Conan - The Barbaric Preview

Everyone's favorite Cimmerian is at his wenching and slaughtering best in this new action game from Nihilistic.

When you mention the character Conan, Arnold Schwarzenegger's bronze biceps and trademark accent come immediately to most people's minds. But decades before Arnie lit up the silver screen as the eponymous barbarian antihero, Conan existed as a series of '30s-era stories from creator and fantasy author Robert E. Howard. The ever-popular Conan has popped up in a variety of media in the years since, but it's Howard's original fiction that the designers at Nihilistic Software have used as a basis for their upcoming ultraviolent action game starring the world's most famous Cimmerian. We went hands-on with a nearly final build of Conan to see how it's shaped up toward the end of development.

Conan the game isn't directly based on any particular Conan story, but fans of the original works will recognize returning locations from the original stories, such as the lands of Kush and Stygia. Of course, there will also be a number of original, fantastic environments in which to slaughter, such as a set of ocean ruins we got to see that are full of gigantic living statues and semicorporeal, ghost-like enemies that your weapons can't always hit. At the outset, Conan has lost four of his enchanted pieces of armor that he intends to recover, and each one will grant him a new magical attack when he retrieves it. As a barbarian, Conan doesn't especially relish the thought of using magic, but he also recognizes its utility when there are all these enemies just asking to be driven before him. Along the way, Conan will encounter A'kanna, a lithe and sensual archer who seems as if she'll act as a wily feminine foil for all of Conan's trademark bluster and bravado.

Conan will travel through a mixture of familiar and original lands in his quest.

Veterans of Ninja Gaiden, God of War, and similarly technical combat-action games ought to feel right at home with the mechanics in Conan. The burly barbarian's move and combo sets are categorized by weapon type; you've got one set of attacks for a single-handed sword, one for dual weapons, and another for two-handed weapons. Regardless of what weapons you're using, you'll have a basic set of attacks to form combos with, including light and heavy slashes, a punch move (affectionately dubbed the "camel punch" in a nod to the Schwarzenegger film), and a grab. You can also hurl your extra weapons at enemies, not to mention larger environmental effects such as barrels and boulders. You've got a Kratos-like roll attack on the right analog stick, and your combos can chain from one enemy to the next even between rolls, so it's quite possible to believably hack up a whole group of lesser enemies surrounding you at one time.

Conan is about as violent a mass-market property as we can think of, and indeed the real viscera of the game's combat doesn't become apparent till you start using the more complex combos and exploring some of the more advanced mechanics. There's a parry system that lets you block an attack at the right moment, giving you a button prompt that will result in an absurdly over-the-top one-hit kill. We saw a couple of great counter-kills. In one, Conan dodges around behind the enemy and literally twists his head from his shoulders, and in another, he flips the enemy up into the air and then slices him clean in half at the waist. Even regular combos routinely send random legs, arms, and heads flying in the air.

In practice, all these mechanics amount to a whole lot of blood and gore everywhere. Bodies never disappear, so you'll finish a group encounter with literally piles of corpses--or pieces thereof--at your feet, not to mention blood splattering every available surface. Lots of areas have environmental dangers as well, so it's also common to see enemies knocked backward and impaled on a bunch of spikes (where they'll remain hanging indefinitely). Heck, the designers even went as far as modeling actual entrails in 3D that can be ripped from opponents or which will simply burst forth after some deep slashes. We're not sadistic at heart or anything; this is just the kind of thing you want out of a Conan experience.

Not all of your foes will be scrawny little pushovers, as this guy proves.

There's also a lot of variety to be had in the ability to pick up nearly any weapon you see. Some levels will offer you a two-handed broadsword, while in others your primary two-handed option will be a longer, slower halberd or polearm. When you're going for two smaller weapons, you might end up with a second sword, or perhaps a one-handed axe. You can even pick up shields from time to time for extra blocking protection. You'll build up your combat repertoire by collecting experience from downed enemies and some treasure chests, as well as the occasional bare-chested maiden in distress. (The game is as unapologetic about Conan's carnal nature as it is his blood thirst.) Those armor powers will also come into play as you retrieve the pieces. The first power lets you turn enemies to stone for a time, after which you can bash them into fragments if you're quick enough. Another power will rain a shower of fire and meteors down on the area around you to demolish your foes.

