In the gaming universe, one of the most often heard complaints is the opinion that there are no “new ideas” for games anymore. Apparently, you can only have so many iterations on a genre before a pattern develops and other games begin to follow it. While this may be true in a manner of speaking, it’s extremely interesting to see a game that takes the best of two different gaming genres and blends them into one. In a world of gaming where every developer is trying desperately to come up with “the next big thing”, it’s quite refreshing to see games that focus on gameplay that is solid and leads to a fun gaming experience. Not every game needs to be built on completely unique ideas in order to actually be something truly unique. Sometimes as a gamer you crave familiar and solid gameplay mechanics, and an experience that you can jump into and immediately feel familiar with. If you’re looking for a game that delivers those key things, you will be happy to know: that’s exactly what JForce delivers in their Xbox Live Indie Game; Murder Miners. Self labelled as a mash-up of Halo and Minecraft, Murder Miners delivers the fast paced shooting gameplay of Halo along with the graphic style and map editing capabilities of Minecraft. No, I’m not lying. Yes, I’m sure it’s true. Most every gamer needs to return to their roots once in a while to refresh themselves and remember the gold old days. Even the large development team behind the often underrated game Darksiders admitted to being heavily inspired by the Legend of Zelda Series, Metroid, and God of War. The theory of this is a solid one: Find what some games are doing right and what people really enjoy, and then use what works as a foundation and build upon that.
Like the description of the game itself, Murder Miners is pretty shameless about being a conglomeration of the Mega franchises of Halo and Minecraft. Don’t take that to mean it’s a bad game though. Though at first glance you may only see a flat mashup, if you look closer you’ll notice that JForce has managed to create something entirely new by combining the best of both worlds. If you have ever played either of the games it pays extreme homage to, you will feel right at home in Murder Miners. Fans of Halo should be able to drop right into a game and start racking up the kills right away; the aim boxes and even the weapon models are similar. The control scheme is also standard for an FPS with the analog sticks being used for moving/strafing, and the right for looking around. Swapping between weapons is still “Y”, Reload is “X” like many popular shooters, and “A” of course is jumping. The respawn system is also fairly standard, although you have to choose your load out every time you die. You have access to a few different modes such as free-for-all, team deathmatch, or infection. Zombie Survival is a completely different beast and is addressed below. But enough about just the FPS side: All these shooting elements make for a strong game, but what about the Minecraft side?
Murder Miners certainly looks like a ripoff of Minecraft. But beyond graphics, Murder Miner’s true strength and unique feature is the “MinerGun” and the options it gives you. Taking one of the two weapon slots you possess, the Minergun is essentially free access to a “creative mode” without actually being in the map creator mode. You can change the entire layout of the map with both block placement and destruction, if these are turned on in that specific map. Imagine how much of a game changer it can be when you not only have to worry about being shot, but also about what the enemy team is doing to gain advantage in terrain and cover, while creating advantages for yourself and your team. In the hands of a skilled player, the MinerGun can be deadly, using the laser blaster option to destroy the very blocks people rely on for footing and making them fall to their deaths. On the flip side, it can also be used in inventive ways that have nothing to do with any sort of fighting but rather a creative process, much like the crazy projects you see on YouTube for Minecraft. You can already find extremely faithful remakes of famous Call of Duty Maps like NukeTown or High Rise in the multiplayer lobbies, and the community is only growing stronger.
Murder Miners draws on the graphical simplicity that is Minecraft, a world made up entirely of building “blocks”. The environment looks and feels like I’m about to be fighting off a creeper or some other mob any minute. On top of this homage to Mojang’s hit wonder, JForce has also provided a decently deep character editor, allowing you to pick and choose your avatar’s armor style as well as color. If you’re used to the blocky features of Minecraft itself, there were be little to likely no transition time for you. If you’ve never played before, the simplicity of it should still be fairly enough that you can recognize enemies and kill them quickly enough. The folks at JForce have also given you a vast library of block styles to choose from when in map editor mode, so you can be sure your eyes will never get bored looking at the same thing every time. The color range is immense, and with the ability to change a map’s backdrop from things like clouds or a starry night, setting the mood of a map is even easier. The feature image for this article is actually one of the artistic maps available for you to jump in and experience the creative side as well.
During gunfight’s the graphics stay the exact same with no leakage of colors or slow down. Explosions and grenade smoke are all simple but effective, and everything looks beautiful thanks to the quirkiness of the Minecraft-esque graphic models. Everything looks sharp and clear, a wonderful result of using such a system. A distance fade makes extremely long distance sniping harder, but the range of the gun is still far above anything else. Simple graphics also means almost no lag whatsoever; I only had a noticeable lag when in absolutely huge maps with almost a full lobby. Server lag is something that plagues the Xbox version of Minecraft, so it’s nice to see that JForce has something working on that solution constantly.
