Bounty Hounds Updated Impressions

You may be outnumbered, but you won't be outgunned in this sci-fi action game for the Sony PSP.

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In our last look at Bounty Hounds, Namco's upcoming third-person sci-fi action game for the PSP, we got to play a one-level demo of the game that featured the protagonist, a dual-weapon-wielding badass named Maximillian, mowing down wave after wave of enemies hell-bent on returning the favor. At tonight's Namco press event in San Francisco, we to know a little bit more about Maximillian, the overall storyline for the game, as well as some of the more intricate aspects of the weapons and character evolution systems found in the game.

First of all: What is a bounty hound? According to game producers, that's the name given to a band of mercenaries hired by the human race to perform special combat-related tasks. It seems in the Bounty Hounds game universe that humans are in a race with aliens to take over as many planets as possible, an interstellar landgrab, if you will. Humans, either from a lack of skill or an unwillingness to get their own hands dirty, hire these so-called bounty hounds (of which Maximillian is a member) to do their dirty work for them. As the game progresses, the more than 40 missions found in the game will pit you against the horde of no-good aliens that's intent on stopping you, no matter the cost.

Though the game does include some light role-playing elements, such as character leveling and equipping weapon and armor, once you hit the surface of a planet locked and loaded, it's all about the combat. This is where the more than 500 different types of weapons and armor will play to your advantage, as you'll likely need everyone one of them to slash and shoot your way through the hordes of alien enemies that will come your way.

With so many weapons to choose from--both ranged and melee--isn't it nice to know you have two hands to wield them with? Dual wielding will be a key component to combat in Bounty Hounds, as the flexible system will let you mix and match your weapons as you like. Against a group of enemies at a distance, you can wield two rifles; when things get too close for comfort, you can arm yourself with melee weapons (one of which looks conspicuously close to the Soul Edge blade found in Soul Calibur, another Namco game). The ability to mix and match weapons will be a key component of the game, and the ease with which you can make these switches simply by holding down the R trigger, makes combat that much more user-friendly.

As a bounty hound, Maximillian has one other key component in his arsenal: field skills. Essentially, these gadgets let you create small "bubbles" in the combat zone. Any enemies unlucky enough to be in that bubble will suffer from a variety of debilitating effects, such as lowered defensive or offensive ratings, depending on the type of field skills.

Weapons, armor, and field skills will all be customizable in the game, as will Maximillian's statistics for attributes such as strength, dexterity, and psionics. By attaching modules to certain weapons, you can improve that weapon's abilities and effectiveness. The same is true for the many different types of armor and field skills found in the game. The only limiting factor for each mission is the number of field skills and weapons you can take on a particular level. You're limited to six weapons total--three for each hand--and though the field skill tree is huge in the game, you'll only be able to take a handful out with you. Obviously, then, you'll want to choose wisely.

Controls in the game seem pretty straightforward. The analog stick is used to move Maximillian through the battlefields, and you use the face buttons for weapon attacks. The X button brings up a shield for truly hairy situations, and you activate your field skills using the square button. While we didn't notice any major camera issues with the game while watching the demo, it's nice to know you can make camera adjustments if you want to by holding down the left trigger and moving the analog stick. We were impressed with the game's gritty sci-fi look and overall solid frame rate. And even with a good amount of enemies on the screen, it looked to run at a solid clip that should hold steady as the game nears its release date.

While in battle you can loot enemy corpses to acquire new equipment and modules, and as you make kills, you'll rack up experience points, which you can take back to your ship and use to level up your character. New weapons and armor acquisitions, character leveling, and healing will all take place on the main ship in between missions.

In terms of multiplayer support, Bounty Hounds will support game sharing. Two players will be able to hook up for a quick versus match using the PSP's ad hoc wireless capability. With a game this sharp-looking, and with this many weapons to fire off, it would have been nice to have seen some networked co-op play support, but alas, it doesn't look to be in the cards for the game. Still, with missions on more than four unique planets to play through, and a metric ton of cool gadgets to collect, Bounty Hounds looks as if it will provide plenty of things to do for gamers looking to get their sci-fi war on. We're looking forward to getting more in-depth with this game, as we like what we've seen so far. It isn't due for release until the first quarter of 2006, so we're hoping that chance comes sooner rather than later. Nonetheless, stay tuned, because as soon as we have news on the game, so will you.

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