In a perfect world, it wouldn't bear mentioning which platform we played Conan on (the game is coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 simultaneously). But we were duly impressed that Nihilistic chose to demo the game to us on the PS3, given an overwhelming tendency among the development community to stick to the Xbox 360 during the prerelease previews process and conveniently sweep the PS3 equivalent under the rug. Nihilistic says it had no problem getting its engine up and running on the PS3 with identical graphical niceties and performance. While this success is surely just a natural consequence of the developers becoming more familiar with the PS3's hardware and dev tools, it's still nice to see the two consoles on equal footing more frequently these days. Speaking of which, the PS3 version will also incorporate the same achievements as the Xbox 360 game. These won't be reflected anywhere outside the game, but they'll still pop up onscreen in the same style and with the same names as on the Xbox, which made us wish once again that Sony had devised such an integrated system on its own before now.

The multitude of wieldable weapons enhances the combat variety here.

Visually, Nihilistic went directly to the source in crafting the look of Conan. That source is seminal fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, who not only provided most of the cover artwork for the original Conan books, but largely defined the state of modern fantasy artwork as well. The game uses a stylized lighting model and a unique, light-colored character outline to attempt to emulate Frazetta's work. Up close, you'll even notice some textures have a brushstroke-like effect in them to further the "painterly" effect the artists are going for here.

The team at Nihilistic is near to wrapping up development on Conan now, and it's looking like a jolly, bloody romp that takes itself just seriously enough. That attitude is enhanced by actor Ron Perlman's slightly tongue-in-cheek voice work in the title role, from what we've heard so far. Check back here in October for a full review of Conan on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

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Discussion

184 comments
pillaysteven
pillaysteven

The gamplay in the demo feels like a mix of God of War and Prince of Persia, with some Shadow of Rome limb-chopping thrown in for good measure but it's not as good as any of them. Not that I'm throwing Shadow of Rome in the same league as GOW and POP. The voice acting in Conan is wooden and the graphics aren't good for a PS3 or Xbox360 title. Not even slightly excited about this game.

Haku_Ryushi
Haku_Ryushi

Its like God of War II but still not better. But God of War III will tear Conan apart.

Latinbro1
Latinbro1

The controls on this game are extremely similar to God of War, which made me feel right at home controlling Conan. Even the art is similar in some repects, which makes me get excited at what GOW3 might look like. Anyway, I really dig the developers doing away with an inventory and letting you pick weapons enemies drop after you brutally kill them. I like that each weapon controls differently and has its own finishing/counter move. Oh, and it's a nice touch to see the remains of your kills all over the place. I'm waiting on the review but the demo really makes me want to get this one.

DLUCHOVICH
DLUCHOVICH

YOOO IS JUST ME OR IS THQ TAKIN A SHOT @ GOD OF WAR BECAUSE THE CATS IN THE LITTLE CAGES THAT YOU HAVE TO RIP THE DOOR OFF OF REMIND YOU OF KRATOS??? IS IT JUST ME?? LUCCI

Sumbelina
Sumbelina

I just played the Demo on Xbox Live Marketplace and I'm impressed. I really liked the controls and the detail was awesome. Ron Perlman was a PERFECT choice for Conan's voice. I'm all over this game come release day.

Zee666
Zee666

Not for me but everyone loves organs spewing and the like, maybe I'll just mooch it off my mates when they've completed it. YEY MOOCHING!

thesovvolf
thesovvolf

Played this last night and was amazed with the blood shed its about time someone made a "shadows of rome" Gory game on the next gen consouls. keep up the good work nilistic

NeoSpriggan
NeoSpriggan

Ive been waiting for a good God of War esque game, seems this might keep me going till Assassins Creed is out :D

StoneManOne
StoneManOne

Bought this as i had one eye on its progress. Its a "diamond in the rough". Camera not perfect but no real problem, quiet refreshing after a while. Great fun!!!!! 8/10

princesssparkle
princesssparkle

I bought this on a whim today and it rocks - yeh the camera is annoying at times, but nothing major, and Claudia Black and Ron Perlman sound like they had fun doing the voices. i was really surprised that a game like this came out in the same week as halo and risked getting buried

lacrimosamo
lacrimosamo

Wow, this looks like an amazgin game. I'll very probably buy it.

