Hands On: Ace of Spades

By Adam Smith on November 20th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

There are spades for digging, blocks for building and a drill for tunnelling or demolition work. Ace of Spades a bit like Minecraft, you might think. Well, there are also rifles for shooting, grenades for exploding and sniper rifles for long range headpopping. It’s a team deathmatch game on large, destructible maps! But when I played it last week, Ace of Spades put me in mind of something else entirely.

Playing on a server full of games journalists*, I was surprised to see how quickly people fell into roles. Teams spawn at what I’ll loosely term a base. On one map it’s an actual building that is on the moon, on another it’s a tree. My personal favourite of the three team deathmatch maps we played has a tower at each end and bridges between them. Whichever map we playing, I’d always hear the tink tink tink of a pickaxe on stone. Somebody was digging.

I never found out who it was, but he was persistent. By the ten minute mark of a game, every time some blew my bonce off from afar I’d reappear at the base and find fresh tunnels and shafts carved into it. And still, tink tink tink. The sound was the only proof of his existence. He was never seen, no matter how deep into his twisted passages we wandered. He had become erosion.

The thing is, nobody asked that man to dig and I don’t even know if he knew why he was doing it. He seemed happy though and occasionally the fractured scenery formed a decent vantage point or secret exit route, so perhaps there was purpose to the tinkering. Maybe he’s still digging.

It was as a bridge fell to pieces, pelted by bazooka fire from our gloating enemies, that I finally banished all comparisons to Minecraft/Infiniminer from my mind. Ace of Spades is much more like a realtime, 3d Worms game. And it’s the best Worms games for ages. It doesn’t have the crazy weapons and the physics are more like those in Scorched Earth than either Minecraft or Team 17’s perpetual product line, but it allows players to build a home, a castle or a warren and then allows everyone else to burn it to the ground.

The Darkside, it used to be called, that side of Worms play. The people who dug deep and planted mines, as if it were ever possible to hide when all the world was war. In Ace of Spades, where there are no turns to take and fortifications can be much more grand, having a few Darksiders about is great. Each class has four prefabricated constructions they can build immediately and if you’re a sniper, like me, you might find that one of your teammates just drops perfect little bunker-towers all over the place. Go teamwork!

For those who aren’t aware of the background, Ace of Spades has been available for a while. Publishers Jagex refer to the original version as a prototype and it was a prototype that I spent a great deal of time with, enjoying the tension of its WWI-esque trench warfare. The announcement of the commercial release concerned me a little because screenshots showed dragons and massive explosions. It’s not that I don’t like those things but the limited toolset available to the tiny, cuboid soldiers were part of the game’s charm.

The dragon doesn’t fly around, smashing levels to bits; it’s part of the scenery, a sculpture looming over a bridge. The explosions are never particularly huge either and guns are still the most important weapon. Dynamite provides the biggest bang and even that will only take chunks out of the larger buildings, while guns will only chip away, damaging blocks before they destroy them completely.

In the original, a spade, a gun and some rudimentary block-stacking transformed the voxel landscapes into nerve-wracking battlefields, but even though there are now four classes, and a selection of modes and maps, the core of the game hasn’t been lost. It’s more frantic than I remember and it doesn’t take long for the world to be pockmarked with craters, but it’s still possible to play patiently, either as an engineer or a sniping scout.

Of the maps we played, my favourites had valleys and/or hills, allowing players to hide rather than just run toward the action with their fingers on the triggers. There’s a moonbase and that didn’t seem to work as well, although low gravity means it’s possible to infiltrate the enemy’s structures in surprising ways. It all felt a bit too empty though, like a large expanse of snow with the occasional mast sticking out of it.

Far better is the zombie mode. I’m going to assume that you already knew there was a zombie mode because this is a computer game. We only saw one map that supports zombies, although there may well be more, and it was a SPOOKY mansion in the middle of a CREEPY graveyard. One player spawns as a zombie, selected randomly, and instead of having a crude, cuboid gun obscuring part of his screen, that lucky specimen has two brilliantly corny grasping corpse-hands to punch the world with. Zombies are very good at smashing things and they run extremely fast, so the defending players are likely to see the bastard thing boring through their fortress like a bullet through butter.

The zombie’s victims respawn as zombies and if everyone gets chomped before time runs out, the dead win. In my experience, zombies will not try to eat people though, they will simply barrel through the ground floor of their home, trying to destroy every support so the whole thing tumbles to the ground. Damage is persistent across rounds too, so when the game is up and the next random zombie is chosen, the once mighty mansion might be a pile of rubble.

Despite all the possibilities that construction, minefields and the like offer, Ace of Spades is a team game that doesn’t require a great deal of communication. It’d be easy to jump into a map with a group of strangers and immediately fit in because playing in the world is a pleasure in itself. Watching a platform fall off a cliff when a sniper takes out the last block holding it in place is entertaining and there’s skill in performing the perfect headshot across the generously sized maps.

It’s not quite as bracing as the original version was and I miss what that game used to be, but it’s another clever use of destructible/constructible worlds that really doesn’t rely on comparisons to Minecraft. It’s not a particularly attractive game, with no clear artistic direction beyond BLOCKS, but I’m definitely looking forward to playing more.

