The glory days of MOBA games may already be behind us, but this isn’t stopping the occasional effort by a well-meaning indie studio. With Switchblade, Lucid Games delivers its take on the genre while putting an interesting spin on it. Or in fact, several spins, as this is a MOBA on wheels.
Switchblade isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel – rest assured, this will be the last pun. It is, however, taking the tried-and-tested mechanics of the MOBA genre and adding a sci-fi flavor to them, with a futuristic game show atmosphere and vehicles as the big stars.
Switchblade could be described as a crossover between SMITE and Twisted Metal. As it turns out, it’s surprisingly fun, even in its current Early Access state, although slim in content.
Keep Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
Switchblade’s menu is in tune with its futuristic stylishness. Your pilot walks around this small arena where vehicles are exposed, a large crowd anxiously waits for the battle to start, and you have all the options that you need. Character customization is one of them, where you’re able to change the look of your pilot, from his suit to facial details. For a game about armored vehicles blasting one another to pieces, this deserves credit as it is a needless but welcome addition. However, there is no proper vehicle customization besides the usual skins that you can purchase.
Statistics and daily challenges are other things that you can check while inside the lobby. Coin rewards are useful to purchase vehicles for your collection, but there is also Bit Cash, the premium currency in Switchblade. You know, the one that is extremely difficult to earn and that you can purchase with real money, ultimately to spend in vehicle bundles, skins and additional character customization options. And of course, experience boosts, if you really want to speed up your way to the top. The grind is strong with this one.
Strap up and let’s hit the arena. This is where things get interesting, as you pick not one, but two vehicles to drive in the 5v5 matches. There are five categories to choose from: Scout, Tank, Artillery, Support and Fighter. Having the ability to choose two of them opens several possibilities – my favorite combo was a Fighter and an Artillery vehicle. I would use the first vehicle as my main during most of the match while the Artillery came in handy when I wanted to take on a more defensive role. You can switch between them at any time during the match, as a dropship comes by and… blows the other vehicle to smithereens. Smooth.
But don’t let my advice fool you, as I’m far from an expert MOBA player. As you probably know, team work and communication are crucial, which means that having a Support vehicle around you is vital for the most elaborate plays. I just don’t like playing that role, that’s all.
Switchblade’s main arena is set in Iceland and is comprised of a base core tower and three secondary towers with shields. The only way to take down the shields and leave the core vulnerable is by escorting your mobs, robots on wheels, to the towers and watch them crash and make a mess. With defense turrets along the way that need to be deactivated and enemy mobs coming from the same lanes, clashes are frequent and expected.
In true MOBA fashion, you can spend the currency you pick up in an item shop. You can do this while you wait for the respawn or in a specific spot in the arena. There are two types of items for sale: consumables and vehicle enhancements. Enhancements are more expensive but considerably more useful, as they’re permanent and may give you an interesting edge over the rival team – additional shield, health or speed aren’t things to be neglected.
As you play and earn experience points, you’ll also unlock your vehicle’s special abilities. There are two secondary abilities and a Super ability, which has a massive cooldown but also with the potential to be a real game changer. Use these upgrades and level them up as soon as the warning pops up, as they are crucial against your opponents.
The Arena Comes to Those Who Wait
Controlling Switchblade’s vehicles is a breeze and intuitive as can be. Moving with the WASD keys and aiming with the mouse is an effortless task, although I’m not too keen on the way that the game often puts you on reverse without warning. It’s not unusual to suddenly discover that the vehicle is moving slower due to you being in reverse because the car design is almost unified and most of the time you are staring at your targets. There is an auto-correct 180º turn to get things back on track, unless someone happened to blow up your vehicle in the meantime, along with your plans. Overall, the vehicles are easy and fun to drive, and have a different feel to each class, which is also helped by the diverse weaponry.
Switchblade isn’t exactly the most stunning game you’ll ever see, but it does a commendable job. The vehicles are nicely designed although in a somewhat uniform way, as I mentioned before, which doesn’t make it any easier to spot who’s in what vehicle from a distance. The Iceland map looks good, with its green grass and the mountains acting as arena walls. There is a light futuristic feel to the arena, and no shortage of visual effects such as smoke trails and huge explosions. The game surely isn’t lacking in this department.
Matches usually last somewhere between 20 to 25 minutes, so make sure you have some time to spend before jumping in, as it is unlikely that you will be done any sooner.
Currently, Switchblade is playable without any major issues and offers a reasonable amount of fun. What it lacks is more content – but such is the road that every MOBA must be prepared to travel since its inception – and, more critically, a player base. I can’t tell for the PS4 version, but the Steam Early Access release is mostly deserted, with three minutes or so of waiting to start a match, only to be paired with bots. The most that I ever managed was four humans in the same match.
For this reason alone, Switchblade is getting mixed to negative reviews on Steam. That is completely unfair, in my opinion, but this is a game that could do with some additional promotion, as word-of-mouth doesn’t seem to be cutting it. It’s a niche game, in an over-saturated genre, which doesn’t bode well for its future. I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but unless Switchblade suddenly gets a significant player boost, soon enough this is going to turn into an enjoyable dead game.Related: Early Access, Lucid Games, MOBA, Preview, Switchblade, Vehicular Combat