At a recent press event held by Russia-based publisher 1C, we had a chance to see and try out a fistful of new games for both the PC and consoles. Here's a blow-by-blow report on what we saw:
Men of War: Red Tide - We played this briefly. This expansion pack to the original World War II game will offer more small-scale, small-arms tactical strategy. This time around, you control a small squad of Russian marine commandos in a variety of assault missions against German occupation armies on the Eastern Front. The level we played put us in command of a handful of soldiers of different professions (such as officer, rifleman, submachine gun support, and sniper) taking on a night mission in a German-occupied shipyard. We found ourselves landed on the beach, trying to carefully inch our squadron forward while periodically coming under fire by soldiers hidden behind cover. Fortunately, because we were on the docks, there was plenty of cover for our troops--stacks of crates, barrels, and fishing nets for us to hover our mouse over before our next move to pull up silhouettes, which indicated where our soldiers would end up relative to cover. We attempted to finesse our way across the dock by sending in our assault-oriented troops in first to draw fire while we leapfrogged our sniper into position behind higher cover, but this didn't seem to work well, since we encountered new pockets of hidden soldiers with pretty much every significant forward move we made. If the first mission is any indication, Red Tide seems like it may be less about stealth and more about getting into firefights early and often. The game will be released later this year.
XIII Century: Blood of Europe - We played this briefly. This follow-up to XIII Century will, like the previous game, offer large-scale tactical battles reminiscent of the Total War series. This time around, the campaign focuses on Dovmont, the prince of Pskov in the region known as "Northern Rus" (present-day Russia), who must repel the attacks of powerful, well-armed Teuton invaders. The quick battle we jumped into was part of the ongoing "Europe at War" play mode (the game will also have a separate campaign mode as well as a "custom game" mode). Like in XIII Century, in Blood of Europe, you'll have a brief respite before each battle to choose your forces before heading out to the field. In our case, because we were basically starting a new game from scratch, we had only the funds to hire three mounted companies; a lancer company, an archer company, and a swordsman company, and we were greatly outnumbered by the Teutons. Once we were done deliberating, we moved out to the field where our tiny army stood at the ready, with the real-time battle defaulting to "paused." We then unpaused the game using the "unpause" button from the icon-and-button-stuffed interface menu in the lower-left corner of the screen (which also has buttons for grouping, company orders, formations, and dozens of other things) and led our units forward to the enemy, which lay in wait on the other side of a shallow swamp surrounded on the edges by heavy forest and a small foothill off to the side. Sadly, our elegant stratagem of sneaking our archers to the high ground to pelt our enemies with arrows didn't quite work since or enemies caught wind of us before we were all the way around the foothill. They rushed us through the nearby forest and quickly surrounded our melee companies, but hovering our mouse over the armies helpfully displayed dozens of different statistics about each battalion--weapon status, armor, skill, morale, flank status, rear status, and so on before we unleashed the ultimate stratagem to prevent defeat--quitting out back to the main menu (after all, it was a big event with a lot of games, and we were pressed for time...and we're sticking to that story). Blood of Europe will be released later this year.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey for Xbox 360 / PS3 - We played this briefly. Despite the game's name, it has little or nothing to do with the original IL-2 Sturmovik combat flight simulator for the PC from 2001, except that this game is also about flying fighter plans in World War II. However, Birds of Prey has a much more-forgiving control scheme that's better suited to a console controller, and also offers two different "realism" levels--the default arcade-style mode that has the easiest handling, and a more-realistic mode (which we did not try) that has more-challenging plane physics and also requires you to worry about things like your ship's fuel supply. The left analog stick controls your ship's bearing (nose up, nose down, wings up and down) while the right analog stick controls the throttle, and with the exception of suddenly losing forward momentum by pulling up to high in the air, or twirling around too low to the ground and crashing, there probably won't be too many hazardous accidents for players who are serious enough to hunker down and try to wrap their heads around the game's control scheme. The mission we played was in a dogfighting ship equipped with wing-mounted machineguns to fly into enemy territory and try to repel an enemy squadron of similarly equipped fighter planes. The level seemed to do a good job of pacing the encounters for newer players, first throwing only a couple of advance scouts at us so that we could get used to the back-and-forth airborne jousting you'll be doing a great deal of in the game, following blinking indicator arrows onscreen to the location of your nearest enemy, or nearest mission objective, or even your nearest ally. Yes, some missions will actually offer computer-controlled allied planes that seem to fly quite competently and are even pretty good shots, though with persistence and a mindful eye to keep our ship well above the ocean below us, we were able to eventually bring down a few enemy fighters ourselves. However, this action came after a long flight out from base over the ocean to eventually arrive in enemy territory--much like the action in many World War II campaigns, which occasionally required long, uneventful, from-point-A-to-point-B air trips before seeing any action, so it's not clear that Birds of Prey will be a quick pick-up-and-put-down game for 15 minutes on the sofa. The game is scheduled for release later this year.
Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim - We played this briefly. For those unfamiliar, this is the sequel to the cult-classic, Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, a role-playing/strategy hybrid with the unique distinction of having heroes who went on quests, gained experience levels, hunted for treasure, and so on, but not under your direct control. Like in the original game, in Majesty 2, you build up a kingdom, but the actual business of heroically sallying forth and slaying monsters is left up to heroes on their own time. Starting a new game of Majesty 2, we began by building defense towers around our starting keep to safeguard it from rampaging monsters, then started to build guild structures that recruit heroes, such as rangers (who are dynamite archers) and priests (who can cast healing spells). Once we built our guilds and cranked out our first heroes, we set about our task of exploring the wilderness, then clearing out the wolf's den that lay just southwest of our little burg. In situations like this, your best hope to explore the fog-of-war-obscured map, clear out monster nests, and rescue the princess(es) is to place a bounty of gold on these tasks by setting down either an explore flag or a conquer flag in these areas, and affixing whatever gold bounty you consider to be fair. We laid down a few explore flags to help clear out the fog, then dropped a hunting bounty on the den of those pesky wolves and placed a bounty of a couple hundred gold pieces. Once you lay out a bounty and incentivize it, you can mouse over that bounty's flag to see (and change) its current gold bounty price, as well as see how many active heroes are "interested" in taking on the task. In our case, both our ranger and our priest heroes were interested, and trotted out to the den to began whaling on the wolves and their cave. In the meantime, we built up a marketplace at our starting keep to promote commerce and bring in more gold--as you progress through the game, you'll be able to offer bounties to much more-powerful heroes to perform much more-heroic tasks, but it'll cost you. From what we've played, Majesty 2 seems like it stays true to the original game while offering a colorful, 3D graphics makeover. The game will ship later this year.
King's Bounty: Armored Princess - We played this briefly. Armored Princess is the follow-up to last year's King's Bounty: The Legend, which is itself a spiritual successor to the classic Heroes of Might and Magic turn-based fantasy strategy series. Like last year's King's Bounty, Armored Princess is a fully 3D game that takes place in a colorful fantasy world populated by knights, wizards, and lots of different monsters. These fantastical denizens live in different keeps, each of which gives rise to a different set of critters which can be recruited to your cause, though to reap the spoils of war, you must first conquer these keeps and any wandering monsters that guard them. You do so in turn-based battles that take placed on a hex grid and, like in Heroes of Might and Magic, each company of monsters in your employ appears in battle, can move a certain number of hexes per turn, attack at melee range (at the risk of suffering a counterattack from the defending forces), and may have different abilities in battle that will give your team an edge, such as ranged attacks from dwarven cannoneers, or a powerful charging attack from mounted horsemen. In the game, you play as the titular Armored Princess Amelie, who rides her wondrous flying horse (you can press the "F" key to toggle flying on and off) on a quest to find her missing mentor, the mighty hero Bill Gilbert (we know, right?), and to find Bill, you'll need to explore overland maps, picking up piles of treasure and magical items along the way and doing plenty of turn-based fighting. Armored Princess looks like it'll offer even more colorful, fantasy-themed turn-based strategy, and for fans of this sort of thing, things could be a lot worse. The game will ship this Christmas.
