DAN STAINES rolls a mean zombie ball, whatever that means.
Rise of Incarnates (hereafter ROI) is kind of a gamble Bandai Namco. It’s a “2v2 online battle arena”, a genre that’s apparently quite popular in Japan and unheard of everywhese else. The closest thing to it available in this country is Anarchy Reigns, but so few people have even heard of that game, let alone played it, that it’s kind of a moot comparison. ROI’s planner and producer Ryuchiro Baba describes the genre as the halfway point between Tekken and Quake, a roiling nexus where fighters and shooters meet and make mad sweaty love.
(Those weren’t his exact words, of course, but you get the idea.)
2+2 IS WAR >>
The reason ROI is a gamble for Bandai Namco is that it’s the first example of its kind targeted at a Western audience. To that end, Baba informs me, a lot of time and money has been invested in market research to determine which elements of the genre to replicate and which to amputate. “One of the most visible results of [our research] is the character design in the game,” he says. “Characters designed for Japanese games tend to be quite different from characters designed for Western audiences, so the initial designs for our characters changed quite a bit over the course of development.”
Bandai Namco has revealed four such characters to date, all of whom were playable in our hands-on session: Lilith, Ares, Mephistopheles, and The Grim Reaper. If those names sound vaguely familiar (aside from The Grim Reaper, who I assume needs no introduction) it’s probably because they’re all popular figures in Western mythology. ROI’s story goes that these semi-divine beings, these incarnates, awaken en masse all over the world and immediately commence beating the shit out of each other. Armageddon ensues.
Because incarnates inhabit human hosts, each character in the game has two forms: a regular human form and a beastly supernatural form. The Grim Reaper, for example, is tethered to Dr Gasper Watteau, an elderly crackpot made of equal parts Heihachi Mishima and T-800. Mireia Valentin is a 22-year old arms dealer who usually looks and dresses like a lingerie model, but in Lilith form she’s naked and made of neon pink seashells. Jedrek Tyler is a smirking brodude with spiky blond hair whose alternate form, Mephistopheles, is an obsidian devil with a molten heart. Then there’s “Cool Black Guy” Terrence Blake and Ares, his Gundamy guardian angel.
If these are the kinds of characters that market research says Western gamers want, then Western gamers have a lot to answer for. What’s remarkable about them is how similar they are to the anime cliches Bandai Namco would presumably prefer not to invoke. I guess some things – bosomy demon vixens, smirking brodudes – simply transcend national and cultural barriers and truly are universal.
PRESS “Y” FOR ZOMBIES >>
I’d say we played something close to ten rounds of ROI, enough to try out all four characters and get a bit of a feel for combat. It’s a fast-paced game, for melee characters especially, and it can be difficult to follow the action at times. The lock-on system is the “toggle” kind and works well save its occasional tendency to put the camera behind large opaque objects. This was an alpha build, of course, so I can’t complain too much, especially since that was the only significant technical issue I noticed. I don’t know exactly how beefy the machines were that we played on, but they were from some European boutique laptop company and looked expensive, which probably explains the teflon smooth frame-rate throughout.
On the battlefield, which in my game encompassed a few apocalypse ravaged blocks of New York City, each character has access to two kinds of attack – melee and long-range. The power and reach of these varies significantly between characters: Grim Gasteau’s ridiculous mechanical scythe makes him obscenely dangerous at mid-range, but his dispirited fart of a flamethrower means he’s useless at a distance.
In addition to regular attacks each character has two unique special attacks, one for each form. Judging by The Grim Reaper’s car flattening zombie ball – which is literally a giant ball of zombies that rolls around mutilating anyone in its path – some characters have much, much better special attacks than others.
Landing enough regular attacks will awaken your incarnate, introducing further variation and sometimes necessitating an entirely new strategy. With her dual sub-machine guns, Lilith is ranged hell in human form, but as an incarnate, her armour and claws make her a durable and deadly melee fighter. Some characters, like Terrence, summon their incarnates instead of transforming into them, gaining an AI ally for a short period of time. When Ares is summoned he arrives like a bolt of lightning and flies directly into combat, distracting enemies and giving the player time to line up some juicy headshots with Terrence’s world-ending plasma cannon. I did this a bunch, much to the vocal dismay of the Swiss journalist sitting next to me, and I gotta tell ya: it was pretty gratifying.
FIGHTIN’ PALS >>
During the demo presentation and subsequent half-hour hands-on session, Bandai Namco representatives repeatedly emphasised the importance of coordinated teamplay in ROI. The unfortunate truth, though, is that 30 minutes isn’t enough time for four strangers to coordinate doodly squat, especially if one of those strangers is ruinously jetlagged and in no mood to socialise. During my time with the game I was too busy coming to grips with the controls and the mechanics and everything else to know or care what my various team-mates were doing. Judging by the amount of support I received, I assume the same was true of everyone playing.
When I asked Baba to explain what an experienced, synergistic team might look like, his answer was frustratingly coy. “All the characters are quite unique and they all have their own specialities,” he said, “and naturally which character each player picks will greatly influence how matches play out... but unfortunately that's not something we can go into detail about at the moment.”
One thing Baba was willing to talk about, though, was how ROI’s 2v2 format encourages players to form deeper strategic partnerships with one another. This confused me at first: was he implying that fewer players equates to more tactical depth? But surely the opposite is true? No, argues Baba: strategy is about communication and coordination, both more easily managed with fewer players, especially if said players happen to already know each other.
PLAYED WITH AN XBOX PAD, BTW >>
Thorough market research notwithstanding, I’m not convinced ROI is going to be the breakthrough hit Bandai Namco hopes. I enjoyed what I played and wouldn’t be averse to more, but I think it’s being pitched at the wrong market. And it’s not that it’s too Japanese, but that it’s too… console-y. Remember, this is a PC game we’re talking about here. Says it right there in the info box. Does it sound like one to you?
|Rise of Incarnates
PLATFORM: PC (Steam)
CATEGORY: “2v2 online battle arena”
DEVELOPER: Bandai Namco
PUBLISHER: Bandai Namco