Dropship Preview

Leave your preconceptions at the door, because Dropship is looking better and better with every passing day. Read on for the latest on this part futuristic simulator, part shooter, and part real-time strategy game that's as ambitious as the working day is long.

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Funny what a bit of spit and polish, some new screenshots, and a couple of gameplay demos can do for a game's reputation. In fact, it took just the course of a single trade show to turn once disapproving gossip about a new PS2 game that looks too ambitious to be true into fevered media buzz. The turkey turned golden goose in question is Dropship, a sci-fi shooter/flight simulator from Sony and Camden Development Studios (formerly part of Psygnosis). Dropship places you in the pilot seat of a large, well-armed transport craft capable of blowing up everything in its path and carrying infantry, armor, and supplies across sprawling levels stretching for miles in all directions.

Multifarious is the first word that comes to mind when describing the capabilities of the game's title craft. Besides being able to move your army where it needs to go, the dropship itself is a formidable opponent, armed with missiles, powerful guns, and other special mission-based weaponry. With such an arsenal, the dropship can level most of the obstacles in its path with a few well-placed salvos. It isn't the only craft you'll control in the game, either. You can land your dropship at any point and assume control of other vehicles, like a futuristic humvee that responds to the terrain in a very realistic manner - thanks to a realistic physics engine. In a Blast Corps-esque take-off, Camden plans to throw in the occasional tactical mission into the mix that will require some vehicle hopping in order to succeed.

At this point, the story is vague. What is known is that you will assume the role of the pilot of an advanced craft in the distant future. Ostensibly, you'll be tasked with the successful insertion, defense, and subsequent extraction of your army's men and munitions. In a series of missions, you'll face a variety of objectives, ranging from transport runs for couriers and escort missions to general offensive sorties. At this point in the title's development, Camden would rather not reveal much of the back story for the explosive madness, which is understandable as much of the title is still in a very tentative stage.

The gameplay will feature fully open-ended maps - allowing you the freedom to ignore mission objectives, if you choose, and spend your time exploring scenic vistas. Overall, however, the title will still be separated into the aforementioned mission-based progression. Even here, though, Dropship is different from its predecessors, as many missions will begin with an orbital drop from the heavens down to a vast expanse of Earth. Carrying your army's central command within the confines of your metal hull, you must first establish a base of operations on terra firma, then defend said base against enemy attacks while your army group assembles. Finally, you'll carry the fight (literally) to your foe, eventually vanquishing them from the map entirely. If you think this sounds more like the script of a real-time strategy game than that of a futuristic flight simulator, you aren't far off. Camden has explained that Dropship isn't just an action game, just a shooter, just a flight simulator, or just a real-time strategy game, but instead a genuine attempt to hybridize elements of all these genres in order to create something fun and wholly unique. If this sounds a tad ambitious, then read on, because we're just getting started.

What promises to really set Dropship apart from similar titles like the N64's Rogue Squadron and the PS2's upcoming Starfighter is the promise of an unprecedented amount of size and freedom in the levels themselves. According to Camden, the maps will span over 20 miles from one side to the other, with a flight ceiling of over a mile. Detail from these heights and expanses will be unrivaled. You will be able to soar from the misty heights of the stratosphere, through the cloud cover, and down into deeply cut canyons, sprawling grasslands, oceans, and lakes. Camden has asserted that its current build can display over 250,000 objects on the screen at one time without resorting to fogging or other visual distortion techniques. It shows. At the recent ECTS show, attendees were wowed with mountains and trees visible in the distance, several miles away. As you approach, the landscape crawls forward with a silky grace and naturalness that is even comparable - minus resolution - to CG scenes in the movies a few years ago. Despite some amazing graphical advances, however, the title still looks a bit rough in regard to vehicle models and texturing. Camden has assured us that the title is still relatively early in its development cycle and has a long way to go before being anywhere near completion.

Unrestrained aspirations aside, the DVD-based Dropship already looks like it could turn out to be much more than many people may have initially anticipated. Dropship's success, however, will rest solely on Camden's ability to create a tightly woven, action-packed experience out of sprawling, detailed environments, a solid physics engine, and inspiring graphics. Look for it late in the summer of 2001.

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