Thanks to Peter Jackson's enormously successful film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, fantasy is back in the pop-cultural mind-set in a big way. Now Disney and Shrek director Andrew Anderson are bringing Tolkien contemporary C.S. Lewis' own masterwork, The Chronicles of Narnia, to the silver screen, starting this December with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Buena Vista Games and Traveler's Tales are working on a promising-looking action game based on the upcoming film that's similar in some respects to the Rings games released by EA. We got an updated look at several of Narnia's levels and some new gameplay elements recently and were impressed by the aesthetically appealing game Traveler's Tales is putting together.
If you've never read Lewis' classic septet (you were a kid at one point, right?), the first volume chronicles four British children's escape from the travails of World War II into the mystical land of Narnia through a musty, disused piece of furniture. Once immersed in Narnia, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy find themselves embroiled in an epic conflict between Aslan, the lion ruler of Narnia, and the malevolent white witch, who has enslaved and frozen the land. You'll take control of all the children as you play through 15 levels that are set in the same locations and scenarios as the movie, and the ones of which we've seen so far are lushly decorated with organic scenery and a menagerie of enemies taken directly from the film.
The basic action and combat in Narnia are much like what we've seen previously in EA's Lord of the Rings games, in that you'll play through cinematic action sequences mirroring those of the film, and you'll control one of the four primary characters while the others perform their own actions under control of the artificial intelligence. Each of the children has his or her own special attributes. Peter is the most capable melee fighter, for instance, while Susan has a ranged attack and can incapacitate enemies with song. The smallest child, Lucy, isn't much of a fighter, but she can heal the group when you take control of her. You'll also be able to have the kids pair up to perform even more-powerful attacks, which will drain a special rechargeable meter.
Also like the Lord of the Rings games, the children will have unique combo attacks that you can invoke by hitting the right buttons, and you'll be able to upgrade these after you finish a level. You can collect coins throughout each action sequence and then cash them in through an upgrade interface, which will let you buy new combo attacks and special moves or improve existing ones. You'll also be able to get better equipment, which will be represented in the game. For instance, Peter will graduate from his standard school uniform and a stick to a suit of armor and a sword.
We got to see some of Narnia's interactive levels back at E3, and we saw several more during this recent demo. One demo had the children fighting a couple of wolves whom they were powerless to damage. The solution here was instead to throw rocks at a large ice wall to bring down a waterfall and wash them away. In a much later battle (amid a number of lesser creatures), the kids were up against a couple of enormous giants, and the only way we could find to take them down was to call in a group of archers to fell the beasts from afar. A third, puzzlelike scenario had us taking control of the tiny Lucy and inching our way across a frozen lake in order to map out a stable path for the older children to follow. The final game will purportedly be full of environmental interactions like this, with accompanying cues to give you an idea of how to make use of them.
Though the cooperative third-person melee combat will form the core of the game, The Chronicles of Narnia will have some peripheral gameplay elements mixed in for variety, and we got to check some of these out during our demo. Some levels will have rudimentary racing elements, such as one we tried that had the children riding a chunk of ice down a roaring, frigid river that forced us to slalom back and forth to avoid rock outcroppings and other obstacles. Another similar sequence will see you sledding down a snowy mountain. These racing sections will control like your typical downhill race, much like a snowboarding game.
Another potentially more-involved gameplay element was inspired by the film director himself. As you play through the game's levels, you'll encounter frozen statues of those citizens of Narnia who have defied the white witch. Freeing these poor trapped souls will add them to your list of allies. When you finally reach the climactic battle against the enemy armies, the number of statues you've collected throughout the game will determine how many allies you can allot to different strategic areas on a tactical overhead map of the battle, which will indicate the relative strengths of the good and bad sides' forces. Essentially, the more allies you collect throughout the game, the easier it'll be to turn back the tide of evil during the final massive battle.
The developers of the game have been working with Anderson (who reviews periodic builds) and using the production design to make the game look as close to the film as possible, and it shows. The environments have an organic feel and a depth to them that looks similar to the little we've seen of the film so far, and the costume and monster designs are naturally as close to those of the movie as possible. The game will even feature voice-over provided by the full cast of the movie (the four principal child actors just delivered their lines, in fact). All in all, it looks like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe should serve as a solid playable companion to the film, which will be out in December. You can look for the game to hit shelves a little earlier, in mid-November, and we'll have more on it in the coming months.