Released in Early Access during August 2018, Switchblade is one of the latest in a long lineage of competitive vehicular combat titles, having now entered Free-to-Play status on both steam and PS4, the game hopes to grow its potential user base and become one of the more widely enjoyed arena based MOBA’s on the market, but is it worth the plunge?
Switchblade defines itself as a ‘spectacular future sports championship’ which allows you to switch seamlessly ‘between heavily armed high tech vehicles… in a frantic 5v5 battle to take down the opposition’s towers and claim victory’, though this objective driven gameplay might sound fairly run of the mill for a Free to Play, the setup is anything but. Prior to each match, players can choose between two vehicles that you can switch between at will during playtime, whether this be a tank and a scout vehicle or two equally powerful fighters is up to you. The decision during this stage forms the core tactical loop of the pre-game and your choices here can sway the tide of victory for your team.
Once you’re into the game, the real chaos begins. Each match sees either team armed with several AI bots which you must either totally destroy or lead towards the towers of your opponents whilst helping them to target enemy turrets and tower cores. If you are successful, each match ends with a satisfying explosion as you see the aims – and towers – of your opponents quite literally go up in smoke. It is a gratifying gameplay loop and one which shows definite promise as one in an already crowded MOBA and Free to Play arena.
Happily, the minute-to-minute gameplay also shows potential. Each vehicle has its own distinct handling and turning circle, which make both the vehicles feel unique, as well as your tactical decisions in choosing them, more impactful. The weapons unique to each class are also fun to experiment with, whether it be a flamethrower, plasma launcher, kamikaze bomb or homing missile there is certainly enough here for fans of class-based multiplayer titles to sink their teeth into.
To add to this, the sound design also effectively sells both the world in which Switchblade is set, as well as the anarchic matches that you might find yourself embroiled in. The weapons have punchy sound effects which provide a satisfying weightiness to the combat whilst helping you to pinpoint the direction and distance of nearby enemies, all whilst the omniscient robotic announcer drones away above you. In short, the sound design is both immersive and informative, elements essential to any successful MOBA.
However, this is where the game starts to run into problems, chief among which is a lack of variety, which the game can’t boast much of at this stage. Currently, the title only has one map based in Iceland and though it is substantial, I can’t imagine that it will hold the attention of most players for too long. Though to be fair to developer Lucid Games, the next map, known as Monorail is coming soon and looks set to shake up the environments seen in the title thus far. In spite of this though, the game only has one mode (as described above) so players shouldn’t expect to be duking it out in any Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, or King of the Hill variants any time soon, without a multitude of maps and modes, the amount to keep players coming back for more is significantly reduced.
Another issue for the game is its presentation. Switchblade certainly doesn’t impress in the same way that many of its Free to Play contemporaries do and although its art style is visually appealing, much of the game’s textures are unimpressive and outline the weaknesses of the engine. For example, there is a stark contrast between the cartoony styles of the vehicles and the realistic maps which often proves difficult to look at. However, there are some nice particle effects here which lend the combat a suitably disorienting and frenetic flavor which is certainly appreciated and does distract from some of the graphical misgivings.
Additionally, whenever you are thrown from your car upon defeat you are thrown into a kind of sin bin for a couple of seconds and the animations here leave much to be desired. Characters are stiff and do not move with the sort of animated fluidity that the art style suggests at, consequently taunting enemies with emotes is made less enjoyable and detracts from the personality of the game as a whole.
During my playtime, I did also encounter some unfortunate moments of FPS slow down which hurt my ability to fight back as effectively as I would have liked to. This was the most glaring of gameplay faults that I spotted whilst playing and though it occurs few and far between, this is something that I would hope would be ironed out effectively, especially if the title has any ambitions in the esports arena.
To this end, I feel that the game could do far more to assist first time players. Free to Play games need to explain as much as they can – and quickly – in order to grab the attention of the player and Switchblade simply doesn’t do enough in this space to be effective. Aside from two fairly meager tutorial sections, the game does very little to bring you up to speed on how the game is played, especially whilst you are under pressure and have to deal with its fairly irritating shop and UI menus, both of which can be opened during combat.
Prior to playing, I was worried that Switchblade would be just another Rocket League clone, one that would draw upon the success of Psyonix’s breakout vehicular sports title in order to cash in. I was left pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t the case. Switchblade is an enjoyable multiplayer title which shows promise at almost every juncture, it has the gameplay depth and mechanical sophistication of any great MOBA but it is, unfortunately, let down by a fairly limited set of gameplay modes and maps as well as presentation issues. It is however worth bearing in mind that the game isn’t complete, having only just left early-access. It isn’t difficult to see that as the title develops and these issues are rectified, Switchblade could become one of the greater vehicular MOBA’s currently available.