Vancouver-based studio United Front Games rose to prominence around five years after its foundation in 2007, when it released the open-world action game Sleeping Dogs with Square Enix as publisher.
A spiritual successor to True Crime, it was a critical and commercial success that spawned three DLC packs and a remastered Definitive Edition. After that, United Front Games worked on the PC game Triad Wars, a spin-off that was eventually canceled.
Now the development team is going independent with Smash+Grab, an online title that recently debuted on Steam Early Access to favorable user reviews. The game is currently free to play until Tuesday, October 18th at 12pm (PDT), so should you find the following interview with Head of Production Jeff O'Connell intriguing you may just download Smash+Grab and give it a try. We also included a gameplay video at the very end of the article.
After Sleeping Dogs and Triad Wars, Smash+Grab seems to continue the trend of gang warfare for United Front Games. Why do you like this setting so much?
We love action games – specifically, third-person melee action. Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to assemble a talented team with lots of experience with these types of games. With Smash+Grab, we wanted to play to these strengths, but also bring gamers something fresh and new, and we feel like we’ve done that. S+G and Sleeping Dogs both have urban settings, but the tone and vibe of each are very different - and, actually we believe S+G stands apart from anything out there now in that respect.
Is there anything you can/want to say about Triad Wars and its cancellation?
Not really. Sometimes, the things you learn during Beta mean having to make the difficult decision not to move beyond it. In any case, we’re grateful to the fans for their support.
How long has the team been working on Smash+Grab, and how many folks do you have working on it?
We’ve been at it a couple years, and while we can’t exactly say how many folks we have on it, it’s an experienced team, with lots of titles under their belts. We believe gamers are going to see this in the quality of our Early Access offering, and we’re excited to grow the game in the months to come.
What's the core feature set of Smash+Grab?
We’ve worked really hard to bring a full and fun set of features to Smash+Grab for our Early Access (with more to come throughout it!). Some features at launch include:
- Assemble your crew from a set of melee and ranged characters
- 7 leaders to play and 13 lieutenants to back you up
- 100's of perks and vanity items to customize your characters with
- Lead your squad into deep melee-focused combat against human and AI enemies
- Collect loot, weapons, and crafting materials from an urban environment
- 12 base weapons to find and 18 weapon mods to craft
- Team up with other allied gangs to out-upgrade and outfox your enemies
- 2 competitive maps/modes; parties; private rooms; and co-op and practice against bots
How important is teamwork in the game?
Paramount! When we run tournaments in the office, good team coordination is often even more important than pure combat skill. And it’s important to take advantage of both teamwork between you and your own gang, and teamwork between your gang and the other gangs on your team.
To give an example of teamwork within your gang, many of the AI Lieutenant characters have abilities that give you, the Leader, an opportunity to act – say, by stunning an opponent, buffing your damage, or injecting enemies with a poison that causes them to deal AOE damage when they die. If you capitalize on the opportunities your Lieutenant creates, you have a big advantage over an opponent who doesn’t.
Teamwork with other players on your team is even more important. A match of Smash+Grab goes through several “rounds” and at the beginning of each round, new objectives spawn all over the map simultaneously. No one person can be everywhere, so as a team you need to coordinate to claim as much as you can – but if you spread too thin you’ll certainly lose combat encounters with the enemy. So it’s a balancing act between spreading out to grab all the loot, and sticking together to win team fights. If you have good recon and good communication you’ll have a better idea of what balance is appropriate to beat your opponents’ strategy.
How many modes are you planning for the full release? Can you make some examples?
We are not ready to reveal the details of our future modes at this time, but we are launching with 2 modes in Early Access and are working on more modes and maps right now.
Will there be deep customization for your gang (logo, motto, name etc.)? Are you planning a Tournament mode to let gangs compete within the game?
Currently you can customize a gang's roster, and appearance/perks for the leader and lieutenant. We are investigating other customization options, and we hope that a successful Early Access will help us expand into even more customization. For competitive play we are primarily looking at adding a formal Ranked Play system so players can compete for a global ranking.
Is there a level cap in the game? Also, how extensive is character customization?
Each character has a level cap, but there is no account level cap. It's worth mentioning here that characters don't get stronger as they level up in Smash+Grab, but rather they get more options, in the form of perk unlocks and vanity item unlocks for that character. Leveling up your player account awards you a random vanity item, which could be for any character. Mix-and-match characters, perks, and vanity items to create your own unique gang.
Melee combat and multiplayer are rarely combined successfully in games. What are you doing to make sure everything is synchronized in a satisfying way?
Yes, it's a unique challenge for sure! The combat system is a mix of the action game combat we are known for, and the rules of classic fighting games like Street Fighter. The core of the combat is a rock-paper-scissors relationship where attack beats grab, grab beats defend, and defend beats attack. This sort of system will be familiar to classic fighting game fans. You can mix it up by throwing in heavy attacks, evades, counters, sprint attacks, and abilities - or attempting to stagger the timing of any of your options to throw your opponent off. A 1-on-1 fight between humans can be a real chess match.
However, not every character is a human! Because each player has a gang, there are also 4 AI characters in the match for each human character. You can fight against AI characters a little more like an action game than a fighting game. So as you alternate between fighting AI and fighting humans, you get a bit of both experiences: The one-vs-many dominance that you get in action games, and the tense twitch experience of fighting games.
Obviously, several console gamers already asked you to bring Smash+Grab to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Would this only happen after the full release on PC?
We hope that a successful Early Access launch on PC will help us bring Smash+Grab to consoles.
What do you think of the PlayStation 4 Neo and Xbox One Scorpio, as a developer? Would you support them for a potential console release?
Right now our focus is on bringing the best possible game to the PC. If new hardware can help us bring it to the couch in the future, we're definitely interested.
What do you think of cross-platform play? Would that be something you would evaluate for Smash+Grab if the game is released for multiple platforms?
We’re just getting on our first platform now, but we’ll certainly evaluate cross-platform play in the future if the game finds a diverse audience (which we believe it can!).
Provided that the game turns out to be a success, would you be interested in adding a story focused single player/cooperative campaign DLC? That seems to be what many fans of Sleeping Dogs are expecting from you.
Both singleplayer and co-op play is something we are big fans of, and we’re hoping to expand into at least co-op for our full launch. Having said that, we believe the fictional world of Smash+Grab is really interesting and if people enjoy it, we’d love to delve deeper into the story with both co-op and singleplayer.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to fans?
We believe that if you’re fans of United Front Games and any of the games we’ve made over the years, you’ll enjoy Smash+Grab. We’ve put all our effort into making something that has the ‘UFG feel’ – not just the controls and action, but the colorful characters, interesting visuals, and off-beat sense of humour. We hope you give Smash+Grab a try and let us know what you think.
Thank you for your time.