Death by Degrees Updated Hands-On

We get an updated look at Namco's upcoming solo adventure for everyone's favorite voluptuous assassin.

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Death by Degrees is the upcoming third-person action game from Namco that puts you in the role of Nina Williams, the buxom assassin from the Tekken series. The game is set during Nina's formative killing years when she plied her trade as a special covert agent. While we've gotten a few looks at rough work-in-progress versions of the game at E3 and the Tokyo Game Show, Namco showed off a more solid version of the upcoming release at a recent gaming industry event. Naturally, we took the opportunity to take a look at the game to see how it's coming together.

The sniper rifle is one of many weapons you'll have at your disposal.
The sniper rifle is one of many weapons you'll have at your disposal.

The version of Death by Degrees we saw at the event let us hop around and check out a variety of levels that showed off the different styles of gameplay contained in the title, in addition to snippets of its story. The game's story revolves around Nina's assignment to track down a secret weapon, which leads her to investigate a shadowy organization. The specifics of her mission get a little vague thanks to the fact that Nina's superiors aren't big on providing a lot of information. As a result, it falls on you to gather intel as you progress through the game, which ultimately helps you. You'll find a hefty amount of clues and bits of useful information as you go about your business. One of the key ways of discovering things in the game involves cutscenes. Rather than craft pretty computer-generated or real-time sequences that are more or less disposable, DbD's cinematics offer up useful bits of info and clues that can help your investigation...if you pay attention to them.

The gameplay in Death by Degrees is a combination of your standard third-person-action antics, which include exploration and combat, a good dose of puzzle-solving, and some specialized gameplay. The exploration sequences seem to be done fairly well, because the ones we played gave our brains workouts that forced us to be very detail-oriented in our investigations. Besides looking around and finding our ways through different locations, we also triggered cutscenes that dropped bits of info that we'd follow up on, such as the locations of items, and more. These investigations led us to the game's solid combat system, which gives you an array of deadly moves to use when putting the hurt on baddies. Besides Nina's hand-to-hand skills--and critical-strike attacks that let you home in on enemies' weak points to deliver some serious damage--you'll find a wide variety of weapons to use when facing off with enemies. The game's unique Rise to Honor-ish control scheme, which makes use of the analog sticks for targeting and the shoulder buttons for attacking, actually works well...once you get used to it. The system isn't perfect, and it does have its fair share of issues, but it's a fairly solid setup once you're acquainted with it.

After you've defeated your enemies, you can check them out to see if they've dropped any precious items you'll need in your investigation. An interesting twist to the game is Nina's use of a fingerprint scanner to copy her fallen enemy's prints, which she can use to access new areas.

Besides the standard gameplay elements mentioned above, you'll find some minigame-style sequences that put you in the water (while swimming in first-person view no less) to access new areas. Additionally, there are segments where you're in control of some cool gadgets while exploring areas you can't physically access. For instance, the Stingray is a flying robotic minion we used to explore a locked room we couldn't access in hopes of retrieving a code for a door.

The final piece of the gameplay puzzle is that it appears Nina will gain experience as she goes through the game, in addition to building up her skills and attributes. While the system isn't as deep as a role-playing game, you do have the ability to let Nina evolve over the course of the game.

The graphics in the game are shaping up pretty well. Nina is rendered nicely by the capable engine, which readily handles her curves and bounciness. You'll see her lovingly rendered in a variety of different outfits that each sports a high amount of detail. Some of the nonplayable characters we saw match Nina's level of quality, while others are noticeably a few steps below. The environments you'll explore are a little more consistent and offer a varied playground for you to go about your business in. The camera system varies, making it difficult to get your bearings in certain situations. However, the frame rate is pretty solid.

With the Stingray, you'll be able to explore locations that are inaccessible to Nina.
With the Stingray, you'll be able to explore locations that are inaccessible to Nina.

It was a little tough to pick out the audio in the game at the event, but we were able to suss out some of the voice, which ran the gamut from decent to somewhat campy. (The "campy" came courtesy of one of the bosses we encountered.) The bits of music we heard were a little on the bland side, falling squarely into tunes that are to be expected for this kind of game. The sound effects are well done, especially those used for Nina's critical-strike attacks, which really help sell the painful, bone-shattering goings-on.

Overall, Death by Degrees is shaping up to be a unique action title from Namco that should appeal to fans of the genre as well as to gamers who enjoy Nina. The game's graphics and unique gameplay add up to offer a solid enough combination. We'd like to see some of the mechanics tightened up some (such as those that handle swimming), as well as elements of the fighting system, but overall, there's a good amount of potential here. Death by Degrees is currently slated to ship early next year for the PlayStation 2. For more on the game, check out an exclusive interview on our media page.

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looks impressive

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