Death by Degrees Update

Namco shows off more of Nina Williams' upcoming solo outing on the PlayStation 2.

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Namco stopped by this afternoon to show off an updated build of Death by Degrees, its upcoming third-person action adventure game starring the buxom Tekken butt kicker Nina Williams. The adventure will send you on a cloak-and-dagger mission set before Nina's fighting-game days and shed light on how Ms. Williams ended up being such a freak job. While we've seen quite a bit of the game over the past few months, both here and in Japan, today's demo showed off some new elements and let us get a feel for the newly tightened control scheme.

Death by Degrees will give you insight into Nina Williams' dark past.
Death by Degrees will give you insight into Nina Williams' dark past.

The demo ran us through some areas we've gotten familiar with--the prison, lab, and cruise ship--but offered some new boss encounters and story tidbits. We had the chance to take control of Nina in the lab area and take on some familiar faces, such as grunts from Tekken Force. As we've mentioned previously, Death by Degrees' control is a unique analog stick-based system that is similar in spirit to that of Sony's own Rise to Honor. But, as we've noted, it's a little rough around the edges. That impression has changed some with this recent hands-on time with the game, as the system has been considerably tightened up. Nina feels more responsive, and Namco has even added the option to adjust the controls' sensitivity to suit your preferences.

Besides the control, the other notable elements from the demo were the boss fights and story elements. Two of the boss fights were against two of Nina's key foes in the game, Lana Lei and Enrique Ortega. The fight against Lana Lei, a sexy, heavily made-up killer who favors hallucinogenic poison, is a surreal battle that's a fresh surprise. Lei's modus operandi is to dose her targets with her special brand of poison, causing their perceptions to warp and giving her an obvious edge in the fight. In Nina's case, you'll fight on a snowy mountainside against the soldiers who separated Nina and her sister Anna from their father. The fight actually mimics the setting of a cinematic that showed the unhappy memory unfold, and forces you to contend with the realistic apparitions of the soldiers in addition to the very real threat of Lei, who is pitching deadly bladed fans at you. Picking her out from the apparitions is a challenge, but Nina is no pushover and can take out her foe if you're careful.

The battle against Enrique Ortega is the polar opposite of the psychological and physical threat posed by Lei. The Latin swordsman, sporting an oddly pimplike tiger-pattern shirt, wields two swords and is a serious threat to the lithe Nina. Fortunately, you'll be able to dual-wield swords as well, for as long as they'll last. What struck us about the fight was the way it showcased the flexible combat system. You can face Ortega conventionally and go toe-to-toe with swords or try to show off your skills and take him without weapons, relying on Nina's punches and kicks to take him down.

Bosses are a challenge you'll have to be careful with.
Bosses are a challenge you'll have to be careful with.

The last boss battle was the ultimate sibling catfight, as we faced off against Nina's estranged sister Anna. In the grand tradition of Jerry Springer and assorted reality shows, the meeting between the pair isn't a warm and fuzzy one. There's not much time for a hug as the two face off like mongoose and cobra in the time it takes them to lock eyes. The pair is evenly matched, as you'd expect, and the location of the fight adds to the tension. As if facing off against your hated sibling in a deadly game of cat and mouse weren't enough, the duel takes place on a decidedly rickety bridge that's falling apart as you fight. The falling chunks of the bridge aren't for show, either--they'll leave gaps you can fall through or even give way while you're on them. While you can use them to your advantage when battling Anna, words fail to capture the sinking feeling of falling through them, so you'll want to be cautious when fighting.

The boss fights offer a sizable challenge due to the lack of damage inflicted by Nina's focused strikes. Ordinarily, your pinpoint attacks on your opponent's body cause hefty damage, but the bosses are made of sturdier stuff. This is especially depressing since once you've progressed through the game and buffed up Nina you can extend her focus bar, which allows you to perform the strikes. Whereas you can initially perform only one strike at a time, you can go ahead build it up enough to strike three times in succession, which is brutal against normal foes.

Nina has an arsenal of moves specially designed for kicking evil ass.
Nina has an arsenal of moves specially designed for kicking evil ass.

The story elements we saw were a mix of Namco's insanely detailed CG and in-game cinematics. The CG movie detailed Nina and Anna's separation from their father. The in-game cinematics showed off one of Nina's many gadgets in the game--the stingray, a remote-control hoverbot with a camera and microphone Nina can use to eavesdrop. The sequence we saw showed Nina listening in on a group of baddies, which included Lana Lei and Enrique Ortega, as they discussed something called "Salacia." But while it may sound like some type of item or individual related to the adult-entertainment industry, the mysterious Salacia appears to be a weapon of some kind. Figuring out just who or what it is will be one more thing Nina will need to add to her lengthy "to do" list in Death by Degrees.

Based on what we've seen, Death by Degrees has tightened up quite a bit since our last look at the game. The control scheme feels significantly more responsive, and the adjustable sensitivity is a smart touch. As far as the game's content goes, the story's mystery and ties to Nina's famously messed-up past is making for a compelling adventure. Death by Degrees is currently slated to ship next month for the PlayStation 2.

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