The Haunted: Hell's Reach is a third-person action game that pits a team of human demon hunters against the legions of hell itself. This new action game is being developed by the most recent winners of Epic's Make Something Unreal contest--a homegrown project that will be brought to market as a full-fledged cooperative multiplayer game by publisher THQ for the PC, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network. Game director Michael Hegemann and creative director Gerhard Weihrauch explain.
GameSpot: Give us an overview of The Haunted. What was the inspiration for making this game?
Michael Hegemann: The Haunted: Hell's Reach is a fast-paced third-person shooter/brawler that knows no compromise. All hell has broken loose, and the forces of evil are rising up. As one of four badass demon hunters, you make a stand against the hellspawn with a huge arsenal of deadly weapons and melee combat [skills] to send the minions back to where they belong. The game can be played alone or together with your friends in various multiplayer modes.
Quite a few people said it looks influenced by the Dark Tower universe, especially the first book. And it is. That style is so perfectly described--it's so distinct and memorable that it sticks with you.
The scenario is also heavily influenced by horror and action films as well as TV shows that most gamers of our generation watched as kids. It's like Evil Dead meets The A-Team. There is a trash/grindhouse vibe to it, and we don't try to be uberserious. It's all about the fun.
Gerhard Weihrauch: In terms of gameplay, the biggest influence was definitely the games created by action mastermind Shinji Mikami of Platinum Games. He's one of my favorite developers!
Resident Evil 4, God Hand, and Vanquish (all praised for their fantastic design) served as main sources of inspiration for The Haunted: Hell's Reach. My goal was to combine elements of all those games into something new and interesting that fans of hardcore action games, like me, would enjoy playing.
GS: We understand that The Haunted is a third-person action game about a war between humans and demons. Where and when does the game take place? Who are the primary characters in the conflict?
MH: The game takes place in the near future when a demonic threat rises in haunted places that were once sanctuaries of evil. You play as a demon hunter who has to liberate these places, take them out of "hell's reach," and prevent the demonic apocalypse. The fight takes you all around the world--to ghost towns, high mountain castles, ancient excavation sites, and even to hell, where you face the demon lord Abaddon.
The characters (Bruce, Hector, Jacob, and Caleb) are four demon hunters who once bound their lives to soulstones and fight the purest form of evil in order to redeem themselves for their questionable past lives. They were villains in our world and are now heroes in theirs. Each of them has his own motivation in dealing with the demonic threat, which they express once in a while when killing minions. Jacob has found faith and sees himself as weapon of God; Hector is happy when things blow up; for Bruce, killing is not unlike professional engineering; and Caleb has his wisdom and deeper knowledge of what really goes on. Together they stand as one.
Inspiration comes from over-the-top-style action heroes from the 1980s and newer sources like 300, as well as game characters like Kratos. We try to get as far away from military-type characters as possible, since there are enough obedient soldiers already.
GS: Why go third-person rather than being a first-person shooter? What does this different perspective let you do that a first-person perspective wouldn't?
GW: One of the key advantages of a third-person perspective is that you can see your character and everything around him. This grants players a much better overview of the gameplay situation and lets him judge threats more easily. In first-person shooters, the field of vision is always the limiting factor in terms of information that you can give players about what's going on, unless you add a lot of additional "helpers" in the form of heads-up display elements.
Another important gameplay element in The Haunted: Hell's Reach is our melee system, which includes various attacks and executions. Following up a combat roll with an uppercut or combining a back elbow into a back kick just wouldn't work very well in first-person. At the very least, it would look pretty silly and feel disorienting. Take Mirror's Edge, for example--as awesome as this game was, the first-person melee elements just didn't work very well.
So from a design perspective, a third-person view just lets us do more interesting things with gameplay than a first-person perspective. Also, I think that players connect more with their characters if they can see them.
GS: We understand that The Haunted is going to focus primarily on team-based multiplayer. Will there be any single-player component? If so, could you tell us about it?
