THQ unveils Alter Echo

Morph into several different forms on the fly in this third-person action game from THQ.

At its pre-E3 press event, THQ unveiled an original action game in development at Outrage Games. Called Alter Echo, the game follows the travels of a ship investigating a disturbance on a far-flung planet. As the ship approaches the planet's surface, it is shot down and obviously has to crash-land.

The only living thing to escape the crash is Nevin, a shapeshifter with the ability to morph into two variances of his human form. Nevin's body is covered in a living substance called multiplast, which lets his body change forms rather quickly. Each form has its own strength, but THQ stated that it will be possible to complete the game using just one. But there's no reason to use just one character when you realize that morphing is as simple as pressing L1. However, you do not have the ability to use all three characters at the game's outset. You eventually come across them during the game--then they become playable.

In his basic form, Nevin looks almost human, save for the multiplast surrounding his body. In this form, his golden sword is his most valuable asset, and he can slash at enemies with a fervor. While in his human form, pressing the L2 button will initiate what THQ is calling TimeDilation. The action will slow to a crawl, the visuals will go blurry, the camera will pan in, and you'll be able to input a variety of combo commands. First, you must press the triangle button to choose an enemy to attack and then follow it up with one of the other face buttons to choose the attack type. Once the commands have been entered, the game switches back to real time, and the combo is carried out. To use the TimeDilation power, you have to collect spheres that are dropped by dead enemies.

Nevin's most devastating form makes him grow in size to become a true juggernaut. Any time that brute force is required to blast through a wall or clear out large groups of enemies, the juggernaut is a wise choice. He has a huge rocket launcher for an arm, which provides the most convincing firepower in the game, and he can also take care of enemies with his mauling melee skills.

The third form is an amphibianlike creature with toes resembling those of a tree frog. It can go completely invisible to blend in with the environment or climb up and down vertical walls to reach areas that the other two forms of Nevin cannot. The creature also has stealth kill abilities that allow it to take out the enemy in relative silence.

The level design and puzzles are structured around the abilities of each form of Nevin. It's the player's job to recognize which sections of the level require which creature to complete them and ultimately reach the end of the level. THQ stated that the gameplay will be more heavily steeped in sword combat while playing as Nevin's primary form, but from what we were shown of the game, it looks like it will require equal cooperation among the three forms. The game is still very early in development, but eventually there will be an extensive conversation system instituted into the gameplay, and THQ hopes that players will enjoy a sense of discovery when the game is completed.

Thanks to its predominant use of cool colors, such as blues and purples, Alter Echo has a very campy '80s sci-fi feel to it. The planet's surface is "alive," and seems to spawn enemies. This helps keep the action coming, but hopefully Outrage Games will recognize the many pitfalls of respawning enemies and make the necessary adjustments to avoid them. The enemies we were allowed to see looked like insects with mechanical wings and electric swords. We were shown three different areas in the game, but they all seemed to use similar water-based themes. The ground is covered with animated textures that look rather crisp, but the polygonal detail in the environments seems a bit simplistic.

Alter Echo will also include real-time cinemas using upgraded character models from those used during gameplay and already features some other nice touches as well. Enemies will realistically bounce off the environment or tumble down inclines in an incredibly realistic manner. The game's rag-doll physics engine, as it's being referred to by THQ, is already quite impressive. Other small touches include dynamic camera filters that will alter the entire image in a variety of ways, depending upon the action onscreen. Real-time facial animation rounds out an otherwise solid visual presentation.

Comparisons to Rare's Kameo: Elements of Power for the GameCube are inevitable, but Alter Echo focuses more on the actual combat and less on the number of different creatures to morph into. For a game that's only 30 percent complete and scheduled for release early next year, it already has a distinct look, as well as some interesting concepts that are pulled off quite well. We weren't allowed to play Alter Echo at THQ's pre-E3 event, but a playable version of the game will be shown at E3. Look for a full hands-on report soon.

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