|Post Date: 09:22 11-04-2015
Comment: If Minecraft appeals to my inner child’s desire to create, then Ace of Spades caters to a more specifically boyish urge to run through others’ creations and dash them to pieces. Once upon a time (in the days before Jagex took over the project), Ace of Spades catered to both. My teammates and I would dig tunnels that’d put ant colonies to shame and we’d erect fortresses with all the zeal of Minnesota schoolchildren building snow castles. And then the enemy would come, and we’d snipe from behind our blocky barricades and take part in a Team Fortress 2-inspired style of FPS combat that felt refreshingly new. It’s a different game now, though, and the Minecraft elements assume a much lesser role than the shooter mechanics. The gameplay now moves along at a faster pace as a result, yes, but at what cost?
Mind you, the ghost of a great idea still hovers in the background, and at times it materializes to shock me into admiration of its potential. The four classes of Commando, Marksman, Rocketeer, and Miner all have the power to place preset blocks and dig through them with varying degrees of aptitude, and their respective abilities present enough variation to keep the whole process from sliding into monotony. Take the Rocketeer, who darts about the landscape with an SMG and a jetpack strapped to his back. Even the best fortifications present him with little to no challenge, especially when he glides out of the sky and riddles his foes with bullets from above. Indeed, in Capture the Flag, he seems unforgivably imbalanced.
Or take the Miner, who attacks bases and players from below and behind with devastating TNT attacks, destroying them before they even know what hit them. One of my favorite moments during my time with Ace of Spades was spawning as a miner for the first time, only to turn around and find a Commando behind me but milliseconds away from pumping me full of pixels. Under pressure, I just fired off whatever weapon I had equipped, and was rewarded with the sight of a gigantic drill missile pummeling my opponent to death and leaving a hole big enough to hide in. It was, quite frankly, awesome. But oddly enough, it’s these same heavy hitting abilities that strip Ace of Spades of its former strategic glory, as the frequent detonations remove any real need to build fortifications. These days, most people seem to stick with running and gunning, which presents its own problems such as a bugged reticule that doesn’t always appear. When most rounds only last 10 or 20 minutes and rockets and grenades can destroy most fortifications in seconds anyway, there seems little reason to focus on construction in the first place.
My unexpected triumph with the drill cannon also brought to mind a smallish issue. Aside from a brief class selection screen that lists each loadout, Ace of Spades dumps you into the action without a single tutorial. As a result, it’s one of those games that’ll have you banging out random number keys to experiment with what works, although, helpfully, the basics of running and shooting rarely depart from the well-worn Call of Duty template. It’s also not immediately clear what some of the match types involve. Team Deathmatch hardly demands great feats of intuition, of course, but you might have a rough time learning the niceties of modes like Diamond Mine, in which you dig up randomly spawning diamonds and carry them to a set point. But on the bright side, they do have their moments.
My personal favorite was the Zombie mode, which pits a team of survivors against a zombie horde that starts with the infection of a single player. It’s here that the construction and digging aspects of Ace of Spades take on a new vitality as more players get infected, granting their zombie forms powerful digging claws that can collapse entire buildings. Survivors might dig themselves into a fortress (and block it off with the preset shapes each player has access to), only to find the zombies pouring through and infecting them all. I never enjoyed Ace of Spades so much as when I, the last man standing, used the Rocketeer’s jet pack to dodge the walkers for at least three minutes. I only went down when the zombies finally got the idea to spread out and charge me during the moments when I had to descend to recharge my pack. The recently released “Castle Wars” map–a nod to Runescape, Jagex’s signature creation–also presents some fun opportunities for adventure, particularly since it places a greater emphasis on digging tunnels than the other maps.
As I flew above the snow-capped peaks and woodlands on my Rocketeer, I was reminded that the maps sometimes achieve that same jagged beauty of the best player creations of Minecraft. Unfortunately, there are only a few of them. Still, the eclectic locales ranging from lunar bases to city neighborhoods maintain the illusion of variety for a while, and once I even logged in to find myself facing what looked like the Loch Ness Monster trapped in ice. And to be fair, some of the old appeal of building and digging remains, such as when I use my blocks to fill in the entrances of tunnels I’ve started to dig or when I use the Miner to dig up behind enemy encampments and spray foes with bullets. It’s a shame, then, that there’s no way to generate these maps on your own. I’m well aware of the potential for trolling or outright laziness that custom maps bring with them, but neglecting them seems to ignore the very spirit in which Ace of Spades was originally created.
Even so, you’ll still have fun here in digging modes like Zombie and Demolition, but Ace of Spades is one of those rare projects that somehow got worse in the transition from the beta to full release. In this light, it bears mentioning that one of the older beta builds of Ace of Spades now exists as a free downloadable game called Build and Shoot, and its persistent popularity highlights the shortcomings of Jagex’s final version. It’s everything Ace of Spaces should be, complete with customizable levels, a real need to use the building mechanics, and classes with slightly less “oomph” (and thus more challenge). Better yet, it lets you experience these wonders without the distracting lag that Ace of Spades still suffers from on occasion despite recent patches, probably as a result of its refusal to let players host servers. If anything, it reminds us that if Ace of Spades expects success going forward, it might benefit from taking a couple of steps back.