A year on from the completion of its successful Kickstarter campaign – with 10,000 backers pledging over $450,000 to the multiplayer shooter – and Battalion 1944 has secured itself a publisher, with Bulkhead teaming back up with Square Enix’s Collective division following a successful partnership in 2016 for The Turing Test. The FPS is aiming to capture what Bulkhead calls, “The core of classic multiplayer shooters,” whilst utilising advanced industry technology, such as Unreal Engine 4, motion-captured animations and physically-based rendering – tools that just weren’t available during the heyday of World War II shooters – to create a classic shooter for the modern era.
Ultimately, Battalion 1944 will live and die by its “down-the-barrel” feel – as Bulkhead likes to call it, drawing heavily from Call Of Duty 2 for inspiration – though that will be no easy task. While the classic WWII shooters are remembered for their incredibly-tight asymmetrical map design and large array of authentic weaponry, it’s the feel of those weapons that often gets overlooked or forgotten. Between weapons like the Thompson, Kar98 and the M1 Garand, each and every SMG and single-shot rifle in those genre games handled uniquely and demanded skill to appropriately wield; capturing that spirit will be the most difficult task in front of Bulkhead, plenty have tried to echo the gun-feel and handling of an Infinity Ward shooter and many have failed.
|Battalion 1944 is a throwback to a type of FPS long forgotten by modern development,
where the focus is on skill and speed in intricate asymmetrical maps. This is one for
fans of Day Of Defeat and Call Of Duty 2.
But then there is something appealing in the raw ambition alone. Battalion 1944 knows its niche and seems to be slipping into it perfectly. With the last Call Of Duty game to be set in WWII being 2008’s World At War, there’s a huge appetite for this type of experience from certain corners of the community. Battalion 1944 is going to launch later in 2017 with dedicated servers and will employ anti-cheat measures in an effort to create a fair field of combat – something Call Of Duty 2 always struggled with – while initial QA tests are being opened to the public as Bulkhead tries to lock its game balance and netcode down. Any players lamenting the lack of skill-based, old-school multiplayer shooters – the type of which were in abundance around the launch of the Xbox 360 – will surely feel at home in the antiquated battlegrounds of Battalion 1944.
Format: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Square Enix Collective
Developer: Bulkhead Interactive
Vampyr is based on the 1918 London Spanish flu pandemic, with the influenza flu outbreak augmented by the struggles of a doctor turned vampire; the push and pull between upholding the Hippocratic Oath and fulfilling a growing hunger for human blood the central narrative mechanic and gameplay hook. “The sum of your decisions and experiences as a Vampyr will trigger very different endings,” said Dontnod’s Phillipe Moreau, adding, “We have four endings, including one if you manage to finish the game without killing anyone. Trust me, that’s a hard challenge.”
We can see why. The story and levelling up mechanics are essentially tied together, where you are only rewarded XP if you decide to drain victims of their blood. That act will, of course, have its own set of consequences throughout Vampyr’s semi-open world, with the moral quandaries behind such an act pulling the story and difficulties in different directions; investigating potential victims, their lives, and trying to suss out any potential consequences is as open or closed as you’d like it to be. It’s an interesting attempt to tie RPG levelling together with nonlinear narrative conventions, but we’re desperate to play it for ourselves now, especially after such a lengthy development cycle – not to mention a release date on the near horizon.
Still, Dontnod did show us new alpha footage of Vampyr in an effort to showcase how far the game has come since E3 2016, citing a desire to avoid wasting time and resources on a new demo build. And, well, it looks impressive; a far cry from the some what limited production values of episodic Life Is Strange and its somewhat forgettable predecessor, Remember Me. Vampyr has a finality to its investigation and decision systems that other games rarely attempt to include, let alone succeed at. It promises an experience that will force us to question and confront the acts that we are committing, a game of careful selfexamination more than action blockbuster. While this all sounds good on paper, and the latest footage looks promising, it’s simply impossible to tell until we have the opportunity to finally get hands-on for ourselves. The time for Vampyr to emerge from the shadows is here. Whether Dontnod can guide it successfully into the light remains to be seen.
Format: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Release: Q4 2017
A Plague Tale: Innocence is over a year away from release. The segment we saw might not even be in the final game, but its central starring game system will be, and that’s enough to get excited about – dynamic rats. Yep, from the developers of Ratatouille comes a game where you are forced to avoid and utilise swarms of gorgeously grotesque plague rats that have essentially overwhelmed the streets of an unnamed city in medieval France.
