THQ and developer Nihilistic showed off an early version of their upcoming action game based on Conan at a press event this evening. The third-person action game drops you in the animal pelts of the famous barbarian and promises to offer ample opportunity to hack and maim. Though the game wasn't playable, we were given a guided demo that offered an overview of what's possible when the fledgling generation of current consoles meets a surly barbarian.
The guided demo on the Xbox 360 ran through four areas--Stygia, an outdoor jungle area, Kush, and a boss battle at sea--which gave a sampling of where the game is headed. Stygia dropped the angry barbarian in gloomy ruins that will show up roughly halfway through the game. It featured a mix of tight quarters and broader open areas populated by enemies who were asking for a good thrashing. Amid the mobs of grunts was a miniboss character who presented Conan with a decent challenge. Reps on hand explained that you'll find minibosses peppered throughout the levels to keep you from getting too complacent.
The outdoor jungle area is intended to serve as the game's opening tutorial level. It provided a good contrast to Stygia's bleak tomblike environs. The area had Conan running through lush jungles and up to a village on a quest to rescue some folks in distress. Besides offering a more deliberate look at the combat system, the level showcased the interactivity Nihilistic is aiming to have in the game. Conan's "anything goes" approach to combat is smartly complemented by the interactive environment that lets you pick up and throw whatever's handy.
The boss fight, which pit Conan against a grabby squid, offered a distinctive change of pace from the standard running around seen in the first two levels. The level revolved around Conan dealing with the multilimbed sea creature's unwanted aggression toward his ship and crew. The fight ran the length of the ship as the massive sea critter attacked with its arms and did some damage to Conan's ship. The monster's thrashing made short work of the ship's crew, and to further complicate matters, its ink attacks turned Conan's once-helpful crew members into aggressive ink-covered zombies intent on causing trouble. The demo didn't show the whole fight, but from what we saw, the fight will move up and down the ship as Conan contends with the squid's arms.
The final area we saw showed yet another locale, Kush, which is an arid African-inspired plain that should be familiar to Conan fans. Our short look at the level revolved around Conan making his way through a rocky area with cliffs and unfriendly lions.
While the demo did a fine job of showing off the game's impressive visuals, our attention was focused squarely on its combat system. Nihilistic reps on hand noted that Conan's fighting system would offer an accessible experience that, like Ninja Gaiden, would reward players who put time into understanding its nuances. The game will feature more than 100 different moves for you to master and use over the course of the adventure. To prevent you from falling into a rut and relying on the same two or three moves to get through the game, Nihilistic is aiming to have the computer-controlled enemies offer a more dynamic challenge and force you to mix up your repertoire and work slick moves such as parrying into your routine. Besides a robust mix of hacks, slashes, grapples, throws, and normal attacks, you'll earn special moves that will offer significant advantages over standard attacks. In addition, you'll have a chance to trigger Conan's "song of death" mode, which will enhance your attacks for a time. The mode is triggered by your momentum in battle, so the longer your combos are, the more you'll fill an onscreen meter that tracks your performance. Once you have enough momentum, you'll slip into the mode and enjoy some enhanced stats for a short stretch. In addition to Conan's standard hands-on physical attacks, the barbarian will be able to pick up and use any weapon or shield he can wrest from an opponent's hand (living or dead). You can choose to dual-wield with two weapons if you like or throw one if you have to deal with archers or other enemies with ranged attacks.
As we've mentioned, the visuals were looking good. Given the game's early state, there were frame-rate issues, but the game looked very sharp. Conan looked good and moved pretty well. His attack animation and the many creative ways we saw him kill his foes were satisfying. The environments were suitably shiny and pretty to look at. The areas featured a nice amount of variety that was well in line with Conan lore.
Though our demo gave us a good taste of what to expect from Conan, we had to hit up Nihilistic to find out what else the game has in store for prospective barbarians. An experience system will let you level up and buff up your killing skills. Special attacks and special finishers are also in the game to help you dispatch your enemies with some style. The game will also feature some low-key puzzle solving that revolves around using the environment.
Based on what we saw, Conan is headed in a promising direction that's hitting all the right notes for a game starring the barbarian poster boy. There will be plenty of blood, bone snapping, and exotic locales to suit Conan's lifestyle. Though some elements are inspired from recent popular franchises, the game certainly seems to be getting the "murder people in fun and exciting ways" vibe we were hoping for. If you're a fan of Conan or enjoy doing horrible things to your foes, you'll want to keep an eye out for Conan when it ships early next year for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Look for more on the game in the coming months.