We got our first look at Kya, the upcoming third-person platformer from Atari, at this year's E3. The game has been in development for a few years now at Eden Studios. The French developer's name should be familiar to racing fans, due to its work on the V-Rally series and a few entries in EA's Need for Speed franchise. Kya marks a distinct change of pace from the developer's recent projects, but it isn't an entirely new direction for Eden. The team also has experience with more-traditional platform-style games, having worked on a number of titles back in the SNES and PlayStation days. We had a chance to play an early build of Kya and got a taste of what to expect from the team's foray into the platformer genre on the PlayStation 2. The game features rich visuals and gameplay that draws inspiration from a number of different genres.
Kya's story follows the adventures of the game's main character, a young girl named Kya who is thrust into bizarre circumstances. Kya gets sucked into an alternate dimension with her brother, Frank, after the pair go poking around their late father's old workshop and accidentally trigger a device that zaps them into a bizarre world. When the game opens, Kya wakes up to find herself separated from Frank and surrounded by some strange furry creatures. Before she can process what has happened, she finds herself on the run, along with her mysterious fuzzy companions, when a pack of menacing creatures appears. Following her escape, Kya is befriended by her companions, called Nativs, who bring her up to speed on current events. The Nativs are a peaceful people being oppressed by an evil man named Brazul, who captures them and uses magic to transform them into wolfen, the feral creatures that attacked Kya at the game's opening. The Nativ village elder, Atea, decides that Kya is the Nativ's best hope for freedom and agrees to help her find her brother in exchange for her help in liberating all the captured Nativs. To aid her in her quest, Atea grants Kya the power to ride the winds and the ability to wield magic. Armed with her new abilities and with a sidekick named Aton, Kya sets out to find her brother and rescue the Nativs. Eden is touting the story's depth and promising a healthy dose of twists and turns. We're curious to see just how the story pans out, since Kya finds out early on that Brazul is, in fact, her father.
The gameplay in Kya is a mix of elements from different genres that appear to complement each other well even in the early build of the game we played. The core gameplay is third-person exploration as you go through the various locales in the world to free Nativs and search for Kya's brother. The exploration component of the game will require a fair amount of platform jumping, puzzle solving, and character interaction. The world you explore will be broken up into disparate chunks that are connected by wind channels. As you clear areas, you'll open up new channels and be able to access new areas in the game. The puzzles you'll encounter in the game range from traditional "figure out how to open the blocked passage" types to more-involved stealth-oriented puzzles that will require you to infiltrate wolfen installations by hiding behind boxes on conveyor belts and zipping by the heavily armed creatures. In some cases you'll need to interact with other characters for hints or help in your travels, as well as make use of creatures called jamguts, which will serve as fast-moving rides that are vital to reaching some of your goals.
In addition to the exploration element in Kya, there are two other major components to Kya's gameplay, combat and flying. Combat becomes a large part of the game as you encounter the various wolfen in the game. In order to restore them to their Nativ form you must beat them into submission and use Kya's magic. Unfortunately, the feral beasts aren't too thrilled at being changed back to their Nativ form. As a result you'll have to work at bringing them down, which is where the game's fighting system comes in. When you encounter a foe, the game will automatically shift into fighting mode and lock you onto the nearest enemy. Kya will have an assortment of punches and kicks, as well as a boomerang, at her disposal during a fight. The combat system is pretty basic at first, offering a limited number of combos, but as you progress through the game you can upgrade Kya's fighting moves. Kya will eventually be a gymnastic wolfen-killing machine right out of a Hong Kong action film, with an arsenal of leaps and grapples that will let you use your enemies against each other. The game uses a color-coded martial-arts-style system to help you track your upgrades. You'll start at white and work your way up to black by purchasing the upgrades in shops. Kya's magic abilities will also come into play, allowing her to enhance her attacks. Restoring Nativs becomes a vital component of the game, since they head back to their village and begin building it up, which means more shops and more items for you to buy.
The flying sequences in Kya are probably one of the coolest aspects of the game right now. You'll find several different varieties of wind-powered locomotion in the game, such as free-falling downward, moving forward, or sliding down tubes propelled by wind currents. The game does a fine job of conveying the freedom of flight as you zip through the air. Your control of Kya is pretty simple during these sequences--you'll usually just be able to slide her from side to side to avoid obstacles or push away objects when you encounter them. During the free-fall sequences you'll be able to change Kya's positioning to let her dive in the air like a skydiver.
The graphics on display in Kya are quite impressive even in the game's early state. Eden's familiarity with the PlayStation 2 hardware and its custom graphics engine have allowed the developer to coax quite a bit of performance out of the PlayStation 2. Kya's polygon-rich character model features a number of little touches, such as moving hair and clothing, that complement the smooth animation used to bring her to life. The Nativ and wolfen character models don't sport quite as much polygonal love, although their animation is nearly as smooth as Kya's, which helps lend them all unique personalities. The environments in the game are already quite beautiful, despite lacking polish and a variety of effects, and they feature wide-open spaces and clean detail.
The audio in the game is still coming together--the build of the game we played featured quite a bit of placeholder audio, so it's hard to gauge precisely where it's headed. You can expect that the game's main cast will be fully voiced in the final game. The game is also slated to feature ambient sound, some of which was in our build of the game, to bring the world to life. The music in the game appears to be skewing toward a more contemporary sound.
So far, Kya looks promising. The story is interesting, the graphics make impressive use of the PlayStation 2 hardware, and gameplay has a solid amount of variety. The early build of the game we played had some camera and frame rate inconsistencies that we hope to see addressed when Eden adds the final layer of polish to it. Kya is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game in the coming months.