23/12/2017

Review: Voxel Turf "An impressive mash-up of GTA & Minecraft that just spreads itself too thinly to be a must-have purchase"

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Voxel Turf
Platform reviewed: PC (Steam)
Rating: Melting
Voxel Turf is a crossover of the modern Grand theft Auto video games and Minecraft.
A valiant attempt to meld two of the biggest franchises in gaming that falls frustratingly short of genuine greatness.


The game was entirely developed by a one-man team (Liam Twigger) over a period of several years and is an extremely laudable undertaking but I feel that, out of all the games that I have reviewed for Games Freezer thus far that this game is the one that could really have benefitted from a small team or perhaps a Kickstarter. The idea is so solid but the execution feels held back due to the time constraints and general limitations of a one-man team in a genre mix that is so bold and full of scope.
As a mash-up of GTA and Minecraft, the game is presented in a mostly first-person perspective which changes to third-person when in a vehicle and a top-down style when constructing. The game world is presented in a voxel-based style that was more reminiscent of the LEGO aesthetic to me than Minecraft due to the bright colours and general vibrancy. The world is populated by other characters and vehicles that fill out quite a large city complete with gun stores, gyms, apartment complexes, lakes etc. all of which are fully destructible. There are also cars and vans (and recent patches have introduced hovercrafts and boats!) roaming the streets and seas which can be stolen and driven off into the sunset.
Voxel Turf also features a day/night cycle and missions that can be undertaken to get more cash and level up your character. These missions involve stealing items from stores, driving an ambulance, street races and taking out bandits or rival gangs to name a few. There are also sixteen rival factions in the city which you can battle with and instigate turf wars as well as the ability to set up protection rackets against the inhabitants and companies that make up the city.
If you are the kind of player that leans more towards CONstruction as opposed to DEstruction, Voxel Turf also caters for this as well with the ability to either wander around, building on a randomly generated world or even a blank canvas on which you can completely build up your own city block by block or by using the 50+ pre-made buildings.
The graphics are basic, smooth and colourful and when the music in the game kicks in, it trundles along merrily in the background and completely fits with the visuals, bouncy and fun.



From reading the above, hopefully, you get a sense of how ambitious Voxel Turf is. When I was reading up on the game I was really excited as it seemed such a great idea and the trailers and Steam description completely sold me on it. Unfortunately the game, whilst being hugely impressive falls just short of being truly enjoyable.
The controls in the game are so complex that mapping them to a gamepad is really troublesome. When I first selected the gamepad and booted up Voxel Turf, the ‘run’ button was mapped to my ‘fire’ button whenever I was holding a weapon but there were no free buttons on the pad to re-map. Every button is filled to the brim with sometimes multiple purposes, rotating blocks means selecting the relevant block with the D-pad, holding the left trigger to prep it and then tapping the left shoulder button to rotate before placement. The game does an admirable job of trying to layout the controls as best it can but in the end, I opted to use a mixture of the game-pad and keyboard as I found it more straightforward albeit more cumbersome.
The music in the game is really enjoyable but seems to drop in and out randomly, which is a shame as without it the world seems quiet, filled only with the sound of car engines and incidental noises. As players can usually spend hours upon hours in these sorts of games building structures and towns, I would have thought a constant soundtrack would have been more fitting as an accompaniment. When you commit a crime and are noticed by the Old Bill (This happened to me a LOT), chase music kicks in which is quite cool and adds to the atmosphere.



Whilst I’m on the subject of the police, this is another section of the game which I had mixed feelings about. Stealing a car and being seen by the Bacon results in an enjoyable chase around the map. However, if you commit a more serious crime, for instance if you shoot someone (which isn’t too violent as the voxel characters simply break apart, so it’s not too gruesome for younger players) or commit armed robbery, the Rozzers will be all over you like Vasoline on Burt Reynolds during that scene in Demi Moore’s ‘Striptease’ (1996). They are KEEN to arrest/kill you and are a nightmare to evade. I’ll paint a picture of one of my favourite moments of the game:
One of my missions was to steal some items locked in a room behind a steel door in the gun shop. I spent a few minutes scoping out my target, wandering into the store, checking out any roof-top access from neighbouring buildings, etc. and eventually settled on buying some grenades from the very gun store I was to rob, nonchalantly whistling as I entered the alleyway behind it, then blowing a hole in the back of the building, dashing in, stealing the loot and driving off into the night with my spoils.
Of course….I failed. Everything was going swimmingly until I blew the hole in the wall and walked into the room, an alarm sounded and before I could say ‘bacon sandwich’ I was besieged by Blues and Twos then gunned down in a hail of bullets… mission failed.  The second time I blocked off the alleyway with stolen cars (genius) but was then swamped by the Donut Patrol as I made it onto the street in my car. The physics of the game combined with the AI mean that you usually end up getting thrown into the air and toppled by police cars as they hone in on you like ants. It feels quite impossible to escape due to the nature of how aggressively the coppers engulf you.
Another time something similar happened and I managed to make it to the roof of a nearby apartment complex. I stood up there for a few minutes but the sirens didn’t stop, so I opened a roof hatch and was instantly killed by the gunfire from about twenty officers who were waiting in the stairwell, it feels quite oppressive and I quickly learned that any time the police are involved, it usually spells a mission failed.
This oddly high level of difficulty bleeds throughout Voxel Turf. In the street races, other cars drive completely perfectly leaving little room for error and requiring that you take any short-cut that you possibly can in order to come close to winning. Turf wars or hi-jacking a bandit hideout means you have to load up on guns (bring your friends)and body armour to stand any sort of a chance because they will run towards you shooting wildly the second that they see you.
Moving on to the building/turf side of the game, it really is quite in-depth and earning money is vital. You can do this not only through missions but by racketeering and owning coffee shops, gyms etc. all of which will generate income, allowing you to expand your empire. It’s a great idea but implemented with a complexity that requires patience to fully understand. Due to the sheer amount of detail held on the HUD, I often found menus overlapping each other, adding to the confusion.
The impression that I got was that the game has lofty ambitions and great intentions but could use some refining to add more enjoyment. As you enter buildings, characters pop up, often standing on desks or with their heads through the ceiling. This usually isn’t a problem beyond it looking rather odd, but if you are entering a huge apartment building needing to speak to a certain person and the ‘!’ icon above their head is glitched through a ceiling because they are standing on a desk or table, it means that you have to systematically talk to everyone in the building, which is a pain. Talking to someone also doesn’t lock them in place so they could be having a conversation with you whilst wandering off, small issues like this add up to a feeling of the game needing a few more tweaks.
The developer has been regular with patches and support which is awesome as the game has only recently been released and I can imagine that with some refinement to the issues I’ve mentioned, Voxel Turf would be one of my favourite indie games, especially if there was some sort of narrative-driven mission structure running through it with a definite end-game for those of us who enjoy a through-line (also, split-screen co-op would be amazing).
As it stands, Voxel Turf is a good pick-up for its price tag but be prepared for its limitations. If building is your thing, as a budget alternative to Minecraft it can be fun to develop a city from scratch whilst occasionally dipping into some online turf-war action but if you approach the game for its more GTA-oriented sections, you may find it lacking and simplistic.
I’d love to be able to re-review this game in six months or so and deem it to be one of the best of the year once all of its issues are ironed out, it’s a huge endeavour for a one-man team and it feels so close to being a game-changer that I hope the post-release support from the developer and community grows as it’s a genuinely tasty concept that I will follow over the coming months.
Right, I’m off to hassle the fuzz some more!
RATING: MELTING

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

Game Link: Steam
Dev Link: Voxel Turf













Review By Britt