Summary: We take a look at some of the hottest upcoming first person shooters for this year and next, including an ultra detailed peek at Unreal Tournament 2003, and writeups of Unreal II: The Awakening, Ubi's cel-shaded XIII, No One Lives Forever 2, James Bond 007: Nightfire, and the newest installment to SWAT.
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Unreal Tournament established itself back in late 1999 as the shooter of choice for discriminating action FPS fans. Though it never really supplanted Quake 3 as the game of choice in most of the big money tournaments, UT did appear in a few money tournaments and remains about as popular as Quake 3 in terms of number of players online at any given moment. There were a number of aspects that made UT so popular – among them were the variation in game modes (CTF, Assault, etc), and the variety in weapons.
Single player and gameplay
Though it’s probably not what most people will play it for, UT 2003 brings a more robust single player experience to the table. Whereas the single player game in the first UT was nothing but a glorified ladder with bots, UT 2003’s single player will feel more like a team management experience. Players will go through the various game modes with NPC teammates. In the matches, players will be able to order their teammates to help them accomplish objectives, escort, or protect certain areas. As you progress up the leagues, your teammates will gain experience, and become more skilled while adapting to your style of gameplay. However, if certain teammates are not working out for you, you have the ability to hire and fire your teammates, just as a general manager/coach can sign and waive players in real life professional sports. Certain teammates will have strengths and weaknesses, and affinities for certain weapons, depending on what species they are.
Perhaps the most intriguing gameplay innovation in UT 2003 are the special moves which are activated by adrenaline pills. Scattered throughout the map, players can gather in adrenaline pills and store them up. Your supply of adrenaline pills does not go away when you die, so you can choose to use them as you get them or save them up for extended use later on in the map; the more pills you have saved up, the longer your super power will be activated. Using adrenaline pills as a resource, players can punch in special key combos to activate super powers. One of these is added speed, where you’ll run much faster and have yellow streaks flying out behind you. Speed boosting could be incredibly handy for getting that extra bit of oomph needed to escape with a flag in CTF or chase down a flag carrier. Another super power is Berserk, where you fire faster and do more damage with your shots than normal. There are a few other super powers but these were not revealed to us at the show.
SIDEBAR: Covering E3 alone is not for the faint of heart.
During my 20 minute demo of UT 2003 behind closed doors, I was able to glean a ton of information about the weapons and how they’ve been changed. You’ll see some old favorites with new twists, and a couple new items as well.
The Assault Rifle - The rifle takes the place of the Enforcer handguns of UT. Primary fire is a rapid fire machine gun, while secondary fire comes from an underslung grenade launcher. Think M4 carbine with an M203 grenade launcher underneath, only more futuristic looking.
The Shock Rifle - The ASMD Shock Rifle from UT remains mostly unchanged in 2003. Primary fire is still a hitscan laser, while secondary fire shoots a slower moving blob of energy that can be combo’ed with the primary fire for a more devastating explosive shot. For those of you who never played UT, remember blowing bubbles as a kid and trying to shoot them with a water pistol? It’s the same idea. The secondary fire is the bubble, while the primary fire is the water stream you try to hit the bubble with. Only when you do made contact, the “bubble” doesn’t pop harmlessly; anyone nearby takes critical damage!
The Link Gun - The pulse blaster from UT gets a slight change in UT 2003. Yes, the primary fire still shoots out rapid fire balls of plasma, and the secondary fire is still a lightning-gun-like shaft. The difference with the Link Gun is that several teammates with Link Guns can combine forces and have one man with a super gun. If one or more players shafts a teammate holding a Link Gun, then the targeted teammate gathers up that power and his Link Gun becomes uber-powerful as he fires it. This added power does not come without a price though. All the linked players share damage and health to a degree, so if one of the linked players starts getting shot, all the others feel it. It’s like Tomax and Xamot – the twin Crimson Commanders in GI Joe; you hurt one, you hurt the other.
