BC Impressions

Microsoft shows off a new build of the Xbox's prehistoric action game.

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We sat in on a demo of Intrepid Studios' upcoming Xbox game BC. We first saw the game, which challenges you to take control of a tribe of humans and survive in a prehistoric world, at last year's E3. At that time the game was in its infancy and offered just a taste of what was to come. We were able to see the initial valleys you'll start out in and a surly baby tyrannosaurus chomping on local wildlife and a member of your tribe. This year the game was in a much more polished state and offered a better representation of what the final game will offer.

The demo began in the valley we saw last year, but this year's version of the valley was a livelier place. The demo began with a lone tribesman standing on a cliff taking in all the activity. Flocks of winged dinosaurs sailed through the sky, while their larger earthbound brethren roamed the valley floor. Brontosaurs soaked in a nearby river, and small rodents skittered through the grass.

When the caveman returned to his nearby village we were treated to a thriving community about halfway toward developing its way to safety. For those unfamiliar with the game's premise, BC's main goal is to guide a prehistoric settlement through the aforementioned valley to safer environs. You'll start out with a relatively helpless and rather dense assortment of tribesmen who aren't particularly adept at anything. As you progress through the game's series of missions set in different areas leading to safety, your prehistoric charges will slowly begin to mature and gain some brainpower.

The villagers in the demo had been advanced to a somewhat more sophisticated state than the slack-jawed yokels you'll start with. The tribe had already picked up a solid assortment of skills and was working its way up the evolutionary chain. The gameplay in BC appears to be shaping up into a very elegant affair with accessible controls for your tribesmen. The key mechanic is the tag function that lets you swap direct control to any available members of your tribe. Switching between tribe members is ultimately the key to success in the game because members of your tribe will have unique abilities that you'll need to progress. The tribe members will break down into roughly five basic professions, or "callings": scout, hunter, mystic, builder, and diver. Scouts have a sniper-scope-style vision mode and can move quickly. Mystics can imbue items with different powers, such as poisoning a piece of food or setting arrows on fire. Hunters have the greatest physical strength. Builders are the engineers of the group and can build just about anything you want via a simple interface. Divers are the best swimmers of the bunch and are very good at fighting underwater. The demo also gave us a feel for the mission-based structure of the game, which presents you with tasks to accomplish and rewards you with different technological or cultural upgrades for your tribe. So, for example, when you complete a mission your tribesmen will gain either new skills or some kind of cultural enhancement such as the ability to do body art or create new kinds of clothes.

The graphics in the game made impressive use of the Xbox hardware and a generous polygon budget that afforded a high level of detail everywhere in the game. The members of your tribe all featured a high level of detail that captured the special magic of prehistoric body hair in high-res detail. Animation in the game was a bit inconsistent, with the assorted wildlife moving a bit smoother than the humans. The members of the tribe had some rather abrupt animation that could use a few extra frames to smooth them out. The valley looked great and featured a wide expanse that showed off an impressive draw distance. The various tress and plants were destructible or could be affected by your tribe in some way, which complemented the freedom offered by the gameplay. One of the most interesting aspects of the game was how your interaction with the game affects the ecosystem. For example, if you set fire to certain trees or scare off a specific breed of animal, there will be repercussions in the environment. For instance, if you destroy the trees a certain animal eats that animal will leave the area. If the animal is a large part of a carnivore's diet, then the carnivores will move on as well. You can also have some fun by setting animals on fire and watching them race around in a panic, occasionally setting their fellow creatures alight as well.

The audio in the demo was still early and was missing some elements, but it offered some very nice ambient touches, such as various animal cries and moving brush. There was quite a bit of chatter from your tribe during the demo as they undertook a quest. You may find that you can come to understand a bit of the primitive language as they mature.

From what we've seen so far, BC is coming along well. The core gameplay is solid and appears to have a good amount of depth to be explored. The impressive graphics paint a unique and involving picture of the ancient world that's full of surprises, some good and some rude. The demo left us wanting more, which is a good sign. BC is currently slated to ship in the early part of 2004. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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