Like I said – it brings back fond memories of the original Worms. Teams blowing the crap out of each other and the environment, building bunkers and trenches that might as well be sand, and probably won’t survive the next wave of carnage. If you’re going to bring that concept into 3d, I reckon this is a damn good way to do it. I’m not sure how many maps will be included, and nor are Jagex yet, but the game will be on Steam and will, so we are told, make full use of the Steam Workshop for map sharing and, hopefully, mods.

*or if not journalists, whatever term you reckon fits

Ace of Spades is out in early December.

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58 Comments »

  1. Apocalypse 31 says:

    It’s miles beyond more original than Call of Duty: Corridor Shooter

  2. hjd_uk says:

    Needs moar Holy-Hand-Grenade ! :D

    Looks fun.

  3. phelix says:

    So, is this game free, free to play, subscription based or (old-school) just something you can buy? The official site didn’t leave me any wiser.

  4. Snowskeeper says:

    Uh, reason it’s going P2P is to prevent microtransactions. Thought I’d say that quickly.

    I’m definitely looking forward to this game; they seem to be posting fairly regular updates on their page and on their twitter account.

    This and Sir You Are Being Hunted are the two games that’re sitting high on my watch-list right now.

    • elfbarf says:

      I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Jagex has added microtranactions to Runescape despite it mostly being a P2P game (which has increased its subscription price several times over the past few years).

      • Snowskeeper says:

        Yes, but the vast majority of the game’s population was F2P (bots, more specifically), and they had to maintain all those accounts along with their servers.
        They’ve also stated many times that the reason they’re making this P2P is so that they don’t have to add microtransactions.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Bad news on the Sir, You Are Being Hunted front: Tom’s done a reverse Syndicate on us: it looks like he’s turning it into a strategy game.

      • MechanicalPen says:

        Sir, You Are Being Hunted is not turning into a strategy game. They just generate the landscape in hexes instead of squares, so the land looks more roundy.

  5. Bedeage says:

    I played this in the first weeks of its alpha. There was something beautiful in the way an enemy would be obscured by the mist. All the clever tricks of making false silhouettes, camouflaged bunkers (my absolute favourite!), tunnelling etc. I’ve been out of touch with it for a long while, but I’m slightly sad to see that it has lost its murky green WWI feel.

    • LimEJET says:

      You and everyone else. When the devs revealed that they didn’t want it to be a WWI game, but a Vietnam one, half of the community basically left. Every changelog since then has made me more sad for the fate of this once-awesome game.

      • DeVadder says:

        I have played a lot of the original and still i am really looking forward to this. I was not playing because of the wierd gunplay and the extremely slow gameplay but despite them.

    • SubparFiddle says:

      Agreed. Most of what was good about the original was the atmosphere. I guess they didn’t realize that they’d stumbled across something so wonderfully immersive. A lot of it had to do with the community, though; all that “green scum” and “blue devil” propaganda really made it feel like a real war!

    • niebie says:

      What I remember most from the original is how people used colorful blocks to draw huge penises and other obscenities all over the map. And griefers, oh the griefers.
      It was a lot of fun though.

  6. Citrus says:

    I haven’t played Minecraft (and never will, FU all.. damn hipsters.. unlike me.. sort of..) but as an artist (I pretend to be, FU all) I love the visuals in this game. Nice use of colours/gradients/specularmapping. Looks like they accidently hired some talented artist unlike Mimecraft.

    • Brun says:

      damn hipsters…but as an artist

      Oh the irony.

      • KDR_11k says:

        Meh, it’s easy to be an artist in this day and age. I made some graphics for mods, that makes me an artist.

    • SonicTitan says:

      Yeah buddy, refusing to play one of the most innovative games in the last few years and deny yourself a great deal of pleasure because of a game’s perceived audience. You sure showed those hipsters….w…wait…

      EDIT: While you’re at it, better boycott The Beatles, since they’re better than most stuff pressed to disc today and have an audience of millions…w…wait…

      • Citrus says:

        Innovative? I wouldn’t even care if it cured AIDS and poverty in Africa.

        I don’t play games to sit and create whole level then admire them for few seconds. I have 3dsMax for that (and that is work). It is fun for average gamer but since I already spend time building models in 3D, I don’t care (and don’t care if it has monsters or whatever, saw the videos, found it beyond lame).

        I don’t really see why people are butthurt about my “hipsters” comment though. I thought I made it obvious that I was just joking about that (but funny reactions to it).

        • Lanfranc says:

          Hipsters gonna hipst.

        • SonicTitan says:

          Oh, I see. The actual reason you don’t want to play Minecraft is because it’s unappealing to you. But being an Angry Guy On The Internet, you couldn’t just say, “Eh, it’s not my thing.” Instead you had to pretend that the game is terrible, and the only people who play it do so because they’re contrarian assholes.

          (Bonus tip: If the only reason you don’t play a game is because its audience are a bunch of contrarian assholes, then that makes you a contrarian asshole yourself.)

