Inside Pulse 12

Deep Silver NYC Press Event

Last week, Deep Silver held a press event in New York City to showcase five of their upcoming games, and fellow staffer Chris Bowen made the trek with me to the event. The featured games were Risen (360, PC), Cursed Mountain (Wii), Mytran Wars (PSP), The Humans (DS, PC), and Fritz Chess (DS). Upon stepping into the rooms where the event was taking place, we saw presentations of Risen and Cursed Mountain. We were then given the opportunity to ask questions and try out the games for ourselves. Read on for our impressions of each game.

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RISEN

Chris Bowen: One of the main games being shown off at the Deep Silver event was Risen, an RPG which has you, as the player, starting off shipwrecked on an island, and having to get about and survive with very little left to your name.

There are two major gameplay ideas that stand out to me as I saw and briefly played an early build. The first is that it seems everything can be built up over time in this game. Your fighting skills, your weapon proficiency, as well as other skills, such as blacksmithing and botany. There’s an extremely involved skill system that requires a bit of patience and dedication, but will deeply please gamers that are dedicated enough to learning everything that their character can do.

The second aspect I noticed was a clan-based NPC involvement mechanic. You can befriend specific clans, who can help you in fights, be it arena fights or real ones. In fact, I was impressed by the insane amount of detail that went into the NPC system that didn’t show up to me in the bit of gameplay that I saw. For example, if you were to murder someone in the area and no one saw it, word would pass around, and your dealings on the island would be affected by the fact that everyone had heard that people are getting murdered; this makes everyone tighten up and stop trusting people, causing you, as the character, to have to work harder to gain trust and get favours. While there’s no moral system to be found in this game, the way they go about this was interesting to me in the little I saw of the game.

Risen is developed by a company named Piranha Bytes. Once I found the company was German, dots started to connect in my head. The whole time I was being presented this game, I had a thought in the back of my head saying “this reminds me a lot of Drakensang“, which is Germany’s #1 tabletop game. There are differences; the control is WASD based (meaning more action oriented control and combat, versus the Diablo-style combat seen in Drakensang), and this doesn’t seem to have the tabletop background, but one can see where the influences lie. I noticed that even in the early build, the graphics looked pretty good, and the music really played up the game’s tremendous sense of atmosphere. Things aren’t perfect; the plot, from what little I saw, seriously needs work to be effectual. However, I have faith that this game can compete with Drakensang in America the way it did in Germany for the hearts of RPG gamers, provided the rough edges are smoothed.

Risen will release in the US and EU for the PC and XBox 360 on October 2nd, 2009. The 360 version is being outsourced to another developer, so pay heed to that; the game’s control scheme seems more in-tune with mouse-and-keyboard to start with. Furthermore, there are reports that Australia has refused to rate the game – essentially scuttling it there – due to some mature themes.

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CURSED MOUNTAIN

Aileen Coe: Cursed Mountain intrigued me as someone with an affinity for horror games, particularly specter saturated ones like the Fatal Frame games, and upon seeing the game in action I wasn’t disappointed. The story puts you in the shoes of Eric Simmons, a mountaineer searching for his missing brother Frank, who disappeared during a climb up Mount Chomolonzo. The 1980s era was picked as the setting for the game because of the lack of technology available then, leaving one’s own abilities and instincts as the only tools at hand (other than a walkie-talkie and radio, but those aren’t much help if there’s no one on the other end). Eric has a psychic connection with his brother, so touching any of Frank’s possessions will trigger a flashback. You’ll also find various documents and journal excerpts that further fleshes out the plot, though you don’t need to find and read them all to understand the story.

