Death by Degrees E3 2004 Preshow Hands-On Impressions

We get to test-drive an early build of Namco's action adventure game featuring Tekken's lovely assassin, Nina Williams.

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One of Namco's more unusual product announcements lately must certainly be Death by Degrees, an action adventure game that's a spin-off of the tremendously popular Tekken series of 3D fighting games (which, incidentally, is due for a new installment sometime soon, according to our calculations). In Death by Degrees, players will assume the role of Nina Williams, a trained spy and assassin, who will be charged with tracking down a secret weapon and uncovering the nature of a shadowy organization. Nina is a stealthy character, but boasts a variety of deadly martial arts moves as well as skill with various firearms. We were eager to give the game a try, and found that its analog-based fighting system, unique "critical strike" system, and Tekken tie-ins add up to make Death by Degrees look like it's off to a promising start.

Besides getting a chance to play an early build of the game, specifically in a sequence set aboard a luxury cruise ship, we also got to see a lengthy CG trailer for Death by Degrees. In short, this was some very impressive stuff, and fans of the Tekken series would expect no less--the Tekken games have always featured lavishly produced introductory cutscenes. This one revealed precious little of the plot of Death by Degrees; however, it did establish that Nina is certainly the main character. But she won't be alone--she'll be working alongside an allied agent by the name of Alan. In one of the gameplay sequences we tried, we needed to defend this guy by providing sniper fire support while Alan tried to fend off a pack of armed assailants; we ended up doing all the work, though.

The CG introduction also featured Nina engaged in a kickboxing match against a powerful-looking foe, who she eventually took care of with a deadly bone-breaking move. This is actually representative of the game's critical strike system. Using the left analog stick, you'll be able to switch from the default third-person perspective to a first-person view of an x-ray version of the enemy you're facing. In slow motion you'll be able to select a vulnerable part of the opponent's body (we only managed to get the head area to trigger in this early build) and then you'll see Nina execute a deadly critical hit to the targeted area, killing the victim swiftly and brutally. Yes, this game looks like it's headed for an M rating. And we aren't complaining.

Interestingly, another part of the CG introduction featured a character that was a spitting image of actor Benicio Del Toro. The Tekken series has a long history of borrowing real-life likenesses for some of its characters, so we assumed the Benicio Del Toro resemblance was not coincidental. Despite the game's new premise and predominantly new cast of characters, we were told by Namco reps that we could expect a number of references to the Tekken storyline. We also expect to see some cameos of other Tekken characters, such as Nina's sister Anna, or perhaps that dysfunctional Mishima family.

Death by Degrees, which is being developed by a newly formed team, features an analog-based fighting system reminiscent of the recent Rise to Honor. You just tap the right analog stick in the direction of your foes to execute various combos. The system is intuitive and already seems to work pretty well. However, Death by Degrees' combat system seems like it'll have more to it than that of Rise to Honor. Specifically, Nina has a variety of command throws, including her signature multipart bone-breaking grapples. With all the moves she has available, as well as weapons ranging from guns to samurai swords, Nina should be more than capable of taking on multiple opponents simultaneously. We were able to pick up on the game's controls in a manner of minutes, and found that outside of combat the game basically played like other third-person-perspective action adventure games.

The game is scheduled to ship in late 2004, and will be releasing in Japan prior to its release in North America. Stay tuned for additional updates on Death by Degrees.

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