The central premise sees two siblings attempting to reconvene with their parents and escape the city alive. Already, even at this early stage, there is a clear focus on the relationship between the two being exploited for emotional narrative drive and creating ingenious puzzles to overcome – not unlike that of Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, sans the control system of course. It’s a nice touch with plenty of promise, but it’s the rats that really hold the attention.
As a game mechanic, what Asobo has been able to achieve is interesting; as a technical accomplishment, what Asobo has been able to achieve is incredible. Swarms of rats are everywhere, with each individual creature moving dynamically and independently of one another. They react violently to splashes of light, ripples in a black sea of teeth and eyes.
The rats are attracted to flesh and shadows, terrified of the light. The kids are forced to use the environment (or a small slingshot) to create patches of light to enable for unchallenged movement, in the form of destroying lanterns and torches carried by hostile Inquisitors. It’s an admittedly tense
affair, and unflinchingly grim too; enemies are torn apart, screaming as you plunge them into darkness, using the distraction to quickly sneak past a flood of scurrying rats.
It’s too early to know how A Plague Tale will turn out, but its central premise has us hooked. It’s fluid, reactive and an intuitive solution to spicing up what could be otherwise fairly conventional light-based puzzles. Asobo has set itself a 2018 window – we can’t wait to see what it does within it.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Asobo Studio
Release: Q4 2018
Playtonic certainly has its mind focused on the modern market and is displaying the technical nous to get a beautiful result out of modern tools, despite the team cutting its collective teeth in the glory days of the late Nineties and early 2000s. However, recent announcements hint at a group of artists and devs with a keen eye on the past, too. For one, Playtonic has included eight distinct minigames in Yooka-Laylee, based in a separate arcade-style environment cultivated by the dinosaur Rextro (complete with utterly mad, garbled voice work that has tumbled straight out of Banjo-Kazooie).
“We’ve always been big fans of local multiplayer games and the kind of interaction they cause that you don’t often get online,” begins Playtonic’s Andy Robinson. “Putting our own competitive games in Yooka-Laylee was mostly because we are fans. The likes of Banjo-Tooie and Smash Bros get rolled most lunchtimes in our office.” The games themselves come in diverse forms, and from recent videos we can see puzzle aspects, a racing game and battlecentric modes, too. This comes at a time when mini-games and local multiplayer modes have rather gone our of fashion, to be honest – online multiplayer is now the order of the day, while local experiences to be enjoyed with friends have taken a backseat. The main single-player mode in Yooka- Laylee also boasts its own local couch-play element. “At any point during the singleplayer adventure, a second player can jump in using another controller and take charge of the Bee Team, an on-screen entourage who can help out by grabbing hard-to-reach Quills, preventing traps from damaging Yooka and Laylee, or by collecting and storing butterflies in order to release them later on when the buddy duo are low on health,” explains Robinson.
Although this Bee Team addition sounds, at first, like it might not be the most meaningful addition of a co-op component we’ve seen, it’s still a taste of how deep Playtonic wants Yooka-Laylee to be. Far from just being a fitting homage to the N64 days when Rare was the best mark of quality a game could bear, the prodigiously talented dev team, marketable characters and varied game modes that make up Yooka-Laylee could mark the start of a new wave of gold-standard 3D platformers when it leaps into action in April.
We thought we were doing rather well until we stepped out on a dirt track, triumphantly striding towards our jeep, and got knocked down in a hit and run, failing the mission we thought we had just completed. That was a kick in the teeth. But it was also a good indicator of just how chaotic and freewheeling Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 has become now that it has embraced a fully open sandbox approach.
The mission itself proved to be fairly straightforward with a small band of Georgian rebels holding hostages near an abandoned and decrepit church. We Expanding your crawl space approached with music blaring and kicking up dust with screeching turns in the hopes of intimidating them, but as it turned out we weren’t as close as we thought and they didn’t hear a thing. As such a stealthier approach became available and we crawled up some rocks opposite the church to get a good vantage point.
From here we could look through the scope and see who was in line for a direct shot. This was also a good opportunity to pull out our new spy drone, which we could then directly control and fly around the area. It was important to keep a certain amount of distance so as not to sound the alarm (these guys will notice a drone floating in their faces and become suspicious), while also being close enough to auto tag each hostile. With about five or six baddies in our way, we could think about charging on the building. The guards out front proved to be no trouble, helped significantly by the short distance and minimal bullet drop. There are all sorts of in-game tools you can use to read the wind direction, potential drag of gravity on your shot and so on, but we thought we would freehand these targets and enjoyed some success. With the outer perimeter secured we headed into the church and found no-one there, so a little clambering gave us a nice viewpoint on the last few rebels in the graveyard, holding guns to the heads of our hostages.
