Blockstorm - PC Preview

The game Blockstorm initially brings up a sort of bad taste in my mouth just from the idea of it. It is a Minecraft graphic-esque (no, that's not a real word, but I am running with it) shooter. That is what it is trying to pitch itself as, and that is really all there is to it - at least at first glance. So it was with a great deal of surprise and delight on my part when I discovered that Blockstorm is a great game to play. The gameplay is fine, but perhaps the most impressive part of Blockstorm is its detailed editors, which you can use to create both maps and skins. This is a preview of the game, so obviously Blockstorm is subject to change, but so far it gets a lot more right than it gets wrong.

The presentation goes for a particular type of feel, and it hits that target, though it is not going to push the limits or make full use of a player's overpowered gaming rig. The sounds in this game are not terribly impressive, with the only music to be found being played during title screens, pause screens and the editors. It's a nice song, but it's repetitive. There is plenty of time to see music added to the core game later, and I hope it does as it would add to the atmosphere.

The sound effects are not bad, but they mostly consist of the sounds made by the guns themselves. One subtle but effective piece of sound design is the implementation of footsteps. Players make soft sounds with their footfalls that reverberate nicely and let you know where someone is at. Now for the visuals - they are clearly Minecraft-inspired graphics. Nice textures on the blocks, and this is especially true on the character models. One big difference to note is that Blockstorm's blocks voxel based, instead of the Minecraft "6 blocks" look, and the overall effect is a pleasing one.

The blocky retro visuals were an interesting touch, but it was the description of Blockstorm as a shooter that had me the most wary going in. Gameplay would make or break the experience. The main idea is that it's an FPS, and it plays more like one than I expected. I worried that the graphics would make for a gimmicky, inaccurate experience - but that was not the case. There are a good number of ways in which it differs from the cookie cutter FPS, which was even more of a pleasant surprise. One of the more notable ways is that everything is destructible (aside from one type of block, designed to be used as a sort of 'skeleton' for maps so you can't just wipe the entire level out). One thing that may take heavy Minecrafter a bit of time to adjust to is the physics system. Basically everything has to be attached to the ground in some form, even if only by a block. This means that a bridge must have an actual support(s). This can mean being attached to a wall attached to the ground, or having a pillar underneath a platform holding it up. Everything needs to be anchored. Word of warning, destroying whatever connects the structure to the ground will cause it to collapse, either causing people on top to fall off or people under to take damage from it striking them.

Another neat feature is the weight system. Whatever you select for your loadout will cause you to be weighed down and therefore you will move slower. Meaning if you want that destructive loadout with an LMG and RPG, you're going to pay the price. If it's a CQC stage, go in with a Shotgun and Pistol, so you can move around with ease.

While it is rewarding that the action holds up, the editor is where the replay value is really at. The map editor is very robust, and can make whatever you can imagine. One of my new friends (Steam name Keys of the Eighth Dawn) in the game has already made four great, fully functioning original maps in it, and says that it takes a bit of time to create each one (longest took him multiple hours he stated). The character creator has the same level of commitment to it. It is flexible enough to make whatever or whoever you want to create, but is very complicated and can take a while to work on a single skin, depending on how detailed you would like it.

There's not much else to touch on at this point as the game is both in its developmental stages and will rely heavily on players to create worlds to game in. As a result, some of the server game worlds feel a bit bare at this point. It's got a good number of weapons that work for what it is, but some additional variety would be nice. It does not take a terribly long time to wade through all of the different weapon combinations. Also there are a distinct lack of official maps. DM mode has 2, TDM has 2, and assault still feels a bit like a work in progress. More game modes have been promises - six on launch. The problem with such an early, limited build of the game is that the community will make or break Blockstorm in the end, but with such a limited number of people currently on the servers, there is not quite enough activity to really get a feel for what extended sessions will be like.

The shooting mechanics held up better than expected, the visuals certainly do the job they set out to, and there is a tremendous amount of potential to be had here with the character and map editors. Only time will tell if enough people will buy into Blockstorm to help make it thrive, but my early experiences have been mostly positive and it feels like it has the potential to be an excellent time sink when it releases.

Preview by Chris
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