Sometimes early access to games is too early.
This is kinda one of those times, but not really. Those of us who got Minecraft back in the early alpha will know it was ultra-limited, but still pretty cool in its own way. Now I can’t imagine the game with only 5 or 6 types of blocks and only three tools. Well, we see what happened with Minecraft <cough> sellout </cough>. The point is, Fracture the Flag is in super-early access pre-alpha mode…. but I think it just might be worth the wait.
From the get-go, you’ll notice a few problems with the game. First of all, the camera controls are really quirky. You’ll find it’s not super intuitive to move around, but it’s not terrible. Oddly enough, I was craving the same control hotkeys that are stock in Minecraft. Maybe it’s just that I’ve had so many hours in Minecraft that I wasn’t open to this set of controls. However, even when I figured them out, the rotational movement seemed touchy, at best. The other strange thing about the camera is that you can move it anywhere. By that, I mean there is no fog of war. I can fly right over to the other side of the map and watch what my opponent is constructing. Not too terrible, though. There are ways to mask some of your movements. For instance, when you select a worker and send them to the Barracks to train them into a soldier, they all stay in the same place. Hypothetically, you could have an army of 100, but since they’re all in the same spot, the most the enemy will see until you move them is that there’s more than one unit.
The entire game revolves around employing these workers. It’s not super clear that this is what it takes, but that’s OK. You will figure it out after a bit. Workers do everything, from gathering resources (obviously) to becoming your army and manning your siege weapons (not super obvious.) I had to jump to the help file that opens in the Steam browser multiple times during the game. There is no tutorial or start mission to get you going.
One of the hardest things to do is accumulate builder points, which accompanies rocks, minerals, and lumber as a resource. Only after a few frustrating rounds did I find that building more flags is how you actually up the rate of build points. Even with the added flags, I believe that the speed at which you accumulate these is quite slow and lead to some downtime just waiting for resources to build up. Again, if there was a tutorial that let me know this, it would have saved me at the least 30 minutes. No one should be expected to go into the online game FAQ to figure out how to play.
The physics in this game are fantastic.
Although, the only “physics” to witness are the building of stone walls. The walls look cool, and you can stack them up to six courses high. Each stone block has its own physics, but they are BRUTALLY accurate. What I mean by that is that if your wall goes over uneven terrain, your blocks will progressively fall or become unstable the higher you build. Also, building next to trees can knock your wall right over. When you build up, the rocks bounce off the trees and get knocked over. Ultra-amusing to do a lot, but also pretty bad. If those blocks end up cutting off a path to your enemy, or out of your base, there is no way to delete wall blocks.
I needed to enlist the help of a friend to test the multiplayer because the queue is currently barren (Thanks, Slipperz of Doom!) Once we started pumping out units for what would be the upcoming epic clash, the game became extremely choppy. I think I only had about 20-30 troops, and so did she, but the camera became almost unusable, and the framerate of the units on screen plummeted. Then, in another swift kick to the junk, my own traps randomly started killing my own troops. Not the first trap, nor the second, but the fifth or sixth down the line would just kill every single one of my troops that went over it, without using up the trap or triggering the appropriate animation. Thanks, Obama! When my opponent went over those traps, it was correctly triggered, though, and disappeared after use. Ugh.
I suppose my biggest pet peeve is that the building menu from which you choose your structures and workers doesn’t show you any prices. SO, often, you find yourself staring blankly at the resources wondering when you’ll have enough to build your next thing. I am tolerant of many things, but staring blankly at a screen and waiting without knowing what to do makes my bar tab rise, and that’s not cool.
As for strategy, the single player offerings are “meh” at best.
They’re all races to build resources, and two of the four are won like this: Build a warehouse and five workers, and watch them collect stone or minerals until the quota is met. That’s all. Lumber and Build Points are a bit more diverse since they take longer, but otherwise, no vs. AI option yet.
Strategy for multiplayer is currently this: rush to build a barrack. The first person to send over any combat unit wins. Workers cannot defend themselves or attack, so the swordsman will whack all the workers dead, stunting the growth of the other economy and basically ending the game. This strategy is particularly detrimental for new players. Unless the developers implement skill levels, this will discourage new players since they will be destroyed time and time again without the ability to learn how to defend themselves, because well, they’ll be dead.
Now, let me tell you about feelings. The reason I think this isn’t “too” soon to have access to a game, is that despite all my nit-picky rants above, I really like the game. I think that, if properly executed, this game has tons of potential. Yes, it’s extremely buggy right now. Yes, your options are limited. BUT, the idea, the artwork, the theory, to me, is good enough that I think that it could be successful. Maybe not Minecraft successful, but something I could enjoy playing. Would I advise that you purchase it now? Not at all, unless you like searching for and reporting bugs, or put enough faith in my opinion to donate money to the cause and help this game grow. I would wait until an official alpha or beta before throwing money at it.
Frankly, I do hope this game gets the time and attention it needs to iron out all the details. For now, though, I will subscribe to the updates and wait to return to it until it’s playable without a few shots of Jager to ease the pain. 6 for now, but a potential 8-9 if they fix and improve what’s needed. We can only wait and see!