Star Fox E3 2004 Hands-On Impressions

Fox McCloud is back, and this time he didn't forget his arwing fighter.

At Nintendo's E3 booth, we had an opportunity to play both multi- and single-player modes of the upcoming Star Fox game for the GameCube. The multiplayer aspect allows for four-player split-screen; the E3 demo included a surprising variety of maps and game modes. The first match we tried was a four-arwing dogfight around an orbital space station. The overall feel was not unlike a four-player dogfight from Star Fox 64, but of course with lusher graphics and a smoother frame rate than you'd expect. Star Fox fans will be immediately familiar with the control scheme, as you have the ability to perform barrel rolls to escape a laser attack,and do canned loop and immelmann maneuvers. You can also do a lock-on and charged laser shot, as well as use fire bombs. As in previous Star Fox games, getting item pickups like shield recharges and double laser cannons was key to dominating multiplayer dogfights.

The other maps we played were terrestrial, and you could set the game to be machines only (everyone spawns in a landmaster tank or arwing) or a combination of on-foot and vehicle combat in third-person. We had our choice of four characters to play as: the titular Fox McCloud, the fiery Falco, the ever-useless Slippy, and a female character named Krystal. The landmaster tank was surprisingly good against airborne foes in arwings, as you can raise the cannon to a high angle and also get a bit of aiming assistance from the relatively large aiming reticle. It's also relatively easy to dodge out of harm's way, as the tank can roll over the ground in either direction. Landmaster tanks also have a limited jump jet capability to hop onto walls or over obstacles.

When we shot multiplayer enemies out of vehicles, they didn't automatically die--they bailed out automatically as their vehicles exploded, so we had to finish them off once they were on foot to score the kill. Vehicles spawn randomly around the maps--a base facility map we played included landmasters spawning on the ground and arwings popping up on the higher level landing pads. An outdoor level with a gentle river cutting through a grassy valley seemed to only include landmasters. There were also a couple of VR maps with Tron-like wireframe objects to break up the open space. Handheld weapons were surprisingly powerful, including a fast-firing spread gun and a guided rocket launcher that would seek opponents after we gained a lock-on.

There were a couple of single-player missions available to play as well. One appeared to be one of the first missions in the game, as it was a relatively easy space shooting mission in an arwing. After a pre-mission briefing from the stately hound dog General Pepper, we watched an in-engine cutscene of the four pilots running down a walkway to their ships, which then launched. Once we were in the game, waves of robot fighter droids attacked us, broken up by the occasional set of capital ships, which were surprisingly easy to take out with a couple of charged shots at the central ship joint. The amount of spaceship "fighting" and laser shot activity going on in the background was pretty impressive, reminding us a bit of Macross/Robotech anime. Unfortunately all the visual noise made it a little confusing to figure out which things you could shoot (and were actually shooting at us) and which objects were just part of the scenery.

The other single-player mission had us on foot, fighting in the same Cornerian base facility we played in multiplayer. This time we were up against spiderlike robots that reminded us a lot of the bugs from the Starship Troopers film. Eventually we were able to hop into a landmaster tank to easily run over the smaller bugs, but other, larger enemies soon arrived, like a hermit crab-like bot that shot missiles and would try to run us over with an enormous ball for a shell. Another crablike enemy fired slow plasma balls at us, which were easily dodged by the landmaster's roll capability.

Overall, the new Star Fox game on the GameCube is shaping up to please fans of the original SNES Star Fox and Star Fox 64. Though there will be on-foot elements like in Star Fox Adventures, it seems that much more emphasis in this new Star Fox will be on the vehicles. All in all, Namco's interpretation definitely feels more like a true Star Fox game than Rare's title did. Star Fox is expected to ship on the GameCube in late 2004. We'll have more information as it becomes available.

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