Guncraft hands-on preview

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T.J. Hafer at

It's funny to think that we now live in a world where you have to specify, "No, the other voxel-based competitive shooter." Guncraft, from Exato Game Studios, follows on the heels of Ace of Spades in marrying Minecraft-style buildable/destructible environments with team-based and free-for-all multiplayer gunplay. I strapped on my geometric wargear and headed into the player-created trenches to see what it was all about.

Unlike Ace of Spades, but like Minecraft, Guncraft's worlds are made of a variety of blocks that have more attributes than just the texture wrapped around them. Different block types, from wood to steel, have different durability and, in the game's build mode, different player resource costs as well. This leads to some interesting decisions: You could slap down a flimsy bunker of dead trees at the beginning of a round, but it probably won't last long. On the other hand, waiting until you've earned some more cash within the round will let you plunk a hardier, metal version of the same design.

The other big stand-out is customization. First, you can create pre-fabricated structures outside of a match, and equip them as presets that can be placed on the fly (as long as you can afford the component blocks). Second, as the title suggests, you can actually craft guns. You sculpt the model in a dedicated editor, of blocks much tinier than the kind that make up the world. The stats use a point-buy system, letting you tweak things like damage, range, and rate-of-fire on a few set templates (machine gun, shotgun, and so on). During our multiplayer session, I was killed several times by a grenade-launching cat.

This is what happens when you don't properly maintain your geothermal heating conduits

Aside from mainstays like Team Deathmatch and CTF, Guncraft sports a few unique modes. My personal favorite was Lava Survival, in which a rising plane of molten rock slowly engulfs the map from the bottom up. "Dying" to gunfire simply stuns you for a couple seconds, which could be all it takes to guarantee death by liquid fire. It becomes a duel to climb to and/or build the highest point possible and be the last one left unincinerated. There's also a siege mode (that I didn't get a chance to try) in which both teams compete to build a siege machine from a set template, while trying to dismantle the one being constructed by their opponents.

The shooting itself in Guncraft feels alright. It's similar to Call of Duty (even including killstreaks), but with a lot more vertical freedom of movement. Vehicles are present on some maps: tanks, helicopters, and hoverbikes—all of which I only managed to use for getting myself killed in an explosive conflagration. The maps also feel noticeably bigger than those I've played in Ace of Spades, especially in their vertical dimensions. One in particular had us jockeying for position on actual-size skyscrapers with Guncraft's handy hookshot (an optional secondary weapon that is more or less essential in lava survival).

While the basic shooter mechanics could probably use some improvement, Guncraft is doing enough new things to keep most matches fresh, exciting, and different. Even when everyone's just playing it like they would any other shooter, the level of incidental damage leads to a dynamic-feeling environment. And when people are making an effort to close off or open up paths, each match becomes a dedicated exercise in adapting to completely new routes each time you respawn.

You can currently register for the open beta on the official site, which will earn you some perks (a Tron-inspired tileset, a couple new weapons, and an exclusive skin) as long as you get in before it closes down on April 30. You can also pre-order the game for $15, and vote it up on Greenlight if you are so inclined.