Currently scheduled for release in November, Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance is a gritty action adventure game in which you'll spend most of your time fighting on the streets of the fictional city of Las Sombras. Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance boasts a number of quite innovative features, and we recently had a chance to check them out for ourselves when we got our hands on playable PlayStation 2 and Xbox demo versions of the game.
The single-player portion of our demo gave us an opportunity to battle through the early stages of Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance as any of the game's five playable characters. Raven, Jason G, Gina, Lola, and Aaron are an eclectic bunch, and when deciding who to play as, we had to take into account not only each character's appearance and fighting style, but also the size of each character's health bar, special move, bank balance, and which, if any, items each would start the game with. Impressively, the fighting styles available to you at the start of the game are about as diverse as those you might find in a Tekken game, and if you're a fan of Namco's fighting series, you can't fail to notice some striking similarities between some its stars and the Beat Down roster. Beat Down's Gina, for example, is a dead ringer for Tekken favorite Nina, and Beat Down's Lola uses the same button-masher-friendly fighting style as Tekken's Christie.
Despite some character and fighting style similarities, Beat Down's combat system is quite different from Tekken's. For starters, you'll only have one punch button and one kick button, and those are complemented by buttons used for blocking, grabbing, picking up weapons, and locking on to individual enemies in group situations. If you've equipped your character with items (you can assign one to each hand) before getting into a fight, you'll also have buttons for activating those items, whether they're knives or a leg of tasty, health-replenishing chicken. Other items we put to good use during our time with the Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance demo included medications found in destructible crates, health-replenishing liquors purchased at a bar, and makeshift weapons, such as broomsticks, wrenches, and baseball bats, that can be found strewn about many of the locations that make up the city of Las Sombras.
The first location we got to see when we arrived in Las Sombras in the dead of night was a gas station, which didn't appear to be open but was clearly a popular place for the city's lowlifes to congregate after dark. We were able to converse with every character we met there, and we also had the option to negotiate with each one (which, in Beat Down, invariably means asking him or her to either join your gang or hand over his or her wallet) or start a fight with each one at any time. Starting a fight would (after a load time that will hopefully be briefer in the finished game) spin the camera around for a conventional sideways-on view of the one-on-one action, as well as assign each character a health bar and, directly beneath it, a pride bar. The pride bar is quite intriguing, since reducing it to zero is the only way you can enter into (and invariably succeed with) negotiations during a fight, and the only way to get it down to zero is to really punish your opponent without taking any damage yourself. It's a good system, not only because it gives you a chance to rob or recruit characters that wouldn't even give you the time of day before you pummeled them, but also because it encourages you to play offensively when you might otherwise spend most of your time blocking and counterattacking. One particularly good way to hurt your opponents is to force them out into the street and wait for them to get run over by fast-moving traffic. The danger, though, is that you might get hit yourself (there's currently no way of knowing when traffic is approaching), either during the scuffle or when you go to loot your opponent's body at the end of the fight.
After looting some money and weapons from fallen opponents, we made a point of recruiting a couple of characters from the gas station before moving to the next locale: a downtown area frequented my mob-types. Recruited characters will follow you wherever you go, and if you get into a one-on-one fight, you'll have the option to switch between all the fighters you control at the push of a button. You'll find there are a lot of different fighting styles to master once you start playing with characters you've recruited, and we even found one or two that we preferred to any of those employed by the five initially selectable characters. The only time your followers will assist you automatically is if a group of enemies attacks you simultaneously, which is exactly what happened the first time we attempted to pass by the mob enforcers.
What to Wear?
There were around seven enforcers for us to take care of in all, and many of them showed up to the fight with melee weapons that, depending on how the fight progressed, we were either able to snatch using the grab button or knock from their hands by clobbering them when their guards were down. We also noted that some of the weapons, such as planks of wood and baseball bats, could only be used to block our attacks once, as our punches and kicks were powerful enough to destroy them. The multiple enemies we faced were intelligent enough to attack all three of us, and we're pleased to report that our recruits did an admirable job of defending themselves. We noticed that the enemies seemed reluctant to attack us en masse, but they did a good job of surrounding us so that we were never quite sure where the next attack was coming from.
Although the mob characters were far less challenging to defeat than the guys and girls we'd been facing in one-on-one fights, that battle was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable sequences in the demo. And the fact that it took place on an intersection with dangerous traffic definitely kept things interesting. On our second play-through, though, we discovered that it's actually possible to bypass the fight with the mob enforcers completely, simply by ducking into a shop and purchasing a new outfit. Changing into different clothes in Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance is basically a way to disguise yourself, and while were in the store, we could see our police and mob visibility indicators displaying percentage values every time we tried something new on for size. The new clothes were pretty expensive, and every time we got too close to an enemy, we noticed our visibility score for that faction go up by between 5 and 10 percent.
Our next port of call was a bar, where we met with a guy who could sell us health-replenishing drinks. And if we'd accrued enough experience points and had enough cash to pay him, he could also teach us new special moves. We also met an informant at the bar who told us that our next goal should be to search the nearby police station for a list of known thugs in the area. She further warned us that it wouldn't be easy to sneak in there. She was right. As we approached the station, a cutscene kicked in that showed us being captured by the police, and the next time we were able to exercise any control of our character, we were inside a jail cell. To get out of the cell, we had to attract a guard's attention, beat him down, and then punch a hole in the wall of our cell that was big enough to walk through. Hitting the wall before interacting with the guard wasn't an option, which doesn't make much sense, but it was a challenging and enjoyable fight, so we have no complaints here. Shortly after escaping from our cell, the single-player demo came to an end. So next we decided to put what we'd learned to the test in Beat Down's versus mode.
The versus mode in our demo version of Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance let us choose from the same five characters that were available at the start of the single-player game, in addition to letting us choose from three of the locations we'd visited previously. We were each able to choose up to three characters, and we could then tag between them in exactly the same way we could in the single-player game. Strangely, any characters that we'd chosen but weren't actually fighting with would follow us around during the fight, which, when both players have chosen three characters each, can definitely make things a little confusing. The load times whenever new characters were tagged also didn't help the versus mode much, but hopefully those will be a thing of the past when the game is finished. We'll bring you more information on Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance as soon as we get our hands on a more complete version of the game.