The Goop Gun - Yes, the snot gun from UT makes a reappearance in UT 2003 (unfortunately). It works the same as in the first one – primary fire shoots out a small bit of corrosive goop that sticks to the ground. Holding down secondary fire loads up a larger booger that explodes into smaller snotballs on contact. The only difference is that if you repeatedly shoot more goop into an existing puddle, that puddle will grow accordingly larger.
The Mini Gun - In the original UT, the mini gun basically had two speeds, a rapid fire with a tighter spread, and a ridiculously fast rate of fire with a larger spread. That ridiculous rate of fire with the large spread is now the primary attack in UT 2003. Secondary fire is now a much much slower rate, but it shoots explosive rounds with great precision.
The Flak Cannon - One of the most powerful weapons in UT was the flak cannon. In UT 2003, the primary fire is still a grenade-like ball that explodes on contact with devastating results. However, targeted players can now protect themselves by shooting this ball out of the air, if they are skilled enough. Secondary fire for the flak cannon is still like a long range shotgun with bouncing pellets, but now distance affects the damage and speed of the particles a lot more. In other words, this weapon has been toned down somewhat in UT 2003.
SIDEBAR: Is it a little too obvious that I think the Goop Gun sucks?
Rocket Launcher - In UT it was possible to load up and fire up to six rockets in a horizontal or vertical spread. In an effort to reduce spamming, now you can only load up and fire 3 rockets at a time in UT 2003. Also, the secondary grenade launcher feature has been removed (it’s on the assault rifle now), so secondary fire on the UT 2003 rocket launcher is a Quake-style “instant rocket” where the missile fires with no lag.
The Sniper Rifle - One of the cheesier aspects of the original UT was hiding up in a good spot and firing off headshots one after another. Since there was no way to tell where the shot was coming from, usually there wasn’t much need to move around. The sniper gun in UT 2003 is a long range lightning rifle. You still get a hitscan shot from long range, but you can visibly trace the lightning shot back to its source, like the laser rifle in Tribes. It’s also worth noting that when the lightning gun hits a target, three bits of lightning chain out randomly from where it hits, making it a useful weapon to fire into groups.
The Translocator - UT’s Translocator was one of that game’s most original ideas. It was a gun that would shoot out a little receiver piece with the primary fire. Hitting secondary fire would warp you over to that spot, so it was a useful little piece of hardware for getting up to high places or getting over the top of walls. In UT 2003, there is now a rechargeable stack of five translocation receivers for each player (it recharges slowly over time). The limited stack makes it so that players cannot just warp themselves repeatedly across the map in cheesy fashion.
Secondary fire for the translocator is a camera mode where the little receiver piece becomes a remote camera that players can spin and look around in place with. The clarity of the image from this camera degrades the farther away the player is from the receiver piece. If you shoot a camera that a player is currently spying with, it shocks the player, damaging him slightly.
Ion Cannon Targeting Laser - Replacing the Redeemer guided missile in UT 2003 is an ion cannon targeting laser. You paint a target on the map with it for a couple of seconds, and a satellite-mounted Ion Cannon vaporizes any player within a certain radius of the shot. It is so powerful that enemies caught in the central radius of the shot literally turn into skeletons. At a larger radius, players caught within the blast take severe damage, but don’t get completely fried.
Of the new game modes included in UT 2003, the one Infogrames is most excited about is Bombing Run. The concept is relatively simple. Two teams, each with a base, and a scoring area. One bomb spawns in the center of the map. The bomb is like a football of sorts. The ballcarrier must deliver the bomb to the scoring area either by running it in, or by passing (throwing) it into the scoring area (worth less points than a run). The ball can be passed like a football from one teammate to another, but while it is in the air, it can also be intercepted by an opposing team member. An added twist is that the ball carrier cannot shoot his weapons but does have a faster rate of health regeneration. He also glows brightly on the screen to make his position obvious.