          • Snids says:

            clapclapclapclap

          • LionsPhil says:

            Well said that man.

          • Citrus says:

            “If the only reason you don’t play a game is because its audience are a bunch of contrarian assholes”

            No I just don’t play it cause I think the concept is stupid. There isn’t really more to it. Don’t care who plays it and why.

        • KDR_11k says:

          That’s why Minecraft has a survival mode. Yes, it’s a bit shallow and could probably need some buffs but the natural landscapes in MC are interesting enough (most clones don’t get close, going for boring sine waves and such) that you don’t need to supply your own prettyness. You’ll want to build a base for yourself but how fancy you make it is up to how much you want to get into the creative aspect. My bases tend to be bunkers with all the key structures centralized since I play it more for swording monsters than prettying anything up.

          Of course Minecraft may not be the best option for that playstyle, Terraria offers much more survival content so it’s more fun for a survivalist player who doesn’t want to build fancy structures.

          3079 is a voxel game that doesn’t care much about creative mode nonsense and is all about survival and combat but unfortunately the combat is crap.

    • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

      Priceless anti-console comment in this vein on the GTA PC thread above this too.

      I’m really starting to hate people who throw the term ‘hipster’ around – they seem like a much bigger collective of douche-nuggets, and far more concerned with the approval of others, than their purported targets.

    • Tei says:

      There are different types of artist. Minecraft allow a few interesting one. You can be a photograph in Minecraft and make amaizng photos of morning stars, or you can be notch and create these stars. Being popular or not has nothing to do with the potential for artistry, clearly.

    • MOKKA says:

      Your comment was so edgy, I cut my thumb on it.

    • Elevory says:

      What a dumb attitude.

    • Snowskeeper says:

      You… Do know that you’re saying that the only people that play Minecraft, a game with millions of fans, are hipsters, right?
      Either you’re wrong, or we’re really shitty hipsters.

      • Mattressi says:

        Well, I for one was playing Minecraft before it was cool, making me a hipster. Does the hipster I have also attained simply from playing Minecraft cancel out the first hipster or does it multiply to make me a HIPSTER?

  7. The Random One says:

    You just might have popped this back into my radar.

  8. Chaz says:

    I think a good zombie mode for a game like this, would be to have all the blood of the fallen soak into the ground and have it give off an eerie red glow at night. Then when the blood has reached a certain saturation point, zombies spawn at night from the hellish red glow, roaming forth to attack either side.

    Of course would only really work if there was a WW1 style no mans land where the corpses kept piling up.

  9. Zankmam says:

    Wait, they are turning one of the best F2P shooters out there into a buy-to-play game?

    Even more so, they are changing it from the classic and enjoyable game that it is, into a convoluted class based system? Even more so, they are adding more automatic weapons and stuff like bazookas?

    What the hell? Have they forgotten the whole point of the game itself?

    This is awful. I wouldn’t be so bitchy about it if it was free (though I’d still be annoyed), but this is just horrible.

    I hope some old-school servers (private ones) stay up from the current era, because this is looking all too “grim”.

  10. bear912 says:

    So much want. I never really got around to trying the original version, but I’m suddenly seeing something that I could pour many hours into…

    Also, did anyone here play Liero or any of it’s several lovely open-source clones?

  11. KDR_11k says:

    I’ve seen quite a few PvP voxel games now, I’d be more interested in an SP action one since I’ve seen pretty much everything in Terraria already. Looks like instead people are going either creative or PvP…

    • Liudeius says:

      Check out StarBound. (Still in development)
      It’s supposed to be Terraria in space. The Terraria art guy is head of development.

      (Actually they insist it’s not Terraria in space, but it’s really less than that. “Space” is only intended to be a text interface. However it has far better mechanics by the look of it, and WAY more content.)

  12. wonkavision says:

    The ultimate version of Worms: Liero X

  13. Liudeius says:

    Anyone else (other than Zynga) and I would probably be excited, but Jagex lost my trust when their transfer of ownership from the company’s founder to some money-grubbing American business men turned their game design into pay-to-win. (And that was on top of membership fees.)

    Now original AoS, is going to fade into nothingness, and IF the replacement isn’t pay to win, I’m still not giving my money to Jagex.

  14. Gnoupi says:

    “Ace of Spades is much more like a realtime, 3d Worms game. And it’s the best Worms games for ages. It doesn’t have the crazy weapons and the physics are more like those in Scorched Earth than either Minecraft or Team 17’s perpetual product line, but it allows players to build a home, a castle or a warren and then allows everyone else to burn it to the ground.”

    Personally, for this particular type of game, I would recommend looking at King Arthur’s Gold: http://www.kag2d.com/en/

    Oh, and it includes the “tink, tink, tink” guy too

  15. frightlever says:

    I like that the little soldier guys are all wearing bright colourful uniforms. For as long as I can remember I’ve had trouble in team-based shooters telling one side from the other. Counter Strike was a nightmare for me. Basically I need a big sign over the enemies’ heads saying “SHOOT ME”. I’d also appreciate it they’d stay still a minute.

    Yeah, I kinda suck at multi-player shooters.