One of the many unimportant thoughts that tumble around my head from time to time is how eSports should be a genre rather than a term referencing professional gaming. Even before Rocket League started off its own trend, there were countless examples of games that forgo storytelling and progression to present what would be called a sport in most any other context. In much the same way that I enjoyed watching the Olympics in my youth purely for the sheer variety of competition, I now enjoy crafting my own tournaments with friends and engaging in the offbeat rulesets and playstyles that only video games can provide. One future contender is Aftercharge, a 3v3 asymmetrical multiplayer game from Chainsawsome Games, who you might know as the folks behind Knight Squad. I got to sit down with some of the team, play a few rounds of their new game, and learn the ins and outs of attacking and defending power nodes.
When you first jump into the game, you are assigned to one of two teams. The attackers are hulking robots that are invisible whenever they're not throwing punches or being shot. The defenders are a bit more nimble and wield firearms and airstrikes in order to keep the attackers from destroying their power nodes. The one map in the game currently has five such stations, and it's the attacker's job to punch them to death, and the defender's job to take out the attackers before that happens. Pretty simple, but the invisibility of the attackers is really where the game gets interesting. Sneaking around and planning strategies while you're right next to the defenders is fun, as is trying to predict the movements of invisible foes by shooting at thin air and spamming areas with missile strikes.
As an attacker, I found that stick and move strategies were best, but you can't really be a lone wolf. You have to mind your team's positioning because it's important to keep each partner up and running to stay in the fight. If you die, you're down but not out, and your teammates can revive you, but they'll have a difficult time doing so if they're on the other side of the map. It's also difficult to revive teammates as a dead attacker will let defenders know where the attackers are heading, and you'll need a good distraction in order to get in, revive and then scatter back to the winds.
On the flip side, defenders have to put their lives on the line a bit less frequently, but they're tied to their power nodes. A defender's gun can only recharge their weapons when standing close to an active node, and your rate of charge depends on how damaged that node is. So, attackers can whittle down the health of every node and then have more room to maneuver, knowing that there will be fewer bullets flying around the battlefield. One strategy I saw used frequently by the developers when playing defense was to push the dead bodies of attackers into a pile of corpses and then spam that area with air strikes, forcing the remaining attacker to either go it alone or risk failure in order to revive the team.
That's really about it as it stands. Aftercharge is planning on releasing in early 2018, and the build I played was still in a very early alpha state. Even so, the fundamentals do seem to be quite polished. The game's graphical style gives off vibes of Team Fortress 2 mixed with a heavy dose of neon, and the shooting is competent enough to satisfy what they're going for. What will really make the game stand out is how much variety they can add to their base game. When asked, the developers confirmed that the current attackers and defenders are just a single class, and several others with entirely different powers and abilities would be added in development. Aftercharge is also a game where the map matters, so having a collection of maps in addition to mixing and matching different types of robots could solve the variety problem right off the bat and create all kinds of new strategies.
As it is, Aftercharge has a lot of promise, and I'll be eager to see more of it when it's ready. What I sampled was just like playing Smash Bros. with four Marios on Final Destination, and the real meat of the game will be in that character and map variety. There are also several pretty key ways to improve the gameplay (such as adding health indicators to the power nodes), but the developers seemed well aware of the current build's limitations. We already know that the team at Chainsawsome (that is a word to type right there) knows how to make a great multiplayer game, so here's hoping that the final product lives up to that potential.
Aftercharge was previewed on PC via Steam with an early alpha build provided by the developers.