United Front Studio’s SMASH+GRAB is a fast paced gang warfare title set in a lawless dystopia. The second game from the critically acclaimed developers of Sleeping Dogs, United Front have pivoted into an entirely new environment, and they’ve brought their talent with them.
After arriving at a subway station in a destitute city center, you and 2 other gangs face off in small maps truncated by dingy alleyways full of cash and weapons for you and your crew to indulge in. It’s a 3v3 multiplayer game with a variety of influences that shape an exciting game.
Walking around with my posse, I’m immediately reminded of The Warriors and Alex’s ultra-violent band of Droogs from A Clockwork Orange. The cyberpunk aesthetic is thick in the air, and the tense first few minutes in a match deliver a punchy hit of adrenaline as you await the action. Your crew of five has a leader, a lieutenant and three stock fighters who follow you around. You can deck them out with weapons and power-ups that you find around the map.
The point of each match is to gain fifty thousand dollars as fast as possible. The way you do this is by smashing shop windows and grabbing the cash. The stores are ranked and unlocked as the matches go on, culminating in a department store sized shop flanked by guards. When the doors open regardless of who offs the guards, it is open season in there, which means that you’re always under the gun and rushing to get the most cash.
The act of actually doing this is, unfortunately, one of my only complaints about the game. It’s essentially a scripted event where you hold the button as you hit the window or smash the grating, and the same to collect. Where Sleeping Dogs and SMASH+GRAB shine is the melee combat, and I feel like it would make more sense to give each window a percentage that lowers when you actually hit it with your weapons. The lack of haptic feedback and the vulnerability of it being a scripted event leave this part of the game feeling lackluster.
However, the actual combat is seriously impressive. It’s surprisingly brutal, and the lack of rules and consequential abundance of low blows really match what the aesthetic is going for. The point of the combat is to deter the other gangs away from the cash, so every encounter feels like a gritty ambush.
I had fun finding a variety of weapons including shovels and claw hammers as well as crossbows, and being able to mix and match them between my crew as well as upgrading them in certain machines dotted around the map. I was able to turn my hammer icy, which slowed enemies when I clobbered them with it. In a game all about speed, this is tremendously important. You can also find power-ups which give you more speed or health, as well as a mega-upgrade which turns you into The Flash on steroids.
The mega-upgrade reminds me a lot of Roshan from DOTA, and that’s not where the MOBA similarities end. The lane filled maps and guarded stores which give you money, the drone deliveries at key intervals in the match, but most importantly the wide choice of characters and progression systems on show.
In the main menu, you can pick your poison, choosing a leader, lieutenant and soldier type. Leaders can either be disablers, fighters and raiders, and they have a light, heavy and ranged archetype.
I first played as Upscribe, who has an aerosol which can be used to blind enemies with fire in the middle of battle, as well as perks that increase his speed. I later used Nil, a nihilist by description. His special ability is that he can run forever at the detriment of his health. In a game built around pace, this is a great example of smart game design and a fun way to bond his gameplay style to his characterisation.
Lieutenants are also interchangeable. The one I picked called Blaze could set a flaming ring around his feet to protect himself, but others are more offensive in nature. A League Of Legends inspired ‘Masteries’ tree is also contained in the package, which allows you to improve your favorite leaders on a statistical level, as well as fully fledged vanity menu to change their appearance. You can really make your gang unique, and it creates a great sense of identity.
A lot of thought has gone into the characters and world of SMASH+GRAB, and the exciting gameplay reflects the passion held in it’s aesthetic. United Front Games have again proven that they know how to make combat fun, and it can only get better as the game is developed through Early Access.
SMASH+GRAB was previewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.