Hands on preview overload: Namco Summer Shindig – Inversion, Ridge Racer: Unbounded, Dark Souls and Soul Calibur V
Tucked away just off the promenade of London’s sunny South Bank, The Bargehouse is certainly a unique venue in which to showcase video games. Looking more like a disused warehouse more suited to a Batman villain than a space for an Industry Showcase, it is nevertheless the venue tonight for Namco Bandai’s Summer Shindig; a lively evening filled with keynote presentations on some of the company’s most anticipated games, as well as a Hog Roast (complete with ‘display hog’), hands-on with a few games and a Tekken tournament.
Namco appear to have opted for a dark and dismal, somewhat dingy theme for the evening’s proceedings. Focussing on games that err towards the more destructive aspect of modern gaming, it certainly fits the mood; upturned cars, gothic candelabras, crumbling statues and remnants of military hardware litter the rooms, and even in the relative serenity of the ‘oriental’ setting for Soul Calibur V, we are kept on our toes by the lingering threat of various blade-based weaponry (and Sai!) dangling menacingly from the ceiling. Luckily there is plenty of complimentary – ahem – refreshments to lighten the mood.
Kicking things off, Namco Bandai Product Manager Gary Chandler introduced physics-based action shooter Inversion. Developed by Saber Interactive, Inversion is very much inspired by third-person cover shooters such as Gears of War (how could it not be?). Instead of taking the reins as yet another grizzled space marine however, the game instead introduces us to David Russel; just another ordinary cop searching for his daughter in the middle of an alien invasion.
The demo we are shown, Chandler explains, is taken from a level later in the game, and it certainly seems to be set closer to the heart of where the invading hordes are congregated; lava flows all around the characters (Russel has invited his partner Leo Delgado along for some zero-g fun), and it looks as though we’re heading for the centre of the earth. From here on in it’s relatively standard fare, although we are shown some of the unique abilities that stolen alien weapon – the ‘Grav Gun’ – is capable of: pulling enemies out of cover, manipulating lava or barrels, etc, to fling at them, pulling them to the ground (until they’re nothing more than pulp!) and even crushing weaker enemies completely. What we aren’t shown (but are assured is possible) is the gun being used to pull down entire buildings within the city-based environments. Apparently around two-thirds of Inversion is based in the streets of the crippled city, and a short demo shows off what we can expect come February 10th 2012.
The main campaign will be playable with a co-op partner, and competitive multi-player options are promised, although not elaborated on. Coming across (for the time being, at least) like a cross between Bulletstorm, Half-Life 2 and Gears of War, and entering an already saturated genre, Inversion certainly has its work cut out in order to stand out from the crowd. On this early evidence, it looks like it may struggle.
Apparently wanting to keep us on a theme with overly familiar looking titles, Ridge Racer: Unbounded not only has a typically ridiculous name for a racing game, it’s also “not Ridge Racer 8″. This seems obvious very early on as Ridge Racer: Unbounded comes speeding onto the screen, because it basically looks like every western racing game released in the last 4 years.
Developed by Bugbear Entertainment, who you may remember from the FlatOut franchise, it appears that Namco have drafted them in to muscle in on the already busy genre we’ve dubbed ‘Destructo-Racing’. Set in the fictional city of Shatter Bay, the game follows the trials and tribulations of the Unbounded street racing gang, lead by adrenaline junkie Kara Shindo. Producer Joonas Laakso explains the premise as having to “prove your worth, get respect and expand your turf.”
If you’ve ever played Burnout, Motorstorm, Split Second, or any of the more recent Need For Speed games, you already know exactly what to expect from Ridge Racer Unbounded. The action centres around taking out rivals, and using unique areas around each city-based track to transform the route, or scupper the other racers. Outside of the glaring similarities to other games however, there are some features that Bugbear have built-in to the game that do impress; the in-game HUD is actually built into the environment, for example. This looks similar to the method used in Splinter Cell: Conviction, where information such as your current score (accrued by destroying scenery or other racers) and position are displayed on buildings or alongside you on the road, rather than a fixed position on the screen. Okay, it’s purely cosmetic, but in amongst the admittedly impressive high-octane destruction going on around you, it’s a nice touch.
Multi-player options were mentioned, although Laakso was remaining tight-lipped on specifics. He did however hint at the prospect of user-created content, confirming the potential to race in “hundreds of different cities”. When pressed as to how this was possible, the wry Fin merely stated that the creation of that quantity of tracks was “not practical for [us] to produce.” In response to whether or not die-hard Ridge Racer fans were buying in to Unbounded however, it seems Bugbear have had their work cut out, but this is not Ridge Racer 8. Unfortunately, neither is it particularly original.
Preparetodie.com, on the other hand, is a rather more striking introduction to one of Namco’s more anticipated games. It’s a teaser website for Dark Souls, spiritual successor to From Software’s hit RPG Demon Souls. Coming to the Xbox for the first time, Demon Souls is, according to Product Manager Blaise Rodier;
Set in a rich, dark fantasy universe [and] features tense dungeon crawling, fearsome enemy encounters and ground-breaking online features which combine for a truly unique RPG experience. Dark Souls breaks down barriers with a seamless world design that encourages exploration and fosters adaptability. As players encounter terrifying enemies and discover new areas, the game’s foundation of challenge and reward permeates the experience to provide an unparalleled sense of achievement.