Estimated Release: Fall 2003
Unreal 2 official home page: http://www.unreal2.com/
Where’s the story
Legend Entertainment carries the banner for Epic in making Unreal 2: the Awakening. Unreal 2 will be single player only, focusing in on making the best possible story driven experience, since UT 2003 is already taking care of the multiplayer angle. The story this time around is that the player takes the role of a galactic police officer. Strange alien artifacts are being rediscovered in your system, sparking up battles over their possession. You have discovered a few of them yourself, and it’s your job to find out what these artifacts are and why certain factions are fighting for them.
Multiple ways to approach a mission
We were shown two different missions in our demonstration – the first one was an outdoor level, which the player has made an emergency landing on. Your ship has been damaged, and the ship’s mechanic needs time to fix the damage. Meanwhile, there are mercenary dropships patrolling overhead, looking for you in an attempt to take you out. The mission is to defend the ship for long enough to repair it and get off the planet.
The AI is smart enough to react to the barriers and traps you place. We also saw some of the AI enemies maneuvering behind cover. The mercenaries used their superior numbers fairly intelligently, always trying to get around the player while he was occupied with shooting someone else.
The other mission I saw was set in a much less organic level – the homeworld of the Drakk, a planet overrun by sentient machines. The gloomy look and feel of the Drakk levels remind one of the “true Earth” revealed in The Matrix. One of the more creative elements on Drakk was the presence of fast moving repair druids. As you shoot and destroy the Drakk soldier bots, the repair droid comes around and repairs them, allowing them to get back up and start shooting again. Obviously they become a key target as you make your way around the planet.
The boys are back
It’s also worth noting that the Skaarj make an appearance in Unreal 2 in dramatic fashion. In one of the levels you make your way up a long elevator shaft, when all of a sudden, the elevator stops its ascension. Looking up, you see the lights of all the upper floors go dark, one by one, starting from the top floor, on down until the darkness reaches your elevator, and the elevator’s lights go out. A couple of seconds pass until a large beast lands on the top of your elevator, tearing away at the top of it like a tin can, until finally you stand face to face with the glowing eyes of a Skaarj warrior. With moments like these, and interesting gameplay elements, Unreal 2 is shaping up to be a real winner
Estimated Release: Q1 2003
One of the more interesting shooters at the show was a game called XIII, in development at Ubisoft. Unlike most first person shooters that use graphics engines which try to get as close to realism as possible, XIII goes for a cel-shaded approach in its graphics, giving it a comic style feel. Looking at the style and theme of XIII reminded me of the old Golgo 13 games for Nintendo.
XIII is based on a French comic book of the same name – you play the role of a special forces operative who has lost his memory and is falsely accused of assassinating the US President. Your job is to escape the forces trying to capture or kill you and solve the mystery of who really killed the President. You’ll have the help of an old commanding general who believes that you’d never commit such a dastardly deed.
The appeal of the cel-shaded approach is that it gives the FPS genre a fresh look and feel. Sometimes those of us at FS as well as you readers concentrate a little too much on the minutiae of FPS graphics, taking careful note of model animation, model detail, shadowing, etc. XIII’s cel shaded graphics allow us to step back a bit and concentrate on the gameplay and storyline a bit more and not worry too much about the technology behind the game.
You can see from the screenshots, the stylistic manner in which the game is drawn. XIII borrows other aspects of comic books by utilizing onomatopoeic captions within the gameplay. For example, when you shoot an enemy, in addition to spilling a bit of blood, he’ll yell out “NOOOOOO” or “ARRGHHH” in big letters on the screen. Though potentially cheesy, I felt that the touch was artistic and fit in with the look and feel of the game.
I see dead people!
XIII does not rely on its cel shaded nature to make it a compelling game. The developers have incorporated a gameplay feature called Sixth Sense. Similar to the Scrye ability in Clive Barker’s Undying, Sixth Sense acts as a gameplay interrupt, cueing in a short cut scene in black and white that acts as a flashback to the player of something that happened before. Basically you’re getting a bit of your memory back, which will act as a clue for you to use in the rest of the current mission. Unlike Scryeing, the Sixth Sense feature can sometimes bring up a playable flashback where you can run and shoot. The Sixth Sense also works in regular gameplay sequences, clueing the player in to enemies that may be hidden behind a door or wall. You can see this example in one of the screenshots, where a soldier walking behind a while makes a TAP TAP TAP TAP noise that you can see on screen via the onomatopoeic captions. This is another example of a gameplay element that borrows from the comic book genre.
