In Crucible – the first release from Amazon Games – you play as part of a team dispatched to a lush, unspoilt planet and tasked with stripping it of its natural resources for monetary gain.
The free-to-play, team-based PC shooter, which finally comes out today after a long-awaited, and then Covid-delayed launch, has been developed in conjunction with Relentless Studios, and was part of a line-up of three Amazon Studios games which were originally announced in 2016. Only two of those have made it, and along with MMO New World, Crucible forms a key part of Amazon’s inevitable assault on the gaming industry.
You play as one of ten ‘hunters’ – a group of aliens, humans and robots ranging from Ajonah, an Avatar-influenced marksman with a grappling hook and blue skin, to Bugg, a WALL-E inspired flying robot presumably repurposed from dropping off Amazon Prime deliveries. To be honest it feels like they did a lot of the initial character development in 2009.
The game is set in the distant future, on a jungle planet rich in a valuable substance called ‘Essence’. Naturally, large corporations have their eye on it – this is a game from Amazon after all, whose founder Jeff Bezos has an ambitious plan to colonise space and harvest it for resources, while being slow to clean up his company’s carbon footprint here on Earth.
After disastrously battling for control of the planet, the companies have now hired freelance hunters to harvest as much of it as possible (probably on zero hours contracts, with limited toilet breaks). It’s a process that involves a lot more killing than you would expect.
The game pulls off that classic tech giant trick of ransacking the best bits of rival products and then combining them into something that, while objectively better, feels a bit lacking in character, a little mechanical. There are touches of Overwatch in the characters and art style, while the game modes lean on League of Legends, and the monetised add-ons feel very Fortnite. It is, the game’s senior combat designer told WIRED US, designed to “feel familiar in all of its aspects but feel like a game you’ve never played before.”
Although Crucible is Amazon’s first proper game release – barring an appalling tie-in with live-action Daily Mail comments section The Grand Tour – it’s not the company’s first involvement in the games industry. In fact, Amazon technology underpins huge swatches of the infrastructure supporting online play through Amazon Web Services. The company is also working on a potential competitor to Google Stadia, which allows resource-intensive games to be streamed to low-powered devices, with all the processing done in the cloud.
And then there’s Twitch. Amazon bought the streaming service in 2014 for close to a billion dollars, and its now the de facto home of online games streaming, with billions of hours of footage watched every month. When Crucible was first announced in 2016, it was a pure battle royale game, with features designed to encourage Twitch streaming, in an era when people are almost as likely to watch someone playing a game online as they are to play it themselves. But, after consulting with streamers, Relentless Games decided to shelve some of those Twitch-specific features for now, to focus on the game itself – although they did consult with streamers on the general look and feel of the characters.
What sets Crucible apart from the likes of Fortnite is the co-operative element running through every game mode. There are three to choose from at launch. In ‘Heart of the Hives,’ two teams of four players work together to take down huge monsters and capture their hearts. ‘Harvester Commander’ is a bit like the King of the Hill mode from Halo and other first-person shooters – two teams of eight players each earn points by capturing and holding ‘Essence Harvesters,’ with the winner the first to reach 100 points.
The final mode is ‘Alpha Hunters’, which is the perfect encapsulation of Amazon’s business model, which – little business studies lesson here – is partly built on aggressively partnering with suppliers and brands, using its vast market share to build up reams of data on their customers and products, and then coming up with their own rival product that undercuts their partners.
Here, you team up with another player and work together to take out three other pairs of opponents, until there are only three of you left. At that point, all alliances go out of the window, and you can laser cannon your former teammate in the back to claim victory and harvest that precious Essence until the planet is a dried husk of its former self. It’s as if they let Bezos write the thing himself.
Amit Katwala is WIRED’s culture editor. He tweets from @amitkatwala
Coronavirus coverage from WIRED
📖 How coronavirus kills, one organ at a time
🏘️ Failing care homes are the real coronavirus scandal
🔒 The UK’s lockdown rules, explained
❓ The UK’s job retention furlough scheme, explained
💲 Can Universal Basic Income help fight coronavirus?
👉 Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn
Get The Email from WIRED, your no-nonsense briefing on all the biggest stories in technology, business and science. In your inbox every weekday at 12pm sharp.
Thank You. You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter. You will hear from us shortly.
Sorry, you have entered an invalid email. Please refresh and try again.