This is no understatement, as the exclusive playthrough we were shown had a “fully upgraded character” fighting for his life in something resembling Deathtrap Dungeon; pitfalls lay in wait around every corner, huge beasts and menacing creatures jostle for the opportunity to relieve you of your head, and all the while a boulder-throwing balrog launches rock shaped pain and suffering specifically in your direction.
White lights mark your exit from one section of the map to the next, although you can essentially progress through the game via a variety of routes, and entirely at your own pace. This is key, as one thing this game requires is your dedication to levelling up. Put simply, without a powerful character, you’re dead meat. You’re dead meat anyway, but at least if your character is more powerful you may live long enough to find out what you’re still doing wrong.
Dark Souls is basically a game of trial and error, and is enhanced via Xbox Live by allowing ‘Phantoms’ to appear, marking other players’ progress. Player’s failures can be witnessed by keen-eyed crusaders with ‘Soul Memory’, allowing them to avoid the same bloody fates of those that have travelled before them, but perhaps more interesting is the ability to leave a ‘Soul Message’ warning fellow players of what lies ahead, or providing hints and tips. NPCs or up to 4 co-op players can log in to help you out, which should make for a lot of interesting teamwork, particularly when all trying to traverse a bridge that’s only 2 feet wide while swinging axes grow ever more frequent.
As with most RPGs worth their salt these days, the Limited Edition of the game was confirmed and detailed, including:
- MAKING-OF DVD: All the cinematic materials related to game – trailers, dev diaries, gameplay footage, interviews and making-of exclusive video.
- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK CD: Audio-CD with in-game music.
- ARTWORK: All the artworks and preliminary designs featured in an exclusive Artbook.
- GAME GUIDE: Dark Souls digital game guide for both novice and experienced role-playing fans.
Released on 7th October 2011, It all looks fantastically epic, and should be a worthy addition to (or indeed leader of) the burgeoning console RPG scene. The only thing holding this game back may be its sheer level of difficulty, as players are likely to find themselves on the sharp end of something nasty with an unrelenting frequency (I did). Okay, that’s entirely the point, and I for one relish it, but it’s still a format that western gamers have yet to really get to grips with.
One game that knows all about getting to grips with things is Soul Calibur V. After entering what appears to be some kind of ancient Japanese Dojo, complete with complimentary Sake, we settle down on the cushioned floor for a few rounds with new characters. The code we were shown is in fact straight out of Comic-Con, and features around 4 or 5 of the new environments (including a fantastic looking graveyard stage, as well as a cage and the classic ‘sinking ship’ level) along with seven characters; Z.W.E.I, Ivy, Mitsurugi, Siegfried, Natsu, Patrolkus and Pyrrha.
If you are unaware, the development team behind the entire Soul Calibur series, Project Soul, actually dissolved after the release of Soul Calibur IV. Subsequent sustained and frantic fan demand led to the team getting back together to develop this new chapter, set 17 years after the events of SCIV. Hisaharu Tago, speaking from a pre-recorded video, explained that Project Soul felt a compulsion to return to the series after the fevered response from fans, and has pledged that they wish to “continue to make more Soul Calibur, to 6, 7, 8, 9, and beyond.”
In terms of what’s new about Soul Calibur V (besides the new character additions), Namco promise “increased strategy, and vow to make sure [the game] is more dynamic.” At face value, it looks pretty much like just another Soul Calibur game, but that’s not really a bad thing when you see the slick animations and solid 8-way battle system. The addition of a ‘Critical Gauge’ brings more than a hint of Street Fighter IV to the proceedings, with each character having both a Brave Edge and Critical Edge, the second of which is capable of wiping out your opponent’s power bar in one swift blow. Much like SFIV, the critical moves move into a scripted sequence where you are afforded the opportunity to bask in a few seconds of your character delivering punishing blows while you gloat copiously.
Everything seems to be coming together very nicely at this early stage of development (the game’s not due until at least Q1 2012), and it certainly seems like a fresh take on the series after the lukewarm reception Soul Calibur IV received. However, what seems most appealing is the almost vintage feel surrounding the returning characters. Not unlike Heihachi or Yoshimitsu from Tekken, Soul Calibur heroes Mitsurugi and Siegfried – although appearing as the elder statesmen here – lend a nostalgic Edge (pun intended) to the game, making it feel a lot more ‘Old School’ in much the same way Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have managed successfully during this generation. This is definitely a game to be getting excited about if you remember the series’ early days fondly, and for anyone that’s looking for a new challenge in beat-em-ups, you could a lot worse than to hedge your bets on Soul Calibur V next year.
The final game waiting for us is Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, but this is where our article ends. Now, don’t be hasty – we’ve saved the best ‘til last in order to direct you to our complete hands-on preview with the game over on our… well, our previews page! Head on over there for an in-depth report.