Amazon Games’ first published title sinks into a familiar space in recent years: the free-to-play online hero shooter. To its credit, Crucible doesn’t try to remake Overwatch. Nor does it have the large map or 100-player matches to produce a full on Battle Royale a la Fortnite and Apex Legends.
The result is a mix of multiple game modes. Crucible suffers from an identity crisis, as well as performance issues and some basic functionality (like voice chat) that would be egregious for an Early Access title, let alone a full release. The 10 hero designs are interesting and fun to play, however. There’s potential upside if Relentless Studios can get a handle on these issues, but in such a competitive genre, Crucible may be destined as yet another failure-to-launch online shooter.
After playing an awkward solo tutorial, Crucible offers ten different alien characters and three game modes. Most characters can be slotted into familiar roles, like sniper with a grappling hook, slow heavy with a big gun, and Call of Duty guy. But there’s also flamethrower girl, teleporting tech squirrel, and plant-turret deploying flying robot.
Some characters can swap primary weapons while others have deployable shields (I like Shakirri, who has both). Some don’t even have guns, relying on large melee weapons. Like other games in the genre, knowing your character’s strengths, and the enemy’s weaknesses, are a major component to every battle. Quantity is a bit low, but the quality is certainly there.
The three game modes at launch are Alpha Hunters, Heart of the Hive, and Harvester Command. Alpha Hunters is Crucible’s version of a last-player standing Battle Royale, on a much smaller scale. Eight teams of two players each try to survive as long as possible in a map that often feels overly large for the player count.
Crucible tries to do something interesting by allowing two partner-less players to form a new duo team on the fly, but more often than not, a player is just going to try and murder you. Way to go, humanity!
Heart of the Hive is designed for two teams of four players each, and plays more like a MOBA match with big team-fight objectives (hello, Heroes of the Storm!). A large monster-spewing hive spawns periodically in the map, prompting everyone to duke it out for control of its heart. First team to capture three hearts wins.
In between hive spawns, teams run around defeating native creatures to gain experience, and capturing control points for additional bonuses. Unfortunately the open map doesn’t have any lanes to force confrontations. The map is large enough that it’s easy to avoid the enemy team and simply run around taking control points from each other until a hive spawns.
The hives are a solid idea for forcing big team fights, which is what Crucible does best. Combat features a satisfying variety of quick dodges, rapid skill-shots, and wading into battle swinging warhammers or flamethrowers. Yet combat is also saddled with unfinished, unpolished elements, like zero hit detection on enemies or impact from weapons. It’s hard to get excited about slashing someone with a sword when there’s zero feedback.
The map UI is also a mess. Often times I completely missed when the hive was supposed to spawn, leaving me halfway across the map at the worst moments. Having more obvious and frequent spawn alarms (and voice lines) would help tremendously.
The final mode is Harvester Command, a much larger 8v8 control point mode that plays like a classic Battlefield match. Teams race to secure the five harvesters scattered around the map. Holding more harvesters increases your points, and the first to 100 wins.
Doubling the number of players compared to the other two modes is a step in the right direction. In Harvester Command the map finally feels like the right size. With more players constantly taking control points, fights break out in nearly every corner – though still most often centered in the central region.
Unfortunately I ran into a lot of performance and latency issues with this mode. I don’t have the most state of the art rig, but judging from other reviews and forum posts, I’m not alone. Lag and framerate issues can absolutely kill a multiplayer game experience. For a game already on shaky ground, it’s an almost guaranteed death knell.
Despite all these issues, I’ve been enjoying my initial hours with Crucible. The characters are well designed, charming, and interesting to play. I appreciate the reliance on working toward objectives, rather than simply surviving and avoiding a dwindling circle of doom.
But Crucible isn’t sure what it wants to be – a third-person MOBA? A Hero shooter with a single big map? A smaller Battle Royale? The Battle Pass genre is more crowded and less forgiving these days, and Crucible may not have enough time to find itself, or more importantly, an audience.
Crucible is available for free on PC (Steam). It’s rated T for Teen.