Gameplay consists of jetpacking around a battlefield shooting at people. The funny thing about these battlefields is that they're two-sided, so each level has a background and a foreground. You can switch between these by stepping through various doors littered throughout each level. You can see people fighting in the background in real time, helping you locate more people to shoot at.
The game will ship with eight levels, ranging from a cave, a jungle fort and a dilapidated ruins. When we spoke to the producer of the game at E3, however, he was keen to tell us that the dev team is planning on plenty of post-launch downloadable content.
When you step into a level you're given a choice of primary weapons, secondary weapons and explosives. Primary weapons range from grenade and rocket launchers to sniper rifles to high tech lasers. There are also more powerful weapons that you can pick up for a limited time within the levels, such as the minigun or plasma rifle. Each time you die you're able to choose your gear again before you respawn.
Deaths are quick and bloody, with each character exploding in a cloud of blood and guts, even when killed with a non-explosive weapon. If you manage to survive a few kills without dying, however, you'll be able to select one of three power ups -- extra health, extra speed and bigger jetpack flames. Live long enough and you can collect all three, but die and you'll lose any that you've gathered up to that point.
Your jetpack is your main method of transport, allowing you to fly for a limited time. It can also be combined with a forward roll to send you rocketing across the ground. Performing the same action while in midair allows you to fly much faster, but a lot more erratically. Getting the extra flamey jetpack power up will kill anyone who you come into contact with while performing either of these moves.
You're not restricted to your jetpack, however. There are also vehicles to take advantage of. Not necessarily expected for a 2D game, but they work surprisingly well. In most levels will be a tank and/or a jeep. These run on tracks throughout the battlefield but can also jump and fly for a short time. They can also go through doors to the other side of the level. They make killing your opponents a lot easier thanks to their built-in weapons and the ability to run over pedestrians. The downside is you're a much bigger target.
There are also turrets littering the levels, allowing you to go into first-person mode and shoot at people fighting in the background. Meanwhile, you'll be vulnerable to people who stumble upon you in the foreground. Both the turrets and vehicles help break up the jump-and-shoot gameplay when necessary.
While Crash Commando is a multiplayer online game, there is a single player mode. It's called "Boot Camp" and it sees you fighting through various scenarios to get you prepared for the online experience. Complete a level with enough points and you'll get a Commando medal. The game also features extensive player profiles, listing your total kills, deats, KDR, total score, etc. There's a leveling and experience system, though it's not clear exactly what this adds to the gameplay.
Up to 12 players can battle it out online and the game supports voice chat. There's no split screen multiplayer, but there's the possibility of it being added later. There's also the option of changing the camera distance from your character. The aiming reticule, a red or blue line extending from your character when you press the right analogue stick in any direction, can be quite difficult to see from afar. Moving the camera further in makes this easier to see, but also allows your enemies to see you before you see them, so it's a toss up.
Our other qualm with the preview build is that it's difficult to know when you're reloading as there's only an audio clue to tell you. When you're surrounded by people shooting and exploding in clouds of blood, it can be difficult to hear and you'll be confused as to why you're pressing the R1 button but aren't firing. Some visual clue of sort would be a lot more clear.
We expect a lot of people to take to this game when it releases in December. There's no doubt that there'll be a loyal online following, hungry for more expansion content (a la Warhawk). The game's looking solid and is really fun to play. We just hope the developers decide to patch in a split screen mode, as Crash Commando would make an excellent party game.