Virtual Gaming

Critical Mass

Critical Mass is a near-modern science fiction roleplaying action game in which players take on the roles of mercenaries in a fictitious extrasolar war zone. The Chintaraq Sector is a large star cluster on the far side of the Milky Way which features a number of habitable worlds. Several alien species inhabit the cluster alongside transhumanity, most of whom are near-human in physiology and mindset. Because the series was started pre-Fall and so before contact with the Factors this is not surprising, but multiple interviews with the game developers have stated that focus groups are not interested in "authentic" alien options, particularly for player characters.

Besides the presence of alien races, two major technological differences set the world of Critical Mass apart from the modern world. First is the widespread use of faster-than-light engines for spacecraft which allow characters to traverse easily between the stellar systems of the Chintaraq Sector. The mechanism for these engines in gravitational warping, though the specifics are carefully obscured with scientific jargon for suspension of disbelief. Despite this, the series is generally scientifically focused and has multiple technical consultants who include effects such as "warp sickness" which affects characters who warp too often and graviton fields which form in areas where ships ignite their warp engines without proper baffling structures in place. Graviton fields are extremely dangerous to craft passing through them, something which was a major part of the storyline in the Critical Mass: Inquisition expansion.

The second technological departure from the real world is the infamous "mass-creches," a semi-mystical set of implants that allow characters to manipulate mass with thoughts. This technology serves as a "cure-all" in some ways, allowing for many unrealistic technologies where real-world options are unfeasible, but only certain characters are "carriers" who are capable of handling the implants. A creche-carrier must spend a significant number of meta-resources in the game creation to balance out their powers, but they still remain the most common sort of character by far.

Currently, Critical Mass is in its third version, though both previous versions still have active communities on the mesh. Since the beginning, the series has been a major critical success. All three games have received critical acclaim for their storyline, characters, emotive AI, choices, tolerance of diversity, and the depth of the galaxy. The VR meshsite GamesFire called Critical Mass the best new franchise of the generation, saying that the galaxy was so well-constructed that it felt like a decades-old franchise and that it represented "a high-water mark for VR games as a story-telling medium."


The interface is full VR immersion with an emphasis on sensory input that has won the franchise several awards in recent years. In particular, the biologic systems and shock feedback from battles mean that players are often far more cautious in battle than with other games such as Ringworld or AlphaSight. The skill system has also received excellent critical reviews, though a large number of players complain that they feel the system penalizes characters with low-training compared to those with ranks in particular skill groups. In particular, gaming communities criticize the "critical leap" effect where a player with zero skill ranks gains a single rank and is suddenly several orders of magnitude better at a given task. Other complaints include players who are skilled in an area in real life (such as piloting, interfacing, or marksmanship) who are frustrated at being limited in their interactions with the game world because their characters are less skilled.

While the combat and skill modules of Critical Mass are highly praised, several ares of the game are routinely panned. Spaceship combat is typically viewed as unrealistic and non-intuitive (some blame this on an inner system bias since the programmers on Mars have less experience with ships than those in the outer system) and multi-player instances are less developed than single-player. Given the emphasis on planetside missions and single-player missions, however, this is not too surprising.


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