Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wanted: Weapons of Fate Hands On

the following was posted on systemic.gamehelper.com after a recent demo of "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" in San Francisco.

Any fan of the "Wanted" comic book knows that there's still a whole lot of story to tell after the movie. The film version of "Wanted" set a basic foundation that was loosely based on the comic's narrative and used explosive special effects to tell the story of young Wesley Gibson, a life-long loser turned professional killer. Now that Wesley has discovered his real purpose in life and taken control, he's left wondering what's next and if he'll be pursued by secret group of super-assassins known as The Fraternity.

"Wanted: Weapons of Fate" is an extension, a game that incorporates more of the signature comic elements like the Skull suit and other family heirlooms that Wesley inherits from his father, and blends them into a framework that picks up one hour after the events of the film.

"Step Back, I Have a Gun Sir!"

If there was one thing that the 2008 movie "Wanted" absolutely nailed, it was establishing a signature visual style for the film's gun-play. By natural extension, that same focus has shifted over to the game's developers at Grin/ Vivendi Universal, as well. Control over curved bullets, focusing on enemies in and out of cover, and slowing down the on-screen action are all extended to the players' hands with a smart control scheme.

In our demo of the PS3 version, we could fire with the R2 trigger, peek out of cover with the L2, and curve bullets with a combination of L1 and the right analog stick. The controls were both tight and responsive with only a few awkward camera moments springing up as we popped out of cover. Clear on-screen feedback is also easy to read. Whenever we lined up a shot around cover, enemies would be highlighted in white, and would only die depending on where they were hit. This is a relief after a prior build we saw in December, where enemies would fall dead immediately after being hit by a curved bullet regardless of where the bullet struck them (I'll admit that its kind of funny to watch an enemy keel over after being shot in the toe).

Blind-firing over corners turns the edges of the screen white, and enables a fast cover switching mechanic. It's a focused moment where players can jump to another section of cover quickly. So quickly in fact that enemies will lose track of your position when you do it. This sets them up, opening up a moment for a quick melee knife strike using the circle button.

Of course, the natural rules of gun-play apply here: Head shots are the most important, all others are secondary. But the payoff on curved head shots is much cooler here; a slow-motion camera closeup will follow the trail of the bullet as it travels toward the enemy's skull. You can only enable slow-motion or curved bullets when you have adrenaline, represented by a small meter of bullets at the top right of the screen. Killing enemies replenishes your adrenaline, which in turns enables you to use curved bullets. Possible upgrades to the system include Assassin Time (think slow-motion ala "Max Panye", and several arsenal upgrades). One particularly cool bullet effect was done by firing multiple bullets that crisscrossed and later collided, causing a small explosion to take out enemies.

It's All About Showpiece Moments
For the developers of "Wanted", matching certain art elements from the movie is a given, but mirroring the pacing from the film was considered just as beneficial to the project. As an homage of sorts to the train sequence from the film, they've inserted their own signature moment on a passenger filled airplane. Filed with enemies and pitfalls, we maneuvered our hero deftly in and out of cover with great ease, admiring all the little graphical touches. Each section of the plane represents a new kill-box that was both satisfying and visually distinct enough to fit in any part of the film universe.

Clearly "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" is not some art house game/cinema project. It's all about brutality, violence, and thinking fast in crazy situations. To the developer's credit, those characteristics are easily distinguishable in the game, and it all fits quite well as an extension to the film. Even the same the same dark humor of the movie is here and it's still funny (the easy difficulty setting is clearly labeled: Pussy. I know, we were just as shocked as you).

We know that gamers are always openly skeptical of any film licensed game property, but both Grin and Vivendi Universal are hip to your argument, and want to change the negative aura that surrounds licensed IP. They clearly understand that and "Wanted", too. That it isn't meant to be filtered or family friendly, but be quite visceral instead. A sort of no-holds-barred sequence of events, if you will. The build we saw showed vast improvements and polish, but for a game like this pacing is everything, and it's the thing that will separate Wanted from being too much like "Max Panye", "Stranglehold", or "Dark Sector".

Look for "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" at retail in late March 2009 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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