At this point we could have just rushed them with our machine gun, of course. While sniping is the primary interest of this game, you’re well-equipped for running and gunning if that’s how you want to go. Likewise, we could have attempted some close range stealth kills if we wanted, but this is Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, not Stabby: Ninja Warrior. Some quick shots took out the last guards before they could locate our shooting position in their alarm, and having freed the captives we sauntered back to the jeep for another mission… only to be hit by a van and die. Oh well, time to try again.
Format: PS4, Xbox One PC
Publisher: CI Games
Release Date: 4 April 2017
Pieces fall, and stick to the bottom if you can’t destroy them, and there are boss objects that move freely. Most interestingly, I noticed that I had instantaneous control over the game’s difficultly. If I was overwhelmed, I dropped to the bottom of the screen and was often able to wrest my position back, while everything was moving more slowly. It’s like having a difficulty slider built right into gameplay. Continuum’s concept is extremely simple and, once you get used to the idea that slowing the game down isn’t cheating, it’s really fun to play.
What really sold me on Chroma Shift, however, was the designer’s synopsis of the story. Through finding collectibles, you learn about the facility, a scientist, and what has happened. Dialogue is delivered while you play, providing a strong impetus to keep searching for solutions. It’s also worth noting that the 2D levels, with 3D background, are beautifully detailed, if sparse, in this strange place. I’m looking forward to relaxed conversations and intriguing revelations at full release.
Concept: Cole Black has woken up without any memories, save for an attempt to save a teenage girl with a bomb strapped to her, so can he piece his past back together?
There comes a point in a game’s development where you would hope that any mysteries surrounding its gameplay mechanics and perhaps even genre would be set aside, but nearly three years in and we’re still not clear on Get Even. What started out as an interesting FPS premise involving multiplayer adversaries in a single-player narrative and impressive scanning tech being used to render insanely detailed locations, now looks like a psychological horror experience mixed liberally with high-tech military hardware and some kind of VR experience. But then, who’s to say that these ideas are mutually exclusive? We’re just not sure.
Get Even has essentially been reannounced thanks to a publishing partnership between developer The Farm 51 and Bandai Namco. The new big tech selling point is Auro-3D technology, which promises cutting-edge 3D acoustics. Visually, it has lost a little of its oomph from our earliest impressions of the game, but that’s really only because so much time has passed. It’s really not a bad looking title at all, albeit that many of its locations are rather drab and grey at the moment. The addition of some more colourful and outdoor locations will hopefully stop the game from feeling like a throwback to the grey and brown days of early Xbox 360 titles.
|The gun combat in the game doesn’t look amazing at present, but it’s not entirely clear how much
time will be spent needing it.
What’s becoming clear though is that with your protagonist’s memory lost, you’ll be piecing together the mystery of a girl you believe you were supposed to be saving, possibly flashing back with the help of a VR device (Oculus Rift support has been on the cards for some time). Thanks to a handy smartphone you’ll be investigating the locations you visit, attempting to gather evidence, all the while threatened by some creepy characters and more real-world militarised adversaries. There’s a definite Condemned vibe coming off the whole affair, which is no bad thing in our eyes. We had always expected that Get Even would be more or less a straightforward FPS experience and some of that appears to have been retained thanks to things like a form of CornerShot gun that lets you aim around corners. Moving from moments that feel like they’re straight out of Outlast to those that could be part of a stealth section in Call Of Duty is going to be an interesting challenge for The Farm 51 to balance.
Some of the combat at present looks a little stiff and overall the animations aren’t looking as good as they could, but The Farm 51 has indicated that with Bandai Namco’s support it has more resources available now for polishing the game up. It feels as if Get Even has moved a far distance away from its original concept, but there’s still some promise here.
Format: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: The Farm 51
Release: Q2 2017
The Farm 51 has been working in some interesting areas of FPS development over the years, dipping its toes into action adventure briefly and ill-fatedly as it turned out with Deadfall Adventures.
Still, it’s a studio that has shown some promise and it’s been working on Get Even for some time.
Time Ace 2007 [DS]
NecroVisioN 2009 [PC]
Painkiller: Hell & Damnation 2012 [Multi]
Deadfall Adventures 2013 [Multi]
The Farm 51 has yet to have much by the way of critical success, but its stab at Painkiller showed some promise. Tech advancements with Get Even will hopefully pay off.