Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Rocketeer Games Studio
Publisher: Rocketeer Games Studio
On paper I support the idea of the free-to-play model. Done correctly it can be fantastic, and yet all too frequently we see it being done poorly, the developers clearly putting their desire for cash above all else. Sadly micotransactions have managed to make their way into regular games now, too, polluting the industry.
That brings us to Red Crucible: Firestorm. Normally I wouldn’t bother reviewing a free-to-play title, especially one with such a small download size since you could just download yourself and have a go. But things are quiet at the moment, so aside from a piece about Rust and a review of Warhammer Quest: An Adventure Card Game (that should be up about now) there’s not much to do, hence Red Crucible: Firestorm, a free-to-play game that has seemingly migrated from its browser-based beginnings to Steam. Despite its rather low price-tag of absolutely nothing it’s just not worth the time.
But before we arrive at the way the game handles its microtransactions we must talk about what it actually is. Red Crucible is basically a very stripped down version of Battlefield, tossing some players into a relatively small map with tanks, jeeps and choppers available while infantry duke it out across a respectable selection of stand game modes, such as capturing points around the map. On paper it sounds kind of fun, a cheap Battlefield clone crossed with some CS:GO that’s free to play. Cool.
It begins with the presentation which is poor to say the very least. Maps have been tossed together using assets that don’t always fit together, so it’s hardly unusual to see stairs sticking out of pavements, houses that look identical and even scenery that’s floating above the ground. It’s shoddily put together, and the horrible textures don’t help. This looks like a game from PS1 era with animations to match. The audio is arguably worse. Even if the graphics are terrible provided you can properly spot enemies then it’s something that can be ignored, but good audio design is important in any shooter, and here it’s atrocious. Attempting to pinpoint the sound of gunfire, explosions or moving vehicles is nearly impossible, especially since nearby explosions frequently don’t make a noise. When they do make a noise, it’s crap. Firey explosions pack all the wallop of a radish being slapped against a table, guns sound weak and vehicles don’t even sound remotely like their real-world counterparts.
The maps lack any sense of flow or sensible design for the most part, with Favela being a hodge-podge of empty, bland buildings that form an overly complex maze of twitch shooting. The best of the bunch is Autobahn which at least seems to understand that the game’s focus needs to be on its mixture of vehicles and infantry, although even here the game slips up because it’s small 9v9 matches and large amount of available vehicles places the emphasis on vehicular combat with infantry getting sort of forgotten about in the scrum. And that’s really the game’s biggest problem, a lack of identity. Its maps jump between being focused on infantry and vehicles, much like Battlefield does, but neither element is very strong. Like Battlefield it’s at its best when both aspects are put together, but then the small player count of just nine per team struggles to support the combined action and make it feel as big as it should.
The way developers handle access to these maps is strange to say the least. At first there’s a mere three maps, but what the game doesn’t tell you is there’s actually more available; they just have to be unlocked via the clumsy and slow menu system. Sadly a lot of players don’t even realise this, it seems, and thus the servers are full to the brim of just the first three maps. Now, on first seeing this I immediately began to suspect that the developer’s had walled the extra maps off behind a paywall, which would horribly stupid. However, what you actually have to do is pay 100 “Honor” per map to unlock it, and you begin the game with 1000 Honor. So why are the maps locked? Simple; it’s just another way of pushing you toward spending some money, because if you spend Honor on unlocking the maps then you have less to spend elsewhere, and vice versa. There’s no good reason to lock the maps away, just have them all available.
More baffling are the performance drops. Given the weak graphics I naturally whacked everything up to max and was genuinely astonished to only see 70FPS on average with drops to 40 happening quite frequently. Some tweaks to the settings saw higher framerates but didn’t get rid of the drops. Now, my system isn’t the most powerful, but it can handle vastly more demanding games while achieving stable, high framerates. What, my dear Red Crucible, are you doing to justify such lousy performance? NOTHING! Hopefully some updates (which are only available by entering the public beta via the game’s properties on Steam, something which the devs haven’t bothered to mention) clean it up.
Does the gameplay itself manage to impress more than the weak presentation? After all, CS: Go proves that lousy graphics are ultimately acceptable if the gameplay is good.
Red Crucible is about the most bog-standard FPS imaginable at its core, featuring mechanics done so much better in most other shooters. It works, for sure, and there is fun to be had if you can go in with the right expectations, but the shooting feels so stilted and the feedback so poor that it’s hard to take any proper enjoyment out of engagements. Player health is limited and guns are surprisingly accurate, so it’s not difficult to drop someone at range using just a round or two from an AK47, especially since there’s no bullet drop compensate for nor do you need to lead your targets. Speaking of which the guns themselves all feel worrying similar, and the very slow linear progression system, a clear design choice to push players toward shelling out real cash to obtain better gear, means that it can take a while to unlock anything of interest from the roster of standard guns. Weapon customisation isn’t a thing, either, which is slightly surprising but not a huge problem as it does give the game a simple elegance, an elegance that would make far more sense if combat involved skill, which it doesn’t. Whomever gets the drop will almost always win thanks to the accuracy and deadliness of weapons, although they’ll only be able to get the drop for some long because you start with a paltry three clips of ammunition that disappears rather quickly, forcing you to hot-foot it to a resupply point, killing the pace of the match. Spotting enemies amidst the scenery can be difficult thanks to the graphics, too.