The game draws heavily from Himalayan and Tibetan mythology. One of the most prominent examples of this influence would be the use of prayer gestures, which Tibetan monks often perform as they chant prayers. The enemies, which consists of ghosts and spirits trapped in the mountain, contain prayers needed to defeat them, and you do so by weakening them, then ripping out the prayers through prayer gestures. Prayer gestures have other functions as well; prayer symbols appear on certain objects, and performing the prayer gestures on them will uncover a secret, like a hidden room or passage. The enemy designs are based on various mythological creatures, though they incorporate different elements from multiple creatures rather than one being a straight representation of one creature. After an encounter with an enigmatic monk, you’ll gain the ability to enter Bardo (and thus use prayer gestures), the transitional state between mortal life and Nirvana. When in Bardo, you’ll be able to see prayer symbols and the souls haunting the mountain. The souls beckon to you and beg you to help them, but touching them will take a sizable chunk of your health away.

The controls took some adjusting to, although the tutorial does a good job in acclimating you to them. Nailing the right timing and motion for the prayer gestures also took a bit of practice, as getting one wrong meant you had to do them all over again. In that sense, performing the prayer gestures felt somewhat like playing a rhythm game. The pickaxe will become your best friend, as you can use it for melee attacks, increase the power of its ranged attacks with relics (though one relic will bestow an energy lasso), and use it as a climbing aid, as well break open urns with it. There’s no auto aiming, so you’ll have to become proficient at aiming if you want to land any shots. Your main method of healing is burning incense sticks at altars, though you also regenerate health gradually over time. You can choose to kill enemies with just normal melee attacks, but entering Bardo and finishing off enemies with prayer gestures yields you health auras, which are especially helpful if you sustained damaged in combat. All save points are automatic, which may irk some who like to choose where to save, but from what I played their placement seemed fair i.e. right before a boss fight. It’s at least a better alternative to running around searching for a few scattered save points.

The game contains an abundance of panoramic views, and the environments are rendered beautifully and take full advantage of the Wii’s graphical capabilities. Throughout the entire trek you can see where you’ve been and where you need to go; looking down at places you previously visited from higher up the mountain is a nice scenic indicator of your process, while looking upward at your next destination can be somewhat awe inducing. The views are mostly unobstructed since the only information displayed in the HUD is a life meter, and that’s only displayed when there are enemies nearby, so you can enjoy them in their full glory while walking around. There are areas that achromatize and where you start to lose health if you linger too long, which adds to the eerie atmosphere. One neat built in gameplay hint is that you’re always climbing upwards, and if you find yourself heading downhill, that’s an indication you’re going the wrong way. That particular feature should help cut down on frustration from trying to find the next destination.

Cursed Mountain will be released on August 25. A collector’s edition will also be made available, which will come in a tin and contain exclusive footage, a making of feature, and a soundtrack.

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MYTRAN WARS

Chris Bowen: As our resident Fire Emblem fanboy, I’m always up for a good SRPG romp. My desire for SRPG mayhem was somewhat quenched by Mytran Wars.

The plot for Mytran Wars is set in the 23rd Century. As humans expand into space for natural resources that have been depleted on Earth, one planet in particular is found to have an abnormal amount. However, as humans are wont to do, a massive war breaks out, which you, as a hotshot straight out of the academy, are thrust into, as a mecha pilot.

The first thing that struck my eyes was the presentation between battles; they’re done in a comic book style that will be familiar to any fans of Marvel Comics. In-game battles are going to be easy to jump into for veterans of the genre; you move your mecha and determine who to fire on based on what weapon you’re weilding. There’s an emphasis on numbers and flanking; by getting behind enemies, or flanking them with other units, you gain bonuses to damage dealt during initial turns, which adds a strategic element to what would otherwise be a pretty standard strategy game. Parts for your mecha can be purchased between stages with money earned during combat.

Mytran Wars was delayed, and will be coming out September 15th. That’s probably not a bad thing, as the gameplay in my preview copy was bog-slow and hard to maneuver. Also, the main change that gamers will see from our preview copy is that online play was completely taken out of the game. It’s not exactly clear as to why this was, but initial reactions seem to be that Sony was somehow responsible. That company baffles me, but even without online play, so long as the speed issues are worked out, Mytran Wars has the potential to be a good game.

