No longer scheduled to get an official North American release, Project Altered Beast is an action game in which you'll assume the role of a special military operative with the ability to transform into a number of different beast forms. We managed to get our hands on the recently released Japanese retail version of the game and have played through the first couple of areas in order to give any of you who are thinking about importing it some idea of what you can expect.
Project Altered Beast's low-resolution textures make a lousy first impression at the start of the story mode, and things don't get any better as you progress. The camera makes no attempt whatsoever to stay behind you as you run around fighting animated corpses, bats, giant rats, and such, and it isn't terribly responsive when you try to reposition it manually. Tapping the L1 button will quickly move the camera to a position directly behind you, but the action onscreen is so fast-paced at times that you can find yourself having to press it almost as often as your attack button. Given that Project Altered Beast frequently pits you against upward of 50 enemies simultaneously--which would be impressive if it weren't for the accompanying drops in the frame rate--you won't be surprised to hear that your attack button will be getting plenty of use.
The combat that we've experienced in Project Altered Beast thus far has been mindless for the most part, but it can quickly become challenging if you're unable to remain in your chosen beast form. The human form in the game is basically useless in combat since the punch and kick combinations at your disposal do very little damage. The only beast form that we've been able to transform into to date is the werewolf, which affords more-powerful claw and jumping attacks as well as much more resilience to enemy attacks. The downside of being in any beast form, though, is that you need to keep the green energy bar below your red health bar topped up in order to remain in it, which basically means that you have to kill all of the enemies that you encounter as quickly as possible and hope that they drop a green pickup for you. If your green energy bar reaches zero, you'll start losing health for as long as you remain in your beast form, which is actually a better option than switching back to your human form on many occasions. We've generally had no trouble keeping our green bar topped up, and the gameplay mechanic has definitely had a positive impact on the speed at which we play the game.
In addition to the red and green pickups that restore your health and beast-form bars respectively, enemies in Project Altered Beast will often drop objects that allow you to improve your character's skills via the pause menu. Chips dropped by enemies can be used to increase the length of your combo strings, increase the attributes of one of your forms, and, eventually, unlock additional beast forms from the nine available. Every time you transform into a beast, incidentally, you'll be "treated" to one of several variations of a quite gruesome rendered movie. We've found that the movies get old very quickly, and since there are no transformation visuals in-game, there's also no option to switch the movies off.
With all of the additional beast forms and combos to unlock, it's conceivable that Project Altered Beast is a game that will get better the further you get into it. This is also suggested by the game's attract mode, which incorporates action sequences from levels spanning the entire game. It's unfortunate that Project Altered Beast gets off to such a bad start, though, because we suspect that all but the most dedicated Altered Beast fans will quickly be turned off. We'll let you know if things improve dramatically as we continue to play through the game.