If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Ace of Spades' indie-developed alpha version was broken in many small ways, but the sandbox shooter's foundations were remarkably solid. It was Minecraft spliced with Team Fortress 2, a shooter that let players slowly build and destroy a blocky environment. Runescape publisher Jagex took the game and some of its developers in-house, and promptly broke it.
Ace of Spades lets players modify their environment. Interaction is similar to that of Minecraft: spades, picks, and other tools dig out blocks, a disembodied hand places them. Players are encouraged to build structures: each of the four classes – commando, rocketeer, sniper and miner – gets pre-made fortifications that they can plonk around the cuboid maps. Game modes encourage blowing things up as much as people; Destruction is the best of these, asking a team to wreck an enemy's house before their own home is demolished.
But the speed of the game means that time spent building or planning is time wasted. Ace of Spades is a twitch shooter, and the malleable environment is entirely pointless. Games only last around 15 minutes at most, meaning grand building projects are off the table. Players can jump and sprint around the maps at a lightning pace, mounting carefully placed defences in a single leap. The Rocketeer's inclusion is particularly galling: the bastard can just hop over any geometrically intricate structures that are in his way.
The act of destruction is more enjoyable. The miner gets access toa spinning drill bit that can take out a giant wodge of blocks in a few seconds, and I had most fun alone in a corner of a map carving massive holes into rock faces. Blocks make satisfying sounds when they pop, and severing a structure from its foundations has tactical benefits: gravity kicks in and levels it.
I could forgive Ace of Spades' pointless environmental interactivity if the shooting was top-notch. It's not. The speed of opposition players meant I found myself reduced to guessing where I'd be attacked from. There are no battle lines in a game where people can attack from above or below. The latter approach offers something tactically intriguing – burrowing under an enemy's base and killing them from behind – but it's minutes of digging for a slim chance of reward. Just as likely, the opposition team will spot you and plug you for a one-shot sniper kill. Instead, most battles take place in the air or at extreme range, with the tiny time-to-kill and respawn counter making death an inconvenience rather than a strategic consideration.
In trying to be two excellent things at the same time, Ace of Spades unfortunately approximates neither. Ace of Spades as a class-based shooter is too open and aimless to thrill; Ace of Spades as a Minecraft-esque builder's paradise is too fast-paced and destructive to satisfy.
◆ Expect to pay: $11 / £7
◆ Release: Out now
◆ Developer: Jagex
◆ Publisher: In-house
◆ Multiplayer: Up to 32
◆ Link: www.aceofspades.com
Ace of Spades contains some good ideas and tries hard to ape its influences, but it lacks their charm and stability.