Here we are at last, the area where I wasn’t quite as pleased with Murder Miners. Although the sound clips for the guns sound great, I don’t feel like they go quite right with the look and feel of the game. I think I might have preferred them to sound a bit more 8 bit, and not as realistic. In a more realistic looking game it would fit much better, as the cartoonish aspect of this game seems more comfortable with fantastical sounds. On top of that, the music is barely even memorable, and might as well scream “I’m just here to fill space!!!!”. This is definitely an area they could have improved on, though with the solid gameplay they deliver it’s definitely not a deal breaker for me. I would just certainly welcome any change to it, if only to not be as monotonous.
Multiplayer in Murder Miners functions almost more like a PC game than an Xbox Indie title. Players can host maps and other players can join and leave as they please, which can make for both a relief from the “penalized for leaving a game” annoyances, but also has the potential to annoy you because no one will stay in a game with you; but this is also offset by the fact that new people join fairly often. I really like the way this is set up because you don’t have to rely on a matchmaking system to find other like players, which in an indie game could cause you to be stuck in a queue trying to find someone for hours. The weapon balance in multiplayer is much as expected, with a wheel selection popping up every time you spawn allowing you to select two out of the group. The weapons are very Halo-esque, even to the point of looking almost completely identical in both looks and damage. The pistol is a dangerous short-range powerhouse, much like the trusty Magnum. The Assault Rifle is the soldier’s tried and true spray’n’pray with decent accuracy and a reload time to match. The Shotgun is the only thing that I found to be less powerful than its Halo counterpart, but even with a slight nerf it’s still the thing to have in close quarter exchanges. The only weapon I thought might be a bit overpowered is the Sniper Rifle. During my play time with it I found that the Sniper Rifle sometimes could zoom almost past the distance fade, meaning that I could snipe someone without them ever knowing I was there. This was not always true and will probably be fixed in an update, something the game devs are very good at doing (in fact it might already be fixed, as it’s updated itself just now!). That said, the sniper rifle is a beast at long-range, although an expert at the halo style of sniping would be deadly at every range.
Beyond the competitive multiplayer, there is also a unique feature to be found in the Zombie Survival mode. This mode scared the beejeezus out of me, yet also became my favorite while reviewing this game. When you first log in to it, you get a popup message from the developers that this mode is not completed yet, and to play at your own risk. How right they are. Survive long enough ( hint: like every good zombie apocalypse, the shotgun is your friend for blasting these freakish undead) and you’ll be confronted with mobs of zombie running at you. You won’t survive long, I promise. The most fun I had in this game was playing this mode with my girlfriend, who is an avid Halo fan. We had a complete blast accidentally killing each other, and running for our lives when we killed too many zombies and had whole groups flinging themselves across the map. Oh, I didn’t mention that? These things hop around like the Flood on steroids mixed with Freddy Kreuger and Pennywise the clown. Nightmare Fuel. We found out the hard way that you cannot build a tower with the miner gun and hide on top of it in fear. Those suckers have hops.
Final Thoughts: -
So, what exactly is Murder Miners? In my opinion it’s a great and imaginative combination of two of my favorite gaming series, blending what makes both great and loses nothing in the process but rather becomes something more. This game has a potential to be a great “party game” for friends to just mess around in together. Throw on a blank map and set the timer for 15-20 minutes, build yourself a fort, and when the timer hits zero have at each other! Game of Capture the flag could have infinite pathways to the flag, or hide it entirely. Not your thing? Go blast zombies with your best friend and see how long you can last. The concept is so simple even if someone has never played before they’ll learn almost instantly. And of course, why not build yourself a castle? Not only could you easily lose hours designing just the right map, you’d probably have a blast doing it too. I think JForce has a winner here, and just needs to get the word out about it. I highly recommend that you purchase this game if only to give it a try to see why the Indie market is so special and important to gaming: innovation and combination of great game play aspects have combined to make Murder Miners an absolute hit, in my opinion. And for only 80 Microsoft Points….Well let’s just say if you don’t buy it…..What’s wrong with you?
Publisher: Microsoft, Developer: JForce
Release Date: September 9th, 2012
Platforms: Xbox 360 Digital: Yes
Game Cost: 80 MsPoints ($1) XBLIG Community Rating: Violence=3/3, Sex=0/3, Mature Content=2/3
Local: 1-4 Splitscreen Online: 1-20
Online Pass: No