If you've mucked around with the creative tools in Fortnite or built your own mini-games in Roblox, then Crayta should be on your radar. It's a Stadia-exclusive built around creativity and light-hearted gameplay, and I've taken a little look to see what it has to offer and, more importantly, what it might be able to help us create. It's also noteworthy as the game with which Google is launching the beta for its State Share feature, whereby you can enter in a link and be transported to someone else's world (after some fiddling I got it to work - it could be more intuitive though).
There are lots of ways to play, all available from the main menu, and I tried out a bunch of them, on my own and with a little help from my kids (this game's target audience). In fact, I think it's just a little bit strange that they've gone for a PEGI 12 rating here, no doubt a requirement because of the inclusion of assault rifles and rocket launchers and so on. There are a couple of fairly violent game modes already available, which rules it out as something my boys can play unsupervised, a real shame because I think they'd have had a lot of fun making things using Crayta's robust world-building tools.
In terms of what's there to play, developer Unit 2 Games has laid out a respectable selection of games. There's a speedrunning mode, but that felt a bit clunky, and I had more fun in another runner called Zombie Tag, where zombies with giant pumpkin heads chase you down before you swap sides. There was a multi-stage combat game that was surprisingly detailed, even if there weren't enough people playing to make it truly interesting. In fact, this mode stuck in my mind mostly because it had a strangely overpowering soundtrack, like something that was pulled straight out of an early '90s action movie.
My kids gravitated towards Prop Hunt, a popular hide and seek game that I've seen them play variants of elsewhere (hell, I've played Typhon Hunter in Prey; it's the same basic premise). Players can run around and, once they've found a good spot, turn into an everyday object, hiding in plain sight. There's another mode where teams take it in turns to grab coins in a Wild West setting, while also killing each other. Later, we took it in turns to play another mode called Super Doom Wall, which is like a strange gameshow-shooter hybrid with crazy physics and lots of frantic jumping around.
Not all of the games are inherently aggressive, and there's a farming/mining game for up to four players that evokes the spirit of Minecraft. There's also a cute Overcooked-inspired game where you work with other players to prepare meals by chopping up ingredients. It looks like the devs have done a good job of preparing several ready-made ways for people to play, which also demonstrates to players the things that are possible using the tools included.
In terms of the aforementioned tools, you can easily place items and build your own sandbox environments. What's more, there's a ton of preset rules and game templates in place so you can, for example, make your own shooter. And we're not just talking about straight-up team deathmatch as there are plenty of more nuanced options open to players looking to express themselves or create more varied game modes.
When it comes to building new levels, you can either jump into pre-made examples or start from scratch (although I wouldn't recommend that to newcomers). Across both, there's a huge range of assets to use, from textures to ready-made features and sound effects. No doubt there's more to be added here, in particular AI features, but the range of options is impressive. Later, during your build, you can hold down a button to almost instantly preview your creation and see if it's working as intended. It all seems straightforward to grasp, although we were playing on a small TV with a controller and keeping it simple, and it'll clearly be much easier to do things on a PC with a mouse (and the Advanced Mode is only available that way, which is what you'll want to be using unless you're making something fairly basic).
The movement of the player-character is just a little clunky, but the controls are certainly functional (and better than the basic range of movements offered in Roblox). I did find some of the platforming to be frustrating due to sometimes sticky-feeling controls, although the shooting was less of an issue. You can switch between different camera angles if you want a closer third-person perspective, which might help in certain situations, although I reverted to the default as it's clearly the angle from which the game is intended to be played. Fortnite is clearly a big inspiration, both in terms of the cartoony visual style and the controls. It goes further than that though, with ongoing profile progression to work away at, seasonal content planned, and there's an emote-filled cosmetics store on hand if you want to spend extra money on outfits or whatever.
The main issue we had was with player populations, and that's something that's either going to build over time, or it's not. You would have to assume that on these terms, Crayta's fate is intrinsically linked to that of its platform, Stadia. There are several game types ready to jump into, and each one has a handful of players, but not usually much more than that. That can undermine the games themselves and leave things feeling a little empty, but I certainly see what they're aiming for.
Still, it's early days (hence why there's no score on this) and it's hard to judge Crayta on what it might become, especially when its fate is so entwined with that of the platform itself. If Stadia doesn't take off, then neither will Crayta, and it's as simple as that. If Google's platform can build the momentum it needs in the longterm, then this could very well prove to be a hit among creatively minded players (especially as it's included as part of the Pro subscription). I think it will be particularly interesting to those looking to build and create with friends, and then mess about in whatever craziness comes from that creativity. There's certainly oodles of potential here, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for Crayta.
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