Death By Degrees

Sony has signed Namco's Tekken spin-off for European release in Q1 2005. You're probably wondering what it's about.

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Given that we all bitch and moan about the number of unimaginative sequels and me-too titles filling up the shelves these days, a game like Death By Degrees seems like a healthy alternative. It's based on a well-known franchise, which ought to appease the bean-counting publishers, and yet it's been spun so far off its original axis that it's relying on cameos and adventurous cut sequences to keep the connection alive. Believe it or not, the girl in the shots is Nina Williams. Namco's Tekken some liberties...

Death By Degrees, which joins Ace Combat 5 on the roster of Namco games that Sony plans to publish in Europe around this time next year, is an action-adventure title seemingly cast from the same mould that brought us Rise To Honour. The latter saw Jet Li darting around effortlessly clobbering things and behaving acrobatically, while the player did little more than waggle analogue sticks and jab the L and R trigger buttons now and then. Death By Degrees seems to be shaping up with a similar control scheme, using the left analogue stick to move Tekken's Nina Williams around while the right stick is waggled in a number of ways to pull off various hand-to-hand and projectile weapon attacks.

Unlike Rise To Honour though, DBD has familiarity and an evolving combat system on its side. Nina's hand-to-hand combat skills will be instantly recognisable to fans of the Tekken series, with a number of signature moves (including Evil Mist) coming into play, and as she fights she'll also gain experience, which goes towards unlocking new moves and techniques. Nina can also make use of other weapons like guns and swords in dealing with foes, and in certain situations the camera will switch to an X-ray view, allowing the player to target an enemy's bones and internal organs. Lovely.

All of which is tied in to the Tekken series thanks to a fleshed out back-story that sees Nina imprisoned on a cruise ship and tasked with breaking out, rescuing a fellow agent of the law, and investigating the militant Kometa organisation's involvement with the Iron Fist Tournament, and their plans for the mysterious Salacia weapon. Namco has signed up Shirogumi Inc., the firm behind CG intros in games like Onimusha 2 and Resident Evil Zero, to help deliver Nina's tale onto the small screen during around an hour's in-game cut sequence footage.

Early screenshots show off the cruise ship environment, with Nina swinging her way over environments like Lara Croft with blonde hair and a skin-tight bodysuit. Another shot has her battling against two sword-wielding adversaries in front of a giant aquarium - the combat system will apparently be intuitive enough to allow her to confront both enemies at once, blocking and blasting them with careful application of the right analogue stick.

Aside from the fighting and climbing around, Nina will also dabble in Sam Fisher antics, hiding behind walls and columns, using sleeper holds to incapacitate sentries, and collecting fingerprints using a handy scanner to gain access to new areas. We're also told to expect the odd trap (please, no spike pits) and bouts of lateral thinking, not to mention cameos from other Tekken characters including Anna Williams and Heihachi, who was most recently seen locking egos with the other combatants in the PS2 version of Soul Calibur II. Anna, meanwhile, may play an even larger part, assuming the "Anna mode" has something to do with her. Other modes we've heard about besides the main story-based outing include dedicated sniper and puzzle modes, a challenge-based offering and something called hover-camera mode.

Namco's decision to develop Nina's back-story in its own game is an interesting one, and we dare say dollar signs will be ringing in front the Japanese developer's eyes if Death By Degrees is even remotely successful at retail. Will the character spin-off catch on? Can we look forward to more of these Tekken titles? Will Death By Degrees fare a bit better than Sub-Zero's sabbatical in Mortal Kombat Mythologies? Expect answers to these questions and more around this time next month, assuming Death By Degrees makes it on to Namco's E3 stand.

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