XIII features a lot of interaction with the environment – you can pick up most anything you find in the levels, including chairs or broken bottles, and use them as weapons. In my demo I was able to break a chair over the head of an unsuspecting soldier, WWF-style. One of the most innovative and fun elements I saw was the ability to grab enemies from behind and get them into a headlock. From here you have a couple of choices – you can either snap his neck and kill him silently that way, or you can keep him in the headlock with one arm and walk around with him as a hostage, while holding a one-handed weapon in the other hand (a pistol or uzi, for instance). Essentially you’re using the enemy as a human shield!
XIII features a wide variety of weapons, ranging from Beretta pistols to throwing knives, to M16s with underslung grenade launchers, and more. We also noticed bazookas, Kalashnikov assault rifles, Uzis, sniper rifles, and a sniper crossbow. One of the multiplayer modes will be Cover Me, similar to the first mission of No One Lives Forever, where one player acts as a sniper, covering the other one.
SIDEBAR: The game is called XIII because the only clue to your identity is the roman numeral “XIII” tattooed to the main character’s collarbone.
Estimated Release: 2003
Following up on greatness
The original No One Lives Forever was a breath of fresh air to a then stale FPS genre. With its irreverent humor, hilarious dialogue and items, and most importantly, fresh and creative missions, NOLF became a huge hit with the critics and a game of the year candidate when it came out. That being the case, No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way has some big shoes to fill. Cate Archer is back as the top secret agent for UNITY. Angered at her role in thwarting their previous plans for world domination, H.A.R.M. has dispatched an army of assassins to take out Cate. In the meantime, Cate must try to stop a Soviet project that could spark World War III.
NOLF 2 features a bigger emphasis on stealth gameplay. A number of new features have been implemented to make this easier, but also more difficult. To make things easier, Cate can peek around corners, unscrew light bulbs to create shadows to hide in, and use light switches in any room to create more helpful darkness. You can now pick up and move bodies around (no need to worry about conserving the body dissolving powder) to hide them from view. There’s also a new camera-disabling device that can neutralize security cameras without alerting guards. Veterans of the first game may remember that shooting out cameras would bring set off alarms.
Sneaking around has become more difficult though because of better AI. Enemies will notice of small items in the room, like overturned bottles, have been moved around. Certain doors if left open will attract the attention of guards. You’ll have new and improved gadgets at your disposal though, including lipstick spy cameras, “Angry Kitty Artificial Feline Proximity Mines” (really…I can’t make this stuff up), and the ever fearsome slippery banana peel.
NOLF 2 also features an experience point system (Deus Ex, anyone?) that allows you to improve your accuracy, stealth ability, and gadget proficiency among others. Cooperative multiplayer will be included also, allowing up to four players to work together to take on the computer.
It’s the gameplay, stupid
As we mentioned earlier, it was creative and humorous mission design that made the original such a hit. This fact has not been lost on the developers of NOLF 2, as they demonstrated a couple of the new missions for me. One takes place in an Ohio trailer park as a tornado is whipping by in the area. Cate is there looking for clues when she gets jumped by a squad of ninja assassins. The ninjas are an agile bunch, with the ability to leap over the top of trailer homes to chase down Cate, and block bullets like Jedi with their swords. They’ll also use shuriken throwing stars to attack our heroine. In the mission you’ll not only be dealing with the ninjas but with random trailer homes getting blown over and possibly crushing you (or if you’re clever, the ninjas). If you can get past that level, the next one will have you fighting more ninjas INSIDE the tornado.
So far it appears that NOLF 2 has effectively captured the spirit of the first game, which means we’ll be eagerly looking forward to it when it’s released.
SIDEBAR: If you still haven’t played the original NOLF, do yourself a favor and go find a copy.