MH: We are a tiny independent team and don't really have the resources or people required to create a full-blown single-player campaign that can compete with actual big-budget productions. Therefore we set the focus on the arcade and multiplayer experience. A lot of games have "horde" and "play as the monster" modes these days, but we aim to be the definitive game that is really focused on these particular game types. We don't need to make any trade-offs since we are not working with a huge intellectual property, so we don't need to as be careful about what we do. We can take risks and try out new things.
GS: Give us an overview of the game's multiplayer modes. What will the game offer that's different from multiplayer team action games that are out there now?
MH: The game will come with four multiplayer modes in the initial release. Inferno is our default co-op mode. Up to four human players have to make a stand against the demons and send as many minions as possible back to hell while redeeming the souls of fallen comrades by destroying their soulstones. This mode offers intense and frantic action that doesn't force players to play cooperatively, but rewards them for working together. There's also a little built-in competition between the human players with regards to who can score the most points and kill the most minions--it's more like the friendly competition between Legolas and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies than head-to-head competition, though.
Survival is a variation of Inferno in which the humans need to survive as long as possible against an ever-growing horde of minions until all humans are dead.
Battle and Demonizer are modes where players can spawn and play as the hellspawn. Battle is a competitive mode that pits up to four humans against up to four demons, while Demonizer puts a little twist on the co-op formula. In Demonizer, each dead human turns into a demon who tries to hunt down the other humans. If you manage to kill one, you respawn as a human. The player that stays human for the longest time wins.
I should mention that hosting and joining multiplayer games is really easy and painless. Quite a few games make it feel like work to get into an online game, and we don't want that. [For the PC version,] you won't need to log into anything else than Steam--a few clicks and you're in the game. We also support dedicated servers.
GS: So you'll play as human characters fighting demon hordes in the game. Will all the weapons you use be conventional firearms? Any unusual or experimental high-tech weaponry, or magic powers?
MH: The humans rely on traditional firearms and close-combat weapons like a chainsaw or the infamous "witchhammer." There are 36 distinct weapons in total that you can acquire through upgrades you get after shedding enough minion blood. Each weapon has a unique feel to it. It's not just a bunch of full-auto weapons with different models. To make the two factions more distinct, only the demons use magical and arcane powers. Everything the humans can do is theoretically possible in the real world. For instance, one of the more unusual weapons is the nitrogen launcher, which can freeze enemies instantly and turns them into ice blocks that players can then smash.
GW: Aside from conventional weapons, the game offers a great variety of melee moves. The system is similar to fighting games, in which different moves have different effects. First, you melee a minion to stun it, and while your target is stunned, you can perform a brutal execution attack that not only kills, but also has the useful property of hurling away all nearby enemies to create space. Every melee attack can be charged up and turned into a more-powerful instant-kill move. However, some monsters become enraged when you melee them too often and will become immune to it. Other monsters are immune to bullets and can only be taken down by melee. This will constantly challenge players to adapt to new situations and guarantee some variety.
GS: We also understand that in some of the game's modes, players will be able to play as demons. How will demon characters differ from human characters?
MH: Playing as a demon is part of the Battle and Demonizer modes. Demons are the spiritual entities, similar to the smoke monster from Lost, while minions are the physical entities. You can also play as a minion in the third-person perspective as well. The minions are more like demonic zombies. They are just much more fun to kill than a bunch of tentacle monsters.
Each of the environments also has a cataclysmic event, such as a meteor shower or a raging thunderstorm, which provides another gameplay-affecting threat. These events can be triggered by demon players to cause even more havoc.
GS: When will the game be released and for what platforms? Any chance of seeing a console release?
MH: The game is scheduled for release on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network sometime next year. We will keep updating the PC version, and all the improvements and extra content will be in the console releases as well.
GS: Finally, is there anything you'd like to add about the game?
GW: It should be mentioned that we will actively support mods and that we look forward to all the crazy things the community will come up with. If you have ideas or comments, feel free to visit us on our website.
MH: It's about kicking ass, and not getting your ass kicked. It's like "Resident Gears of Left 4 Evil Dead" turned up to 11! If you're into action games and want an insanely fun third-person shooter without restrictions, clunky movement, and too much military dude-bros, you should check out The Haunted: Hell's Reach!
GS: Thank you.