Level Analysis: Cripplescreek Fistful of Frags

So for a second level analysis I decided to cover a multiplayer map. The game this level comes from is called Fistful of Frags and the level is called cripplecreek. The entire game exists in this old west re-skin of Team Fortress 2. The level in question is complete with the swinging door saloons, houses of ill repute and a town center that borrows heavily from those showdown-at-noon style standoffs from the old school cowboy westerns.

You begin in one of the 12 or so spawn points and are allowed to choose either a 6-shot revolver, sawn-off shotgun, or single-shot rifle. You get to pick one of 2-4 teams (with cowboy themed names like ‘desperados’, ‘vigilantes’ and ‘bandidos’) and are thrown into the mix. There is a wide variety of weaponry, but they all feel closer in pedigree to Dark Souls weaponry than Call of duty. All of the weapons have massive recoil and slow reloads but even the weakest weapon in the game can one-shot if you hit the right places. This leads to a level of kinaesthesia that, instead of revolving around twitchy aiming, maximizes on the tension of spotting your enemy before she spots you. No amount of running and hiding is going to save you if your girlfriend spots you before you spot her. A single shot will straight tear about 45% of your health off if they manage a body shot. It’s almost as if they were aiming to take the Shootout at the O.K. Corral and stretch it into countless hours of entertainment. I would like to take the opportunity to say now that other levels in the game have different game types like Warhead, 2v2 and FFA, however, we are only here to talk about cripplecreek today.

As far as the ending goes. Well, like the multiplayer setting of many FPSs there isn’t really one. (unless you’re From Software, take a drink) I mean, yes, the game has an endpoint but, rather than there being any fanfare or pomp, you are left with a silent leader board listing off each team and the contribution of each member. This readout usually lists off the “notoriety” (see below) along with an indicator of who made MVP.

The goal of the match is to discover all of the best vantage points for your weapon of choice in a rush to rack up the most kills for your team. This is accomplished using a system very similar to the class system of TF2. Each combination of main/sub weapon and character handedness (you may pick which hand is dominant for your character, which factors heavily into high-level play). In addition to this, there are a number of care packages that occasionally carry health ups and rare guns. This is likely to create a series of choke and scrimmage points. These choke and scrimmage points are designed to add a level of tension to each map, as all of the high-level team play in the world wont save you if the entire enemy team is packing Sharps Rifles (this game’s equivalent of the Unmaker or BFG. In short, a 3 foot can of instant death, no matter where on the body you hit) or a pump shotgun (also known as the 5 stages of mourning in 1.5 seconds)

As far as reward goes, you receive a special currency called “notoriety” which can be used to fuel progression-type upgrades like talents or weapon proficiencies. In some play modes you need this resource to buy your equipment load out, which involves things like bigger better guns.

When you fail (ie. You die) you are made to sit in spectator mode for 5 seconds before being given the option to respawn. I figure this is a very common trope in shooter games because it allows for a level of enhanced communication amongst strangers. Say someone on your team refuses to talk in chat, someone can either pop into spectator mode or die themselves to spot. I also noticed that default mode each player is set on (before picking a team) is spectator. I believe this is done for competitive purposes. In many professional circles, each team has a spotter who’s only job is to watch timers and spawn points for powerups. In short, the penalty for being bad at FoF is being allowed to play mastermind in FoF.

As far as strengths go, there is this movement that has been going behind the scenes of gaming since System Shock and growing momentum in very recent years. This movement has involved more and more devs making levels that aren’t as stereotypically “gamey”. This is used to middling effect in FoF. See, in Cripplescreek (I wonder how many times I can say that level name before I start sounding like a sociopathic healthcare worker) the levels really don’t fit snugly into shooter tropes. It almost seems like someone made this level with roleplay in mind (essay seed, roleplay in games). There is a saloon, a gun shop, a bank and a stable but not much in the way of easy vantage points. There are a few eye-in-the sky locations that are reachable and excellent for sharpshooting, but instead of shielding the path up (as Halo made popular in Blood Gulch by putting all the spawn points and vantage points in easily defended, high cover locations) most of these locations are very open to counter shots from the ground. I’m not very good at shooters but I spent a good 3 or 4 hours over the last 2 days going through this map with a fine-tooth comb and only found one spot that could easily be held by a camper.

Those of you who notice that I have thus far mentioned ‘notoriety’ twice without expanding on the subject much at all. The reason for this is that I could not for the life of me find a way to use my notoriety in Cripplecreek. This highlights the fact that your money and endgame score are decided with the same currency. In survival games like Metro or hoard-mode games like Left 4 Dead this can be used to great effect but in a game that puts zero emphasis on conservation of resources and focuses entirely on one-off half-second skirmishes it only serves to confound your ability to assess the nuances of your performance.

My over all favourite part of this level is, as I mentioned, the tension. Now, as I said, I am really bad at shooters. My friends in high school made a running game out of jumping at me with a stopwatch and timing how long it took me to react to stimulus (for the record, 3 seconds was my slowest reaction to a jump scare). That being said, I could not get enough of that tension. There is no default music to the game. Your romp through the desert town of Cripplescreek is silent as the grave with the exception of the footsteps of yourself and those sneaking up on you and the occasional spray of bullets whenever 2 people meet each other. On top of that, while it’s usually a very bad thing to set your two or more teams up in largely similar gear, the fact that the team uniforms are so blandly colored often leads to this moment of complete panic when you turn a corner and must figure out if you need to use a round of your 3 shot clip on the guy you didn’t expect to see.

As for the UI. Well, I must admit that I have a very distinct weakness for minimalist UI. There is a numeric value of health (with no bar) on the bottom left, followed by the rounds left in your clip. Other than that there is a reading in the top right that gives a running ticker of kills and streaks.

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