SmuggleCraft is a quest-based hovercraft game with randomly generated tracks and a branching narrative. You play as a smuggler who has to pay off a debt for a hovercraft. To do so, you smuggle contraband, upgrade the hovercraft, and run from the authorities. Play one of the many stories with procedurally generated tracks and discover the branching stories where your decisions change the outcome of the inhabitants of the unforgiving and troubled world, Dirahl.
SmuggleCraft is, as I said, a quest based racing game with delivery aspects, and is driven by the decisions the player makes. There are illegal missions, legal deliveries, with different difficulties and decisions to make at the end of missions. The money and parts that you amass are used to pay off the debt, as well as upgrade the hovercraft. The tracks are pieced together each time you drive, so no ride will be the same as another.
There are two play modes for the story: easy and rogue-like (hard). Basically, the difference is: destroy the hovercraft and it’s game over. There’s also multiplayer and a track editor available.
The hovercraft is the most important thing that you, the player, will need to care about. Not only is it the only way to complete missions that you will partake in, but is also the main reason why you must do missions to pay off the massive debt. The payments keep rising, pushing the smuggler to take on dangerous missions for higher pay.
Along with making money, there is also a slight crafting element within the game. There are three resources or parts that you can randomly get as a reward from missions, as well as some money. Once you have enough parts and money, you can craft one of the parts, including Body, Cockpit, Nose, Engine, Stabilizers, and Peripherals – these are unlocked later on in the game. Each part is then broken down to individual parts, each with their own statistics, allowing the hovercraft to be customised to suit the individual driver. One important aspect is the health the part will give the hovercraft, as crashing, falling, and being shot will drop the health of the hovercraft. If it hits zero, it’s the end of the mission.
Within a mission, there may be a slight chance to get a new schematic for one of the parts, though it’s easy to miss the chance with the branching paths in a lot of the tracks. There are over 60 parts to collect, allowing for plenty of customisation. For me, this was a really good idea as a driving force to keep me playing and engaged. I was constantly keeping an eye on the amount of money I needed to pay back my debt and keep out of hot water with the debtor as well as making money to upgrade my hovercraft.
The missions and your choices
Once the intro is done and you start the game, you will get to the home hub. This is where you can upgrade the hovercraft, check how long until you need to pay your next debt installment and, most importantly, pick the mission you go on. The missions are displayed on a radar-type circle, giving it a Sci-Fi feel.
Missions range from delivery of items, races, towing missions and chases. Each of these has a difficulty rating that you’ll see before you even pick a mission, indicated by the colour of the triangle on the mission select from green (Easy) to dark red (Very Difficult). The main draw of doing the harder missions are the rewards; they increase by difficulty, usually giving more money but also more parts, initially. If you make it to the end of a run – which can be quite challenging and long – you are greeted with a choice: agree with the mission giver or sell stuff to someone else, for a different reward.
After some time, there will be a blue triangle. This is a “main” mission where the choice really does matter. The first mission was the debtor and I told the police on them as I was not happy to be paying back the hovercraft, but still had to pay it back and the police destroyed the town… I think it was a bad choice but did get 10k currency for turning on the debtor.
The controls are simple: you use A/R to accelerate, B to brake – but be honest, who brakes? The left stick is used to steer, and ZL/ZR strafe left and right. After playing for two hours or so, I was still struggling to do some missions. Then, I started to use the strafe. Never before have I played a game where strafe is so important. It makes dodging obstacles much easier without losing speed and makes sharp turns more manageable.
The hovercraft is floaty with its movements, that is to be expected, but the turning can be difficult, in general, as the hovercraft only turn a little without strafing. After some time playing, it is not a massive problem but can sometimes be frustrating.
Track editor and multiplayer
The track editor is just what it says on the tin. It allows a player to make their own track, for other players to try out and play. The tracks are made by connecting tiles together and, depending on the size of the tile used, defines the size of tile you can connect. There can be a maximum of 50 tiles in one track. The tiles range from ‘Easy’ to ‘Very Difficult’, and the overall track level will change depending on the difficulty of the tiles. The editor also shows how long the track will take to finish.
Multiplayer is only local which is a shame, as having an online option would have made Smugglecraft a more interesting experience, especially with player-made tracks. It seems to me like a missed opportunity.
The audio is outstanding. The sound effects for each of the engines sound different, the boost sounds powerful, too. Crashing sounds like you have done some real damage, and you’ll know about it when you hit the floor after a jump. The music is so good, too. It’s an original soundtrack by Bravendary that merges classical with 80’s synth pop. You can listen to the a track from Smugglecraft, here, on Bravendary’s bandcamp page.
Visuals & Performance
The visuals of SmuggleCraft, are as if the devs at Happy Badger Studio made the assets and models then hit the subsurface modifier button. This makes everything have a low-poly look. To start with, I did not like the art direction. Then, after a few hours of playing, something changed. It didn’t annoy me, but I grew to like the art style and its washed out colours.
Being pieced together with each new track layout, Happy Badger Studio has done an outstanding job making sure the connections fit seamlessly.
I didn’t see any major slowdown with my time playing. However, there were momentary drops in the framerate that, if you were not looking for, could be missed. It also plays well in handheld and docked modes.
As of writing this review, Smugglecraft it is a bargain $2.99 USD for the first week of its launch. There’s a good 10 hours of gameplay and decent replay value, so even at full price, $7.99 is still a bargain.
Interesting concept and story
Choices change the story
Lack of online mutiplayer
Needs more races