the time of writing, with a faster-paced domination mode called Harvester Command available instead of the recently removed Alpha Hunters, a co-op deathmatch mode with battle royale flavour that has been temporarily put out to pasture. The main event is Heart of the Hives, which has two teams battle for the right to kill huge alien creatures and steal their hearts, but I found that to be slower-paced and less appealing than its less complicated counterparts. The game currently has a pre-season format in place which is free to access, and more content is planned, with new modes, characters, and (of course) cosmetics on the way at some point down the line.
However, by the time future content updates come around, Relentless Studios could well be playing to an empty room. Improvements to regional matchmaking have made getting into a game slower than before and the dwindling player-count certainly doesn’t help on that front either. Then, once you’re in a match, the pacing of the action is just too slow and it felt like I spent more time getting to the fun than actually having it. It also doesn’t help that there aren’t good in-game communication tools, something which certainly hinders any teamwork that might organically take place.
While the character design is solid, the sci-fi setting works well enough, and some of the abilities are genuinely interesting, so much of what Crucible tries to do has been done better elsewhere. There’s a number of good ideas bubbling under the surface, but unless something drastic changes soon, I don’t think a handful of quirky characters and the promise of more to come is going to be enough to keep people coming back.