Death to Spies: Moment of Truth - We played this briefly. Moment of Truth is the follow-up to 2007's Death to Spies, and like the original game, you play as a covert operative from the perspective of a third-person shooter. However, this isn't a game about running and gunning--in fact, if your enemies sight you, there's a good chance you're already a dead man. Instead, Moment of Truth is about sneaking through each level in the hopes of going undetected to reach your objective. Like in the previous game, you'll have a big bag of tricks to help you, including different weapon loadouts you can choose at the outset of each mission (like a silenced Sten submachine gun and a silenced handgun), a knife for silent kills, chloroform to knock out enemies, and a variety of grenades. There are also multiple postures you can take on the move--walking, crouching, and prone, and while the game has keyboard shortcuts for each, you can also handily switch your posture on the fly with your mousewheel the moment you sight trouble. We played through a bit of the first mission, which required us to sneak along a wooded path to rescue some captured scientists. At any point in the mission, you can press the "O" key to bring up your mission briefing to refresh your memory as well as to locate yourself on a handy map relative to your goal. Since the forest was actually structured like a shallow basin with the open road being the lowest (and most conspicuous) level, we carefully tried to stay halfway between the road and the forest and grass to get the most cover, though we were sighted by groups of enemy soldiers several times and had our heads handed to us once or twice. Because Moment of Truth is a stealth-based game, there's a "detection" meter that sits at the top of the screen that shows how aware your enemies are of your presence; if they barely catch a glimpse of you and you hightail it out of there through cover, the meter will eventually empty out and you'll be in the clear. However, if you get close enough to engage in battle and pull your gun, they'll generally pursue you, which makes it difficult to impossible to escape their notice again. Death to Spies: Moment of Truth is scheduled for release later this year.
Rig'n'Roll - We unfortunately didn't get a chance to try playing this one, but we did get a good look at it. Rig'n'Roll is 1C's ambitious (and long-in-development) trucking simulation, which will let you drive a truck to run races in racing minigames, ship out freight from location to location, and eventually build up your own trucking empire as you hire additional truckers to join your operation and haul oranges, hats, car parts, hats, women's shoes, and hats all across the Golden State. The game will model the entire geography of the state of California and all its highways (presumably the maddening choke of rush-hour traffic on such commute-heavy thoroughfares as the I-80 near the Bay Bridge and the 101 near the San Jose corridor will not appear in the game), and support high-end PC driving peripherals if you happen to have them. While you drive, Rig'n'Roll will offer multiple viewing perspectives (such as a third-person behind-the-truck view, a driver's seat view, and a first-person view), a few gadgets to play with (such as the windshield wipers if it happens to be raining--the game will have day/night cycles and the kind of weather conditions you'd expect to see in sunny California), and continuous radio chatter from your fellow trucking employees and the beautiful young female dispatcher who will update you on your missions. Rig'N'Roll is scheduled for release this year.
Captain Blood for Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC - We unfortunately didn't get a chance to try playing this one, but it appears to be a third-person action game reminiscent of the recent Prince of Persia games or the God of War series, in that you have a relatively nimble protagonist armed with a melee weapon (in this case, a gleaming curved cutlass) and can press your attack button repeatedly to perform combination melee attacks against your enemies, which appear include rival pirates and the local constabulary. You play as the titular sea captain, star of author Rafael Sabatini's swashbuckling novels, and both explore land areas and manage ship-to-ship combat by taking manual control of the cannons on your ships and firing on enemy ships with the aid of glowing onscreen arcs. The game will be released on the PC and the Xbox 360 this year.