With the Xbox's European launch finally approaching, we ventured into the painfully chic Che Bar in central London to take a look at some of THQ's forthcoming games for the big black console. Headlining the show was Yager, and between quaffing fruity green Xbox cocktails and nibbling on succulent kebabs and Persian fish cakes, we took a look at an early alpha version of the game with two members of the development team.
Fly The Friendly Skies
Yager is a sci-fi flight combat game, with the focus very much on fast-paced arcade-style action rather than hardcore simulation. Battles are normally frantic close quarters low altitude dogfights, a far cry from the sterile long range missile jousts of the present day. Your futuristic vehicle of choice sports a pair of swivelling jet engines which allow it to quickly switch between acting like a fast-moving fighter plane and hovering like a helicopter. While in hover mode you can hang in the air, hug the ground, duck up from behind cover to let off a few rounds, strafe from side to side to avoid incoming fire, and even use a zoom lens to examine targets and pick them off from a safe distance. This means that flying in guns blazing is not the only way to complete a mission, although we did witness plenty of big hairy furballs during the demo. Unfortunately we didn't get to try the game out for ourselves, but the developers promise that the controls will be simple yet flexible, and certainly the craft looked highly maneouvrable in the hands of an expert. During the course of the single player campaign you'll also get to fly a few other vehicles and even take over a stationary gun turret to fight off enemy raiders, which starts to make it sound a little like an Xbox version of Incoming.
Boy Meets Girl
What should make Yager stand out from the crowd is its more story-based approach. Set towards the end of the 21st century, the game takes place in a world dominated by multinational corporations. You play a freelance pilot with the unlikely name of Magnus Tide, hired out of desperation by Proteus Company, who have recently suffered a combination of mysterious satellite and aircraft losses and increased pirate activity along its borders. The game takes in eight "very large" territories, varying from the lush grass-covered islands of the Proteus Base and the nearby Free Trade Zone to the icy headquarters of rival corporation DST and the maze of canyons and rivers that makes up the Pirate Fjords. There's even a "post-apocalyptic wasteland" known as Bitterfield, part of what used to be Russia which is now covered in the left-overs of a collapsed industry, with rusting pipelines and run-down chemical plants spewing pollution over the landscape. Along the way you will gradually uncover what's really going on, with a combination of in-game chatter and cutscenes between missions helping to advance the storyline and develop the main characters. Indeed, depending on your actions within the game parts of the story will turn out differently, right down to whether or not you get the girl. But given that the object of Magnus' desires, a young Proteus communications officer called Sarah, was busted down to Lieutenant after your last mission for the company went horribly wrong, winning her over isn't likely to be easy.
Perhaps more importantly, some of your missions will provide you with multiple ways to accomplish your objectives or feature side quests which can help your chances. For example, rescuing a friendly pilot might increase the strength of allied forces during the next mission. Your performance within the game and completion of side quests can also unlock secret missions or earn you valuable upgrades and better weapons for your craft, which gradually improves as the game goes on. If you can't wait that long there will also be pick-ups to grab during missions, providing additional ammunition or equipment when you most need it, and in the demo level we saw you were even able to land on an aircraft carrier to get your craft repaired during a lull in the battle. All of which should prove helpful, because fighting in Yager is nothing if not fierce. Thankfully there is a little auto-aiming to help you hit the mark, with your guns swivelling slightly to track their target when your crosshairs come close enough, but even so things look fairly frantic. There could be a couple of dozen enemy craft flying around you in a single battle, varying from small agile fighters to hulking great airborne battleships, along with several Proteus craft helping you out and a variety of ground clutter, from vast submarines to defensive turrets.
Sound And Vision
And thanks to the graphical prowess of the Xbox all of these vehicles are intricately modelled and dynamically lit, while the terrain below you is dotted with nicely detailed buildings. The seemingly inevitable Xbox-trademark reflective surfaces are in bountiful supply as well, with the sun glinting off the shiny metal surface of your plane's fusilage from the external view and playing over the canopy when you switch to the virtual cockpit mode. Yager also apparently takes full advantage of the Xbox's 3D sound support, although it was hard to judge how effective this was when viewing the game on a projector screen in a basement, however fashionably furnished. As well as the usual positional audio the game will also sport some environmental effects so that, for example, your plane will sound different when flying out in the open compared to when it's whisking through a narrow canyon. There's no doubting that Yager is a great looking game, and if the fast-paced aerial combat we saw in action yesterday lives up to expectations it could be well worth a closer look when it emerges on Xbox later this year. There are also plans for an enhanced PC version of the game which will follow several months later and add multiplayer support to the equation. Better start polishing those joysticks.