TOKYO--A series of misadventures in Tokyo's Roppongi district landed us in a meeting with representatives from UK developer Warthog this evening, allowing us to take a look at some of its games. One of them is Johnny Whatever, an original property with an anarchic punk-rock look and feel and unique rhythm-based gameplay. After playing a brief demo and learning some more about the upcoming game's intended platforms, we're rather intrigued.
Johnny Whatever takes place in an Orwellian, early-'80s London cityscape in which the Iron Mother (think Margaret Thatcher with a death wish) has enslaved the city, declared music a crime, and dispatched hordes of "robo-bobbies" to enforce her joyless rule. You'll take control of Johnny Whatever, leader of the punk band The Hooligans, and guide his attempt to thwart the Iron Mother and restore anarchy--er, that is, order--to the land.
Judging from the brief demo we played, Johnny Whatever plays in the now-familiar Grand Theft Auto style, in which you roam around a living environment and complete missions for various characters from a third-person view. The gameplay style was described by Warthog as a "sandbox," a term we've noticed lately is becoming synonymous with the phrase "like Grand Theft Auto." So, yeah, Johnny Whatever is a sandbox game. We completed a few quick missions that had us killing robo-bobbies for parts, freeing a certain number of enslaved worker drones (by rocking them out until they reverted back to their true punk-rock selves), and so on.
Where Johnny Whatever differs is in its attack mechanics. Essentially, this is a GTA-style game with rhythm-action-game elements. Each of the four face buttons is mapped to a power chord, you can use the whammy bar with the left trigger, and so on. We found we could trash robo-bobbies by playing the appropriate chord (based on button color), and when we talked to random passersby, we were given a song (complete with scrolling PaRappa-style button display) that we had to complete. We played songs by acts like The Ramones, Iron Butterfly, and Deep Purple--and somehow the Star Wars "Imperial March" even snuck in there. Just jamming with the available chords was pretty darn fun in itself, and rocking out to various classic rock and more-modern material (The White Stripes, Metallica) was also pretty awesome. Note that none of these songs are actually confirmed to be in the game yet, but rather were included for demo purposes to show the sort of music Warthog would like to license for release.
We played the Johnny Whatever demo on a PC, and the game was running on the second-generation Unreal engine. But here's an oddity: It's not shipping on that engine, and it won't show up on the Xbox or PS2. Warthog says the game is quite a long ways off, and will be targeted at Unreal Engine 3.0 (which it says the game will be ported to in three to six weeks) and the PS3 and Xbox 2. What we played tonight felt like a pretty nifty and fairly complete game already, so considering the amount of development time Johnny Whatever has yet to undergo, we're eager to see just how the final product turns out.
We'll be honest: We went into the Johnny Whatever demo expecting a third-person action game starring The Sex Pistols, but we got a whole lot more than that. The rhythm-action gameplay seemed to combine seamlessly with the GTA-style go-anywhere roaming mechanics, and the game already has a cohesive sense of style, from Johnny's spiky hairdo to the thick British accents that most characters seem to have. We're expecting to hear more about this game in the coming months, even though Johnny Whatever won't be out until at least one of the next-generation platforms ships. But for now, take a look at new footage of the game in action and stay tuned to GameSpot for more details. For more updates, be sure to check GameSpot's coverage of Tokyo Game Show 2004.