Streets of Rage
Urban Warfare is the precursor to the PlayStation 2 version of Delta Force which is scheduled for release later this year, but it's a good-looking little game in its own right. Oddly enough it's Novalogic's first foray into PSone publishing, and the developer is none other than 2000AD-owning Rebellion, who have some damn fine first person shooter credentials... The game is still several months from release but it's already taking shape nicely. Moving away from the sprawling vistas and endless sniping missions of its PC forerunners and into a tighter urban setting (if only to save the feeble, whimpering PSone from single-digit framerates and the poorly realised landscapes we had expected to see), it seems to be part Metal Gear Solid, part Counter-Strike and part Delta Force. This time out the player finds himself playing a lone commando with a grudge to settle, as opposed to a crack operative firing bullets miles away from the actual combat… Visually it's surprisingly detailed, with enemies crouching behind statuettes and bullet holes peppering fancy portraits, and it manages to run at a thoroughly reasonable and sustained framerate, even at this early stage. There was a distinct absence of destructible scenery, and bullets cannot penetrate wood and similar substances as they could in Counter-Strike, but the game world is nicely crafted. Of particular interest to me were the environmental effects. On one level, rain tumbles down from the sky, and moving swiftly back and forth produces a nice particle effect as the trails seem to dither and dance in the air.
Locations vary and the game sends players all over the globe from Tijuana, Mexico to Zurich, Switzerland and even the sunny climes of Oxford, England, with more to be announced. There's an embassy-style building (looking very Who Dares Wins), a dock and, in a tip of the hat to this Friday's Metal Gear Solid 2 release, even the chance to fight your way through the interior of a ship. Each of these levels is easy on the eye and furnished with all manner of boxes, crates, tables, valves .. anything that fits. Enemies hide all over the place, crouching amongst boxes and camping in those crazy little indentations in the wall that you always find liberally sprinkled around first person shooters. The AI isn't really in place yet, and we're promised a few more death animations, but you can already despatch the bad guys with any of the game's seven weapons. Amongst these handy tools of destruction lurks a knife, which can be buried in enemies at close range or thrown violently in their direction and then collected. A brutish M16-alike is the main tool of the trade, spitting bullets venomously in semi and fully automatic modes, and in terms of side arms the default pistol has an optional silencer. A handful of grenades make up the numbers, including a pretty convincing stun grenade which flares up and distorts your vision for a while, but the real tour de force is the sniper rifle, complete with nightvision-tinted scope for picking off those hard to find enemies in the dark. The sniping sections are eerily reminiscent of those seen in Grand Theft Auto III, which is no bad thing.
The control system has been adapted from the PC version and is fairly intuitive, although I did need some help figuring out the crouch mode. The left and right analogue sticks control movement and orientation respectively, whilst R3 (that's pushing in the right stick, remember) spins you 180-degrees on the spot. I've always argued that this is a pointless feature of first person shooters on the PC, butr finding myself in the thick of things with only a Dual Shock 2 to defend myself it proved its worth. Players can switch weapons quite easily and strafe jump from side to side using L2 and R2, whilst R1 takes up the mantle of the trigger button. Players can use the diamond to change position by holding down the square and pressing down or up. The three states; standing, crouching and lying flat, are demonstrated by a little soldier displayed in the bottom left of the HUD, and he also represents your health meter, thick green to begin with, depleting as death looms. Although the mechanics for 'dying', so to speak, weren't demonstrated to us, the plan is for the player to drip blood (with the AI enemies following the trail), and having to face up to his impending demise in the absence of any health kits. Diving through a window or door and then closing it may outfox the bad guys, but that's not totally agreed upon yet.
The final game aims to consist of 12 missions, at roughly one hour's gameplay per mission, be it sneaking around to avoid detection or ploughing gung-ho through legions of bad guys. The plot will be interwoven through some dramatic in-game cutscenes - which may eventually include variables defined by your actions, such as bullet holes left in the walls and such - and will be used to help justify each mission. Although fairly clichéd, it should provide a nice grounding. The idea is that as a lone Delta Force officer, you have been charged with single-handedly preventing a group of terrorists from making a hand-held nuclear weapon. The 12 missions of the game will involve counter-terrorist strikes, largely undoing the terrorists' hard work assembling personnel and collecting materials. The idea behind the 'lone gunman' approach is that there is a mole within some relevant government agency, and the Director of the CIA, your boss, cannot risk having his operation undermined! Delta Force : Urban Warfare is shaping up promisingly, and if you don't have the cash to blow on a PS2 right now it will make a nice stopgap in the interim. As Novalogic pointed out to me, this could be the last great first person shooter on Sony's 32-bit console. If the final product lives up to these early indications, there's no reason why it won't make the grade.