The ancient legend of the Knights Templar touches on such themes as honor, sacrifice, betrayal, and really bad bank loans. Haemimont's The First Templar will take on these themes in a cooperative action adventure game that, impressively enough, is being built on the same technology that powered the studio's recent tropical-themed strategy game Tropico 3. However, this time around, there aren't any pina coladas or getting caught in the rain; nor is there any magic or high fantasy. Instead, The First Templar is a game in which you'll play as a Templar knight embroiled in a conspiracy that eventually leads to the order's downfall.
Our demonstration began with a quick run-through of the game's first area, the landing docks on Cyprus, which is the Templars' base of operations. This sunny Mediterranean island acts as the game's early tutorial and is generously narrated with cutscenes that set up the story of your character and his first companion--a sturdy knight who brings his sword and shield to bear on part of your quest.
You meet the grand master templar who is deep in prayer and then learn how to fight in melee combat. You'll perform quick swings of the sword, block incoming attacks with your shield (properly timed shield defenses briefly stun the attacker), and use a power attack ability to shatter your enemies' shields. In this area, we received a story-related quest to rescue one of the king's missing messengers, though we also quickly picked up a side quest to free local farmers from the scourge of curiously organized bandits equipped with knights' armor and weapons.
These pesky warriors fell quickly in the face of our aggressive swordplay and were knocked flat on their backs so that they could be finished off with a coup de grace attack (without which they would once again recover and attack us). In most cases throughout the game's 10 expansive levels, you'll have a primary story quest and an extra side quest or two that will yield bonus rewards. These include extra experience points that will count toward your adventuring group's development along the game's four-pronged skill tree, which includes specializations in combat power, speed, and toughness.
We then skipped ahead to a later mission to rescue Marie, the game's other playable companion--a feisty female freedom fighter. Marie wields dual daggers in close combat but also, later in the game, wields a crossbow to attack from a distance. This mission started off in an abbey run by the dreaded Inquisition (whom, sadly, no one expects). In this mission, our two stout knights appeared to spring the mistakenly imprisoned young lady from captivity but were told by the abbot that there was no mistake (the Inquisition doesn't make those) and that the woman was not to be released.
At this point, we took a stealth-based approach and quietly walked behind the abbot to eavesdrop on his conversations with various members of the clergy (while taking special care to keep a healthy distance so we weren't detected). We eventually discovered that the abbot held audience with an evil brigand who had led powerful enemies against us in a previous mission and that the young lady we sought to rescue had been rousing the rabble in the prisons below. The cold-hearted cleric gave the brigand clearance to murder all prisoners to avoid a full-on uprising, which was our cue to scramble down a nearby secret passage into the dank dungeons to engage in some stealth gameplay.
The First Templar's stealth gameplay doesn't seem amazingly complicated and gives you the option to use a simple, context-sensitive command to switch from your usual manly gait to a stealth mode. When you and your companion enter stealth mode, enemies appear on the game's minimap with cones of vision to indicate their field of view--the area you must avoid to prevent your capture. At some points, while sneaking through the dungeon, we snuck behind some giant barrels and used them as cover with a single button press to hide behind them.
After sneaking past a few groups of guards patrolling the donjon's secret entrance, we made our way into the prison proper and past groups of wretched captives who reached out to us from behind bars toward Marie's cell. Because there were a few more scattered guards in the area, we had an opportunity to try out the game's stealth kills, which you can perform automatically from a stealth position if you sneak up on an oblivious enemy and press a button to perform a context-sensitive attack. In this case, we performed a gruesome throat slitting. We then released the sharp-tongued Marie, who joined us in battle with her dual daggers. On this rare occasion, all three characters were onscreen at once, though during most of the game, you'll control a single character joined by a companion (a la Resident Evil 5) and have the ability to freely switch control between the two characters in single-player. Or you can play cooperatively with a friend via shared console or online with a no-strings-attached, drop-in, drop-out system. The First Templar will be released in early 2011.