AAFIE
AAFIE

brought this home from work last night... brilliant! very god of war/heavenly sword, longer than the latter though, occaisionally an awkward camera, but has several epic set pieces and a steady learning curve. By no means perfect, but great fun and fills a kratos shaped gap on the 360.

dutch777
dutch777

i don't know about this one. The graphics do look pretty good though. Lets wait and see.

vidiot923
vidiot923

I am glad they chose to stay true to Robert E Howards vision of Conan rather than the Arnie movies. I used to collect the comics and I read all of Howards works so I cant wait for this game.

WhyteLeo
WhyteLeo

Looks ok but i like the counter moves when Conan counters and you have press the buttons in order to finish the kill.

Willceace
Willceace

Looks like god of war. But with hair.

xLeXaRx
xLeXaRx

This game looks like it rocks!!!

cthecoffee
cthecoffee

if it was spot on with the old movie conan i would be all for it, but it looks like just a hack and slash for the 360

troy3065
troy3065

look good =] lookin forward to it

BDANick
BDANick

cool i like entrails

lockstock
lockstock

Frank Frazetta is THE artist to get on board, I remember his book covers from when i was a kid (read 'em all and not embarrassed LOL), I hope the game is true to the concept and not repeat NOT a parody like the Arnie film.

KamalR
KamalR

this looks alot like beowolf

fmobliv06
fmobliv06

this looks crazy! i'll need to at least rent it. wish i had enough money to buy it, but i probably won't.

Evilrudy
Evilrudy

Now when is someone going to make a game like this and call it Red Sonya?

diablobasher
diablobasher

Looks awesome, wasn't very excited about this, but hearing this makes me feel like this will be a good experience now that i'm done with all the DMC/God of War etc.

thewolf619
thewolf619

I think I'll be picking this up after I finish Heavenly Sword and Stranglehold. Looks like tons of fun.

vipervoodoo
vipervoodoo

Looking good! I love the idea of never-disappearing bodies.

I_pWnzz_YoU
I_pWnzz_YoU

this looks like a crazy asss game, very brutal, just the way i like my games:D

usukaschese
usukaschese

3D modeled entrails you can rip from your opponents? YES!!!!!!

Buttonio
Buttonio

Looks fun but the graphics don't look up to par

Ineor
Ineor

I think it looks almost split-image to God Of War with combat, magic and pick ups. If you watch the videos I'd say that Conan is just Kratos with a wig.

dantesergei
dantesergei

agree with you haesuse it sounds bloody and fun keep it up !

WaylanderFW
WaylanderFW

could be nice... I hope there will come a demo!

vass86
vass86

i'm glad this one is violent. a game with conan definately needs to be. i'll be waiting to play a demo

FallenAngel
FallenAngel

Been waiting for a good Conan game since the early 90s action/RPG Conan the Cimmerian, in fact, I've been waiting for ANY Conan game since then. But I have my doubts about Nihilistic. They botched two promising titles already in Marvel Nemesis and Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption. Those two games looked pretty good too in previews until they came out and were underwhelming to say the least.

Cirus2
Cirus2

gfx look bit average like PS2/Xbox

sjboisvert
sjboisvert

I dunno. The gameplay DOES look like a "me too!" God of War, and that's too bad. Ron Perelman also just sounds like he's reading, in the small clip of dialogue in the video. I'm a big fan of Conan (the first movie and the books) but I'm not sold on this. Also, lovemuscle13, I'm sorry to tell you that yes, Mako (the narrator and wizard from the movies) did pass away, last July.

zongoz
zongoz

This game is going to be kick ass!!!

jj_696
jj_696

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