The true value of a game console, more than its raw hardware capabilities, is its library of exclusive games. We got hands-on time with the latest timed exclusive for Stadia — Crayta, a hub for both playing games and creating games of your own — and think it could very well be Stadia’s killer app.

The very first thing you do upon launching Crayta for the first time is create a character. This avatar, for which you’ll constantly be unlocking new customization options, will serve as your unique stamp on the world.

From there, the world of Crayta is now open to you, with two distinct modes for two very distinct types of people: players and creators. The ambitious goal of Crayta, though, is to blend these groups together and make more players into creators.

Play mode

Most people will want to get started in the Play mode, the basis for which is a social space called The Hub. Here you’ll find dozens of other players and a curated collection of featured games on billboards. Simply walk up and activate the sign to hop into a random instance of that game. This experience is already incredibly immersive, and with a little exploration, it’s clear that The Hub has room to grow.

What actually happens when you jump into a game will vary depending on which game you’ve chosen. Ahead of launch, Unit 2 Games coordinated with a few different indie game design teams to create unique experiences.

In our brief hands-on time, I got the chance to try a small handful of games:

  • Huddle for Warmth, a survival exploration game about overactive air conditioning units causing a second ice age
  • Super DOOM Wall, which felt like participating in a wacky Japanese game show
  • Prop Hunt, a hilarious game of hide and seek which should be familiar to anyone who has played Garry’s Mod

Being from three different teams, these games had absolutely nothing in common beyond using your personalized avatar. That said, each one was an absolute blast, especially with a larger group of players.

There are only about a dozen games available to try at launch, but these are simply meant to serve as inspiration for the community to dig into Create mode, which is what truly makes Crayta special. Thanks to Unit 2’s generous prize funds — yes, Crayta’s top creators will be monetarily rewarded, including a dedicated prize fund for Black creators — players should always have something new and exciting to play, or so is the promise. Only time will tell whether Crayta truly takes off.

Create mode

Create mode is where the real magic of Crayta lies, as Unit 2 has managed to take the power of the same Unreal Engine 4 that powers games like Fortnite and make it accessible for the average game player to become a game creator. To get you started, Crayta includes a handful of common game types, such as “Collection Game” and “Team Deathmatch,” that you can use to get familiar with Crayta’s map creator.

Continuing the immersion, you’ll begin Create mode still using your customized avatar to navigate the new world you’re building. This “basic” mode is more than enough for simple level creation by walking around, placing things from a library of objects and props, and building the world with voxels (3D blocks, think like Minecraft, but smaller).

Before long, though, you’ll likely want to move more freely and edit the finer details of your world and game settings. That’s when your trusty drone comes into play, bringing an “advanced” editor to freely fly around and tweak details about each and every aspect. Going even deeper, you can customize almost everything by using scripts written in Lua.

More importantly, at any point, you can invite friends to help both in the creation process and in playtesting your latest work-in-progress game and map. A group of lightly experienced, well-intentioned people could probably build an interesting new map in under an hour. Or an uncoordinated group of people can build a chaotic mess in 20 minutes, which is what occurred in our press demo.

The collaboration aspect even continues into the script editor, which features the Google Docs-like ability to have more than one person editing the same code simultaneously.

All of that said, Crayta doesn’t currently lend itself well to creation through exploration. There’s not really an in-game tutorial to teach you how best to use the many, many tools that have been put in your hands. For that, you’ll instead need to rely upon the series of videos and web tutorials that Unit 2 has launched to help get your bearings.

All in all, Crayta’s Create mode feels like Halo 3’s Forge mode on steroids. As someone who grew up on the incredible unpaid community creations built in Halo’s Forge, I’m excited to see what previously unheard of experiences Crayta will enable, especially with creators being appropriately rewarded for their efforts.

Is Crayta Stadia’s “killer app?”

It would be an understatement to say that Crayta is Google Stadia’s most ambitious game and its most exciting exclusive. However, it’s impossible to say now whether or not Crayta will become the killer exclusive that Stadia desperately needs.

Everything depends on whether or not Crayta is able to gain the necessary traction with both creators to make the games and players to enjoy them. Something about the immersive experience that Crayta offers gives me hope that this could actually be possible, but only time will tell for certain.

Crayta will launch into the Google Stadia store this Wednesday, July 1, as a free title for Stadia Pro members.

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