Escape from Paradise City is a real-time strategy and role playing game set in a sprawling contemporary environment. It claims inspiration from La Femme Nikita, with its main characters all forced to work for a shady government organisation. It's set for worldwide release on 18th October 2007, so there's not much time left for the developers, who also made Gangland, to make their final touches. However, the fact that they'd found time to fly into London and show their work-in-progress build shows some confidence in how it's coming along. They were kind enough to give us the full rundown of life in Paradise City and then left us with a near-finished copy of the game to play with.
The developers admit that the idea for the game came from the film La Femme Nikita, in which a cop killer is forced to become a government-trained assassin. This setup has transplanted straight into the game, with three playable characters all forced to do the government's dirty work. Unlike Luc Besson's arty French masterpiece, though, Escape from Paradise City doesn't take itself that seriously--as shown by the gleefully clichéd characters, such as Boris, the big Russian henchman, and Angel, the sassy female assassin. Boris is a natural-born leader who has no trouble converting henchmen to his cause, whereas Angel is deadly in close quarters.
While the story's setup might sound like standard gaming hokum, the gameplay itself seems unique. As the developers are keen to ram home, it's one of the few RPG/RTS mixes on the market right now, meaning that you control your characters from an overhead view with the mouse and level their skills up as you progress. But that's not all--the game even offers an over-the-shoulder action view, which gives an offensive advantage, particularly in multiplayer. In the standard view, the combat takes inspiration from the mouse-clicking action of World of Warcraft, but the third-person viewpoint is intended to give a bit of variety for those yearning for something a little different.
The 16 chapters split Paradise City up into four different areas, each of which has four different districts. Progression depends on taking control of these sections by subduing the neighbourhood gang bosses and restoring balance in the process. You also need to secure an income for your growing operation, so setting up hotels and taking over bars is a must. Cleverly, you can use your properties as havens if you're under attack, and even have drinks at the bars if you need to replenish your health. Having said that, health is also replenished automatically, so simply taking shelter from attack is enough to avoid any impending death.
The city itself is nowhere near as open as the ones featured in Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown, but it does have some nice touches. As the sun sets and night creeps up on Paradise City, its residents turn on the lights in their houses and the world begins to cast dynamic shadows. The cloud formations also give you some indication of impending rain, and you'll hear some of the citizens of Paradise City making comments as you wander around. There's also a series of onscreen tips to help you get accustomed to the environment, as well as updated from a mysterious government figure called Kovacs, who sounds eerily similar to the same figure in Real Time Worlds' Crackdown.
In terms of gameplay, Escape from Paradise City has a strange mix of advanced and rather dated features. You can't, for example, get into a car and drive it around the city yourself--instead you have to hop in a taxi and tell it where to go. This limitation also leads to one other noticeable omission from the gameworld--the lack of any vehicles other than cars. On the plus side, we liked the ability to phone artificial intelligence-controlled allies during a gunfight, who promptly arrived and automatically provided covering fire. There are also some cool small ideas, such as the ability to bribe the mayor to get more gangs on your side, as well as using satellites to highlight everything in the neighbourhood on your in-game map.
While the single-player game will supposedly offer 20 hours of gameplay, it will also have support for up to eight people in online or local multiplayer. One mode is just about straight assassinations--killing the most number of people within an allotted time. Another will be about capturing the safe houses in the game, meaning that your enemies will not be able to respawn. The 13 maps will be rehashed from the single-player game, but they'll offer various sizes of arena to suit different numbers of players.
The team at Sirius is approaching the end of its two-year development cycle, and it's clearly proud of what it's managed to achieve. The world doesn't compare graphically to those in the latest blockbuster titles, but there's a nostalgic charm to the simplicity of its gameplay. Hopefully Sirius has packed in enough clever ideas and imagination into the game to bring something fresh to the table. We'll find out if it's managed to pull it off when the game lands this October on the PC.