Interesting times at Planet Konami, with the company yesterday finally getting around to showing off its latest batch of UK-developed titles. Long-term Konami followers will realise that this is still very much a novelty, with the Japanese publisher finally looking to break free from the shackles of its long-term policy of producing only home-grown titles. Konami will certainly be looking for a big improvement on its UK output to date, following on from Apocalyptica and Casino, Inc. - two inauspiciously low-key efforts that represented a bit of a false start for the company's European ambitions.
First up during yesterday's press event down at Konami HQ in Gunnersbury was the Rainbow Six-inspired The Regiment, out on PS2 and PC in October. Coded by experienced Brit team Kuju, the tagline for the S.A.S.-based first person title is "The brutal reality of close quarters counter terrorism". Or in other words, an excuse to shoot lots of bad guys in the head and rescue wibbling hostages from a variety of familiar UK (and mostly London) based locations.
Set over four campaigns including the London Metro (a fictitious London Tube station called Trafalgar), the Houses Of Parliament, the Iranian Embassy the mysterious 'Killing House', Kuju has gone to the trouble of hiring moustachioed Scot John MacAleese (an S.A.S. veteran of the infamous Iranian Embassy Siege in 1980) to provide video briefings prior to each mission to give the game that all-important air of authenticity.
The most obvious conclusion everyone will jump to when they first see the game is that it's Britain's answer to Rainbow Six, and they'd be right. The premise for The Regiment is literally identical, the game design and structure an almost mirror imagine of Red Storm's long running hit series. As with the Tom Clancy series the over-arching goal is to save lives in a series of dangerous situations while attempting to safely lead and command a four man squad through 12 campaigns and 17 'minigames'.
But while your brain will mutter glibly in protest that it's all a bit of a shameless copycat affair, there are a fair number of promising subtleties and differences to mark the game out as worth keeping an eye on during the run-up to its eventual autumn release. First of all, unlike the Rainbow mob, the S.A.S. can't get away with gratuitously executing terrorists. As Phil McDonnell - producer on the project - points out: "Every kill has to be justified. If you shoot a terrorist's weapon out of his hand they will attempt to surrender. Executing them is a no-no and you'll suffer a penalty."
Another key difference is how the panicking hostages react to you; unlike Rainbow Six they won't just stand there dumbstruck waiting for you to cuff them, but may actually attempt to flee the scene and as such need pacifying. A punch in the face should do the trick, and The Regiment allows you to do just that, somewhat amusingly.
But perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of The Regiment is the structure of single-player campaign, which plays out the same scenario from three different perspectives. Once Macaleese has delivered his characteristically stern briefing where he talks in the past tense reflecting on the events of the siege in question, the campaign begins. Kuju has decided to put a more authentic spin on each campaign, tackling it as it would be in real life - with several different teams all inserted at various locations on the scene.
Splitting up the roles of each S.A.S. team promises to deliver a fresh way of tackling the whole counter terrorist genre, with a degree of persistence being built into the game. By way of example, McDonnell postulates that whatever you achieve in one part of the campaign will carry forward to the next. As part of the rooftop insertion team, should you shoot a terrorist and send him crashing through a skylight or tumbling off a building then other teams may see that from their position when it's their turn to do their bit. Also, because of the Karma phsyics support, the ragdoll effects will be different every time, with a downed enemy possibly impaling himself on the railings one time, or falling with a thud onto the concrete another. It's a nice touch that we'll be interested to see in practice later this year.
Taking us through the 75 per cent-finished London Tube level, the Unreal Engine 2-powered game has a familiar look and feel that all first-person shooter fans will appreciate. Next to the genuinely next gen titles it might not have all the latest bells and whistles, but at least stands a chance of being able to run on most people's current PCs, while being evidently an easier prospect to port over to PS2. Still, the general ambience and grimy replication of a typical London tube station was pretty much spot on, right down to the correct font, poster detail and Emergency Help Points scattered around. We didn't see any grimy old buskers bashing out a broken acoustic or any eight-year-old boys playing the accordion, though, so it can't be that realistic!
In this instance a terrorist named Zaffer Nasser has barricaded himself and his comrades into the lower reaches of the station, left a few CCTV cameras running and hung a Police Officer by the neck to make sure everyone can see what's going on. Needless to say he's taken hostages, and having killed a few already it's fair to say he's not interested in negotiating. As Macaleese reflects "We didn't have a detailed plan, but we went in with what we had."
Turning the action over to the player, McDonnell asserts "We don't want to bog players down with waypoints, we want it to be quick and accessible," and given the amount of enemies apparent versus Rainbow Six it looks somewhat more action-packed too, with players advised to be careful to "double tap" enemies - shoot them twice - lest they feign death. "Real life terrorists will always attempt to feign death, so we implemented it in The Regiment. If you don't double tap them you could end up being shot by surprise."
Controls-wise it looks - at least at first glance - like a more streamlined Rainbow Six command system, with the familiar central icon allowing players to issue Assault commands with ease. Konami describes it as a "Real-time ordering system: Take command of an S.A.S. assault squad and guide them through brutal close quarter battles! Your mission - to save the lives of the hostages!" Indeed!
Much of the finer details of the game have still to be finalised, though. For example, Kuju is currently deliberating on whether to include booby traps ("there's some debate over whether to have them in as they slow down the progress of the player"), and has recently given terrorists shotguns to play around with. McDonnell also admits the voice work needs to be finalised ("we need to work on some of these screams!" he admits after a prolonged wailing gives the presentation a comical edge), although he says he's proud of the game's EAX 5.0 support that really makes the most of surround systems and gives the game a great deal of swirling ambience as you creep through the murky tunnels of the London Underground.
Also promised is the ability to take down terrorist barricades - a perpetual annoyance that has blighted many a Rainbow Six game (a table blocking a door? Well let's move it then!). Thanks to the Karma physics, the level design will be less contrived than other counter terrorist games, and players can choose to shoot away cover points to allow them to get straight to where the enemy lies. "We're also experimenting with molotovs, grenades, and really making it difficult for the player," McDonnell adds.
The promise of online multiplayer is also on the table for both PC and PS2 versions, and McDonnell admits they are currently "finalising multi player mode, online player rankings and more".
Visit the official site at www.konami-regiment.com for more on Konami's entrant into the dangerous world of counter terrorism - British Special Air Service style. As Konami puts it: "In the shadowy world of international terrorism one real name is feared: the S.A.S - the World's most respected and feared counter-terrorism force." Let's hope The Regiment delivers the hit that one of the world's most respected (if not exactly feared) game publishers deserves.