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THE HUMANS

Aileen Coe:The Humans is a remake of the platformer/puzzle game that came out in 1992 on the PC, Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Gameboy. It’s been made for both the DS and the PC, but only the DS version was on hand for hands-on play. Your goal is to help a tribe of humans discover some new technology, like the spear and the wheel, so that they can win the race for evolution. The key to success is teamwork, and you’ll need to use all the humans at your disposal in order to complete the stages. For example, you may have to stack humans to reach a higher platform, or have one human vault across a gap and throw the spear to their fellow humans so that they can use it as well (careful, though – you can kill one of your hapless Neanderthals if you hit them with the spear). Sometimes humans will be taken prisoner, and you’ll need to rescue them to proceed.

There are some changes that fans of the original may love or hate. For starters, your humans have gained the ability to jump, meaning you no longer need the spear to traverse small gaps. Given the platforming nature of the game, this makes sense and it works well. You can still vault with the spear, and you’ll need to in order to cross longer gaps. You also no longer need to toggle from, say, throwing a spear to vaulting with it in order to perform said action, you can just press the corresponding button to do so. Moving feels a little slow, but then again cavemen aren’t exactly known for their speed and agility.

You start off with a certain amount of humans, only this time you don’t start with twelve and have to make do with just those for the whole game. Instead they can die up to five times before the game declares your tribe extinct and you have to retry the stage. The number is restored after you beat each level, so you don’t have to worry as much about conserving enough humans from level to level, only about getting through a stage. This does make things somewhat easier, but if you’re not careful, those five lives will quickly evaporate. The humans also now have a life meter, meaning they can now absorb hits from enemies. However, falling into pits or from high heights still spells instant death for them.

There’s a map of the whole stage on the top screen, and you can scroll around at any time by pressing the arrows around the screen. This feature is a welcome one, as one thing that irritated me about the original was not being able to scroll around the screen or look at an overview to get a feel for the stage and figure out how to proceed. The graphics have an overall brighter color scheme compared to the original. The humans have also received a new look, poofy black hair that covers their eyes and rather prominent noses. Whether this is good or bad depends on your preferences.

So just how well does it measure up to the original? The game is slated to be released around the same time as Fritz Chess, so we’ll soon be able to see for ourselves.

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FRITZ CHESS

Chris Bowen: For a strategy buff, I might be one of the worst chess players in the history of the game. I can’t string together strategy to save my life, and any attempts to do so are usually destroyed within five moves of my starting a game. Despite this, I’ve been a player of the Chessmaster games for years now, and I own the latest version on PSP. It hasn’t made me *better* at chess, but at the very least, I’ve beaten the virtual eleven year olds. Chris Bowen: Sophisticate Extraordinaire.

Deep Silver, with the market essentially cornered by Chessmaster, is releasing Fritz Chess, a miniature version of the noted Fritz 11 playing engine, for the DS. Fritz is one of the more intricate Chess A.I. systems out, so having a system like that on the DS is intimidating. But does it make it a good game?

Most of the options you find in Fritz Chess – rated gaming, alternative versions of Chess, etc. – are options we’ve seen in other Chess games. However, what got the novice in me to pay attention was the practice mode. In this, you play against an A.I. robot opponent that likes to taunt you as you play, but as you play, the game shows you the immediate repercussions of your move; ie, if you move a knight into position to take the queen, it will show that via a green arrow, but if it’s in position to be taken by a rook, that’s also shown, via a red arrow. Furthermore, there’s a secondary A.I. that reminds me a little bit too much of Max Headroom, who’s only job is seemingly to tell you that you’re making a crappy move. Naturally, I saw a lot of Max Jr., and hopefully, some time with this game will make me see less of him. God, I hope so; my nightmares have not stopped for a bloody week. I’m going to see that image saying “THAT IS A BAD MOVE” on my death bed…

Will Fritz Chess be able to challenge Chessmaster‘s throne? We’ll find out soon, as the release of Fritz Chess, as of this writing, is imminent.

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And there you have it. All in all, there seem to be some strong and varied showings from Deep Silver. Check back here after their release dates for full reviews.