Estimated Release: November 2002
007 Nightfire official home page: EA site
Shaken, not stirred
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of James Bond (and just in time for the release of a new Bond flick at the end of this year), EA presents 007 Nightfire. Unlike previous Bond games, Nightfire is not based on any one Bond episode. Instead, the game will be a collage of all the previous James Bond films, including scenes from all different environments like the Moon (a la Moonraker). Nightfire, like Ubi’s XIII, appears on all three major consoles as well as PC, but unlike XIII, EA will have the PC version play differently from the consoles. While the console versions feature 1/3 or more of the missions with driving, the PC version of Nightfire will be primarily action and first person shooter based.
It’s also worth noting that Nightfire is not related at all to the previous Quake 3 based Bond game that was aborted during development. Nightfire is a completely new project, and will be utilizing an engine “based on id software and Valve technology,” which we can only construe to mean: a modified Half-Life engine.
Q, where are my gadgets?
Nightfire, as you’d expect from any Bond game, features a number of nifty gadgets, including a car key stungun, nightvision eyeglasses, a watch mounted laser to cut locks, and magnetic grips for scaling walls. The mission we were demonstrated involved infiltration to a castle during a party. There were a number of ways this could be accomplished – we could have dropped into the back of a delivery truck as it passed underneath a bridge we started on. Or we could shoot our way in the front door. The method my demonstrator chose was to sneak around the side of the castle and find a secret entrance. Throughout the game’s 10 missions, players will have the option of completing missions using stealth or action means.
Once in the castle, we had to blend in during a party/ball while searching out some secret documents to steal. Once those were stolen, Bond has to shoot his way out of the castle and escape via sky gondola while getting shot by a Hind attack helicopter. Luckily you’ve packed away your guided SAM launcher, which, when fired, allows you to steer the missile into your target, a la Unreal Tournament’s Redeemer. Overall, Nightfire is shaping up to be an entertaining tribute to James Bond on his 40th birthday.
SIDEBAR: I’m gonna get flames from the Connery fans for this, but I liked Roger Moore the best.
Estimated Release: September 2002
SWAT Urban Justice official home page: http://www.swatuj.com
Special Weapons and Tactics
Those who played SWAT 3 may remember it as a challenging tactical shooter. Similar to Rainbow Six, SWAT 3 allowed the player to take the role of LAPD SWAT commander, outfitting your team with armor and weapons as you rolled out to different parts of Los Angeles to serve high risk arrest warrants and conduct hostage rescue. What made SWAT especially challenging is that as a police officer, you don’t have the green light to shoot everything in sight. There are hostages and innocents to consider, and your primary objective is to arrest, not kill perpetrators.
The newest in the SWAT series includes a number of enhancements to the graphics (a brand new engine), as well as the interface. SWAT 3 required a good deal of micromanagement, using keyboard menus to direct orders to your two teams of officers. Breach the door, toss in a flashbang, secure the room, cuff that person, etc were some of the many orders you’d issue your officers. SWAT: Urban Justice still features that level of detail, but for players who’d rather not deal with the micromanagement, there are “football style” plays that you can give your team, where your SWAT members will intelligently search and secure entire buildings with one command while you escort and help out.
Lock and load
The mission loadout screens have been changed as well. Now your officers will have to deal with encumbrance, which will affect their speed and effectiveness in the field. If you outfit all your officers with lots of extra ammo and the heaviest armor, their movement in the field will be affected accordingly. Thus, you’ll need to carefully consider how much equipment each of your officers really needs to bring.
There are 40+ weapons in the game and each is fully customizable. The assault rifles, for example, can have different stocks, different types of optics, flashlights, laser sights, clip sizes or underslung secondary weapons like a grenade launcher or a breaching shotgun. Submachine guns will have interchangeable stocks and flashlight/laser sights, while most shotguns will have few customizations. The options you choose for the weapons can be saved and used for later.
With 16 missions using real life places and architecture from around Los Angeles, and enemies that spawn in different places each time you load up a level, gamers will get a lot of mileage out of the gameplay in SWAT: Urban Justice.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of the upcoming shooters? Sound off in our comments section
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