The ability to leap into a tank, jeep or helicopter helps bring some variety into the gameplay, but sadly Red Crucible struggles here, too. Tanks drive incredibly smoothly, jetting across the landscape in a graceful manner which utterly fails to convey their size and weight. Bafflingly they can only plow through tiny wooden fences, but even these seem to be a struggle, nearly bringing the massive machines to a halt on impact. Even more absurd is how tanks can seemingly take damage from an AK47, yet remain oblivious to sniper rounds. All vehicles also have a very weird feature where if you attempt to exit them at speed they’ll just come to an immediate stop so you can get out normally. Basically vehicular combat carries all the weight, power and urgency of a fight between tipsy Oompa Loompas.
A third-person mode accessed using V is an interesting addition, or at least it might be if it wasn’t utterly useless. As soon as you click the right mouse button to aim down the sights you’re automatically swapped back to first-person view, which would be fine if the game actually put you back into third-person when you stop looking down the sights. Still, on maps like Favela where everything is done at close-range it can be helpful.
The final component to the gameplay are consumable items like grenades, airstrikes and remote turrets, all of which must be replenished by purchasing them using in-game currency, which can of course also be bought using real cash. They aren’t overly interesting; the grenades, including smoke, feel a bit useless and airstrikes are viciously powerful when used well.
None of this adds up to a very compelling title. Does that mean the game is entirely joyless?
Despite the game’s incredibly mediocre gameplay there is a somewhat credible simplicity to it all. For about three hours I actually rather enjoyed the game, although it seemed determined to stop me from having fun by doing stupid things like having scenery disappear in the distance, a real irritation for a sniper like myself, and baffling tank physics that make them super smooth to drive, but prone to weird crashes. I even encountered problems with hitboxes, swearing loudly because it was impossible to shoot through gaps on the aircraft carrier map, or on several occasions got shot through walls. A lot of problems and bland design, then. Still, a few hours of light entertainment, provided you’ve gone in with the right expectations, is at least worth what should hopefully be a short download time given the small file size.
That’s if the community lasts long enough, though. At the time of writing this there’s 1,100 players online and getting a match is quite easy, but I don’t see any reason for the community to stick around, especially given the pay-to-win nature of the game. Yes, the game is certainly pay-to-win. In theory everything special the game’s store holds can be unlocked through regular pay by spending coins and medals earned while out capturing points on the map and shooting fools in the head, however progress is so slow that only those willing to sink huge quantities of time into the game will ever get to see a gun that has a fancy paintjob and a scope on it. More importantly these special guns are more powerful and useful than the regular equipment, albeit not hugely, thus anyone willing to spend some real money winds up with an advantage. Not a huge advantage, but enough of one to make a difference. This is especially true of some of the unlockable vehicles that can tear through the opposition. As of right now, though, it seems the community don’t give a damn about spending cash; I rarely saw anyone running around with some of the more advanced weaponry available.
Regardless, it’s a problem. Either people aren’t going to spend money because the game isn’t worth it and the community will die out, or players will get angry at people spending money to gain an obvious advantage and leave because the quality of the gameplay just isn’t enough to warrant damaging the bank balance to even the playing field. The most unlikely option is that everybody starts spending money to maintain a level playing field and the developers win big. None of these are good outcomes.
Red Crucible: Firestorm isn’t a terrible game, it’s simply a very mediocre, generic one. For a few hours I had some mild fun, a welcome break from the stress of losing everything in Rust for the billionth time, but as a free-to-play title I never felt the urge to spend money. A good free-to-play title seduces its players into spending money because they are having fun and want to support the game and its developers, just as Team Fortress 2 does, and makes its audience feel like even when they don’t spend money they won’t be penalised for it. Red Crucible doesn’t do that. The gameplay is just dull and rote, while its microtransactions are poorly judged expenses that let those willing to spend cash gain an advantage. Oh, and their in-game store displays in dollars despite me living in the UK. In other words it feels like a very cheap, lazy attempt to milk some money from Steam. Go download it if you’re bored and want something to pass an hour or two, but otherwise just don’t bother. It’s not terrible, that would be unfair, but….well, why bother when there’s so much better out there.
And yet there are people playing it, and a lot of them do seem to be having fun. Maybe my expectations are just too high.