Project H.A.M.M.E.R

Bangin' on.

There came a point during Nintendo's E3 conference - somewhere between the time Reggie was banging on about "innovation" and "feel" and "change" and "it's hot if it's disruptive" and "the next leap" and "inclusion, not exclusion" and the time we tried to fashion a noose out of our laptop keyboard only to realise it was over and we could go home - that it dawned on us there wasn't really a lot of time spent discussing the new new things.

Project H.A.M.M.E.R., for example, was up on screen for no time at all. Disaster: Day of Crisis disappeared before we'd even typed the name. Why is this? Goodness knows. Here's what I know: the main fellows in both are big, angry and bearded. Like Brian Blessed in Terminator - one of those rare occasions that buying crap knock-off Hong Kong DVDs with the sound mixed up pays for itself.

Once away from Reggie's bullish belt-up-to-his-chinning, we settled into the playable E3 demo of H.A.M.M.E.R. - surely a cipher worthy of Dan Brown - and discovered it tasks you with guiding impressively hirsute cyborgs around short, linear levels smashing the bejesus out of everything. With a hammer. This usually amounts to evil robots, but you've also got cars and, of course, crates. The next leap in crates, obviously.

But let's talk setting. After all, stroppy half-man half-machine all-beard lead characters aren't something you come across every day. So far, Nintendo's been disappointingly tight with the details, but what we know is that our hammer-wielding protagonist is mankind's last hope against an invading army of robots, and that the player will be battling his way across the United States. So we can, at least, hope we'll get to smash up lots of famous bits of American cities. Knock down the Alamo, try and ring the Liberty Bell, or crush the LA Convention Centre during the middle of May, perhaps? If only. Not that you're going to have a lot of time to appreciate the local attractions, with Star Wars-style droid dispensers spitting out robots with no end in dystopian sight.

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Still, despite the promise of frantic, smashing nunchuck violence, it was slightly deflating to find H.A.M.M.E.R. straddling the divide between old and new like so much of its Wii brethren. Controlling the main character with the nunchuck is fair enough, as he's perfectly responsive and stomps about in a blind rage (you should see the size of his neck muscles), but you have to question the official blurb's, "Players use the Wii Remote just like a real hammer to control the hero's weapon." That's not really the case.

Having seen how well suited the Wii remote is to both Wii Sports: Tennis and Wii Sports: Baseball, we expected to be slapping enemies with it like a kind of demented Arnie whack-a-mole, but it's far more constrained than that. Waving the controller from side to side activates a spin attack, and slamming the controller down activates a heavy attack that stuns any enemies in the blast radius. Pressing A activates the normal attack. Pressing A? Man!

Yep, even when you are moving the Wii controller to perform (exciting looking) attacks, you're only triggering pre-scripted animations and this robs it of a potentially delightful immediacy. The fact that you're really not doing anything that couldn't be done with the buttons is disappointing.

On the bright side, it's already a very polished and accomplished third-person title, featuring some suitably handsome cityscapes and glowing effects when you're performing hammer attacks, and reasonably voluminous swarms of robots exploding in pleasing showers of scrap metal.

It's frustratingly hard to know what to make of Project H.A.M.M.E.R, though. Of all the E3 demos, it's the one with the least to offer above what's possible on a joypad. Then again, there's every chance, too, that they're simply testing the water. With a hammer. And that a splash, of some sort, may fellow. Along - you'll be hoping - with some better puns. More on H.A.M.M.E.R. when we hear it.

Nintendo has not announced a release date for Project H.A.M.M.E.R.

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