Whilst it might look like it at a glance, Smugglecraft isn’t your conventional racing game. Rather than competing exclusively in high-octane races across the game’s polygonal courses, the main focus is instead on racing against the clock to complete quests for the various characters you’ll meet in the game. The main single player campaign will see you working to complete these quests in order to pay off your debt to a loan shark. Don’t make the payments on time and you get your kneecaps smashed in and are left stranded naked on a mountain. Probably.
Smugglecraft puts you in the shoes of a smuggler who gets caught up with a string of debt. In order to pay this off, you have to complete a series of often questionable missions and earn yourself some cash. At the end of each in-game day, you pay off some of your debt – of course, you could ‘delay’ this if you please, though it does mean your debt collector will ensure you’ll have a lot more heat on your back during later missions. It’s a risk and reward system that means greed will help you improve your hovercraft with ease, but at the risk of your safety.
The game’s narrative is actually a nice touch, with plenty of small side stories cropping up in the world of Smugglecraft. It’s clear that plenty of care and attention has gone into it, plus you’re even able to make a few choices that can affect how things pan out. This is carried over into the game’s quests too, where you’re actually able to decide if you complete each job or screw over quest givers for your own benefit. Smugglers aren’t known for being trustworthy folk, you know!
The quests you’re given typically consist of delivering items, retrieving items, or racing against opponents – there are a few additional types on offer, but they make up the bulk of it. Despite the variety of missions available though, they typically boil down to simply making your way from point A to B in as fast a time as possible. There are plenty of things to be wary of on these missions such as how much gas you have and how much damage your hovercraft has taken, but for the most part Smugglecraft’s gameplay simply boils down to driving fast and avoiding any nasty obstacles in your way.
It’s a neat system and one that has the potential to work really well, though I found that the missions never really varied up all that much. In fact, I felt like I saw everything they had to offer within my first hour with the game. You’d have different objectives to complete for different people yet they all felt the same, with nothing ever really standing out as unique. If it was simply a racing game it’d be more forgivable – I mean, racing games always boil down to one thing after all – but Smugglecraft’s emphasis on questing left a lot to be desired.
As you progress through the game you’ll be able to customise your hovercraft with a decent variety of upgrades, with some coming as a reward for completing missions and others purchased with your hard-earned cash. Each upgrade will affect your hovercraft’s stats in different ways, be with things like your speed getting increased, improved handling, or stronger armour ensuring you’ll have an easier time taking on the game’s countless trials. The freedom of customisation is nice, whilst the fact you’re able to make cosmetic changes to your hovercraft is great too. It’s a pretty fleshed out system and something I enjoyed playing around with – sure, some of the changes could simply be cosmetic ones, but it always added that extra bit of incentive to go for the top prizes across the game’s missions.
Rather than having a set of pre-made tracks, Smugglecraft instead offers procedurally generated courses that ensure you’re always racing across something new. They vary up well, with a decent amount of dangerous areas mixed up with open canyons where you’re able to really take advantage of your hovercraft’s speed. Whilst these randomly generated tracks were a nice touch to begin with though, it didn’t take long before I started seeing familiar sights over and over again. Sure, the tracks were new each time, but they were made up of parts that would be used time and time again. In a way, it made the game lose some of its sense of identity; whilst the meat and bones of Smugglecraft is found within its customisation options and questing, the constant sense of familiarity in its courses made me feel like I was simply doing the same old things over and over. Add that to the repetitive nature of the missions and you’ll quickly find yourself feeling a little bored of the game.
One interesting feature that Smugglecraft does have is that when you die, you die. The game takes a roguelike approach that means death is the end – you’ll have to start the campaign over from scratch, with all your money and inventory taken away from you. It can be a cruel twist after working hard in the game, though it does add a bit more excitement to the experience. There are plenty of opportunities for you to meet your end in the game, be it hostile drivers or the countless hazards littered across each track. One single mistake can be costly, so not only do you have to drive as fast as you can but as carefully as possible too. The main story is pretty short in fairness so you don’t lose much, but still, it’ll definitely make you think a little whilst on a dangerous run.
There are multiplayer modes on offer in Smugglecraft with both online and offline split-screen options available. It’s something neat to check out with friends, but in honesty it doesn’t do enough to really suck you in. The game itself can be pretty basic at times, and without any exciting new gameplay elements added to the multiplayer modes you’ll quickly find yourself moving on to meatier, more enjoyable titles to play with friends.
Smugglecraft mixes up old-school racing with questing nicely, but the lack of variety in the gameplay and the sense of familiarity you’ll quickly feel means it won’t take too long before you start getting bored. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination – it just doesn’t really do enough to hook you in.
Whilst it certainly has moments where it really shines, it also has moments where you’ll be left thinking “I’ve done this before”. With a bit more polish and variety it could’ve been something special, but as it stands it’s a little hard to recommend Smugglecraft over the better titles that are available right now.
Developer: Happy Badger Studio
Publisher: Happy Badger Studio
Release Date: 24/05/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC, Mac, Linux