Switchblade might seem a left-field concept at first, but the further you dig into it, the more it starts to make a great deal of sense. Lucid Games, the developer of Geometry Wars 3, is making a free-to-play, car combat, MOBA shooter. On the surface of it, that seems one heck of a discordant set of elements to try to smash together into a single sentence. When seeing the game in action though, it feels just right.
For starters, Lucid was predominantly founded by members of the much-loved, long-missed Bizarre Creations, the brilliantly inventive studio behind Project Gotham Racing, the original Geometry Wars series, and Blur. Clearly, this team knows a great deal about making cars feel good, delivering tight, gratifying arcade combat, and blending all of the above in unexpected and delightfully fun ways.
That DNA absolutely shows in Switchblade. Immediately swerving the traditional gameplay risks that come with car combat – chiefly that targets appear all-too briefly before disappearing behind you, leading to endless, tedious chasing in between brief bouts of engagement – Switchblade’s weaponised vehicles are designed to handle somewhere between a racing game and an FPS, with satisfying but manageable speed wrangled by highly responsive acceleration and brakes, and a near on-the-spot turning circle.
Not that they all handle the same, mind. For all the cartoon accessibility and easily parsable action, this is a deceptively deep and layered game, with a raft of multi-threaded team strategy to deal with as you gun your way through to the opposite teams’ control towers. For starters, this is a staunchly class-based game, with a raft of vehicular variants based around classic archetypes such as Scouts, Fighters, Tanks, Healers, and glass cannon Artillery making for a stack of co-op strategy from the off. With every player able to start with a switchable, two-vehicle load-out, there’s a lot of dynamic depth to play with, from nippy Scout vehicles that can drop sticky goo around a contested area, to the ability to use a black hole to round up enemy vehicles before smashing them all in one fell swoop. This is a game with broad, giddy spectacle in its eyes, but smart, tactical fundamentals in its heart.
Speaking of heart, Switchblade is also careful to dodge the impersonal tone that can blight vehicular action games. Where Burnout Paradise presents stellar gameplay in a terrifying, humanity-free world populated by empty, apparently sentient cars, Switchblade brings the focus back to the player’s driver character whenever possible, from the time-out sequence in between spawns (which places you in a platform high above the area, able to shout out tactical information while you wait to get back behind the wheel), to the statues of the top players that tower over you as you walk around the winners’ enclosure after a match. For a game about organised, metal on metal chaos, it all feels marvellously human.
You can sign up to play the Switchblade beta on PS4 and Steam right now. More details on Switchblade’s release will be incoming soon, but so far, the game itself looks to live up to its studio’s excellent lineage through and through.