If a cross between the post-apocalyptic, vehicular combat-focused world of Mad Max and the free-to-play multi player structure of World of Tanks sounds like the ideal way to spend hours of your time, then Crossout might just be your new favorite game.
Yes, I said free-to-play, and Crossout certainly includes all the usual trappings we’ve come to expect from games in this particular wheelhouse. Love them or loathe them, loot boxes, various in-game currencies, and microtransactions are all present and correct, but I can happily say my time with the game hasn’t been too overly tarnished by these usual suspects, and, aside from a few shortcomings, I had a lot of fun in this bleak, post apocalyptic world.
There’s some fluff about a killer virus that’s gone and wiped out most of the Earth’s population, but it’s mostly irrelevant. The short version is all you really need: the world is messed up, and fighting, driving, and (most importantly) doing both of those things at the same time, is the only way to survive. The opening tutorial wastes no time in putting you behind the wheel of a tough off-roader. The controls are blissfully simple to get to grips with, and the handling is very much on the forgiving, arcadey side. Unless you’ve never driven a wheeled vehicle in a video game before, you’ll be speeding around the game’s landscapes in no time, while also independently controlling your vehicle’s machine guns to take out targets all around you.
Once you’ve completed this basic instruction, you can kiss those training wheels goodbye, as the game does little else to help you from then onwards. Your first battle is a team-based deathmatch mode, where you and a squad of like-minded murder-enthusiasts suddenly find yourselves tearing off over the landscape in search of enemy vehicles to obliterate. Your targets begin as AI bots, but as your level increases, real players are quickly introduced into subsequent matches, significantly upping the challenge.
Combat feels fluid and fun, thanks to the nippy vehicles and a robust damage system that lets you target and destroy individual parts of your enemy’s automobile. It’s a sizable step up from the often plodding and repetitive combat of the game’s close cousin, Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks. Also keeping the formula fresh are a couple of games types which serve to bolster the standard seek-and-destroy and seek-and-destroy-with bases that are your bread-and-butter. Reach level 10, and you’ll unlock a free-for-all deathmatch mode which is a riot when the matchmaking throws you in with a good, well-matched group (something it rarely falls down on). There’s also the Raid game mode, Crossout’s PvE offering, which has you teaming up with other players to achieve objectives against AI bots. This is a surprisingly satisfying way to play, especially if your group has the savvy to work together to take down a particularly tough set of opponents.
The wide variety of vehicle types is another aspect of Crossout’s combat that kept it feeling fresh even after I’d played dozens of encounters, and it’s the game’s robust customization options that really increase the scope of that variety. Between fights, you’re encouraged to enter the garage and tinker with your vehicle. Happily, the creation tools here are surprisingly in depth, allowing those with a more artistic inclination to really let their imagination run wild. Not everything you make will be useful in combat, though: the game’s physics mean you can quickly hamper your vehicle’s maneuverability with overly outlandish or heavily armored designs. But it sure is fun to give it a go, and brilliantly, you can choose to share your efforts with the community, too. There are already plenty of great attempts to get you inspired for your own creations.
The game looks surprisingly great, especially the outdoor environments. The maps provided aren’t all the standard brownish-yellow desert and ruined buildings you’d expect from the post-apocalyptic setting. Yes, you do get that, but you also get rolling green mountainsides and distant, glistening waterfalls. It’s just a shame there’s such a limited selection of maps right now. As the game is only recently out of Early Access and has only just seen a console release, I’d expect a bevy of new and more varied maps in the not too distant future. Right now, there’s just about enough of an assortment, but I’m sure after a few more hours of dedicated grind, I’d start to grow tired of the same old surroundings repeated again and again.
Which brings me to my main criticism of Crossout, and yes, unfortunately, it is a familiar one. Despite the game’s better-than-average gameplay and its formidable customization system, it can’t help but fall into the same old trap as practically every other free-to-play game in that after a particular point, it suddenly becomes very grainy. Those joyous opening few hours, in which a swift accumulation of XP provides some quick leveling up, quickly become a distant memory, replaced by glacial progression and a chronic scarcity of in-game currency. When this intentional bottleneck hits, it’s time to either knuckle down and settle in for the long haul or cough up some of your hard-earned real world money to grease the wheels a little. It’s irritating, but it’s standard, and if you want to play the game, there’s certainly no getting around it.
There will be plenty for whom these shortcomings are far outweighed by the satisfying combat and the joy that comes from building your own crazy creations and taking them into battle. And this is at least a free to play game that is, for the most part, fun even without spending boatloads of money. With a few more maps and perhaps a sprinkling of new game modes, I can see Crossout carving out quite a decent niche for itself, especially on consoles, within the ever growing selection of free-to-play titles available right now.
Andy is a freelance writer for Game With Your Brain. You can follow him on Twitter.