We bring you our first hands-on impressions of this combination arcade flight sim, tactical war sim, and shoot-'em-up set in a world of political conflicts.
Dropship is one of the games currently in development at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and was announced at the PlayStation 2's introduction. New screenshots appeared every now and then, but the biggest improvements happened behind the scenes, meaning in the gameplay area. We have had a look at the latest build and fill you in on a few details about the story and gameplay mechanics.
The story of Dropship is set in the year 2050 and deals with political conflicts in the Far East. It seems that in China, a new political party is taking over the government without being democratically elected. This is troubling to the United Nations and the NATO forces, particularly since the new government in China is squashing all opposition and resistance. The new regime is even working on a new technology, which would make world peace highly impossible. With this threat in mind, as well as the very limited power of the UNO and NATO forces, both organizations have agreed that it's about time to form a special unit that will be given the task to fight threats like the present one. This new organization is called United Peacekeeping Force (UPF) and has been formed to identify and eliminate any hostile threat anywhere in the world.
And this is where you come in. As a member of the UPF, you will be in charge of various vehicles, either to transport troops directly to the crisis zones or to battle on board a ground vehicle like a tank. Missions will bring you to locations such as the Sahara desert, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. At first, you will be best off if you dive into one of the training missions, since the controls are fairly complex--although you'll already be getting used to them. Three training missions are at your disposal, and they teach you the basics of flying, hovering, and combat. Pressing the L1 and R1 buttons at the same time will get your dropship off the ground, while pressing L2 and R2 at the same time lets it descend. Pushing the buttons independently lets you cycle through weapons, while L2 and R2 can be used to rotate the axis of the ship. You control the direction of your ship with the left analog stick. Pushing the right stick forward gives you a sniper view, and you can zoom in on objects and landscapes that are in the far distance, which will let you examine units that might look suspicious to you. With the square and X buttons, you accelerate and brake. As in Warhawk on the PlayStation, keeping the square button pressed will allow you to fly slowly backward. The speed of your vessel can be controlled very easily. Once you're out of your base, you can push the X button twice, which will fully start your engines, sending you at high speed over the landscape. You then can reduce your "high speed" with the X button, but for drastic braking, you need to push the X button twice, sort of to snap out of the high-speed mode. To land, you reduce your speed to zero and end up hovering over the ground. Pushing L2 and R2 together will then slowly let your ship descend to the ground, unloading troops, jeeps, or goods.
The game is mission based and uses FMV sequences and comments from copilots, wingmen, instructors, and commanders to move the plot forward. In one of the first missions, you have to transport a troop close to an enemy base and avoid being spotted by staying in the canyons. Two other pilots are doing a similar thing with other troops until one of the ships has an engine failure, so you need to go pick them up while the other ship is being repaired. Events like these give the game a dynamic flow, even though most of the missions are fairly strictly laid out. Waypoints are being updated on the fly during your missions, and your D-pad lets you pull up additional menus about the damage status of your vehicle, info on enemy units, maps, mission objectives, and so on. Missions can vary from escorting troops, attacking enemy bases and transporting units to eliminating specific targets. You'll get to control a number of vehicles such as escort fighters, recon planes, armored assault vehicles, and the dropship. The dynamics of the missions depend on your decisions. If you are being spotted because you haven't stayed in a canyon, then you have to suffer the consequences and find a way out. This can lead to missions becoming more difficult in case you're not careful enough. Aspects like these give the game a big dose of stealth gameplay. Co-pilots will keep you updated about upcoming mission objectives and will let you know if certain things change during the progress of a mission.
The graphics keep looking better and better. Starting the engines of your dropship lets sand clouds rise as you transport your troops to a different base, while the sun peeking over the canyon blinds you. The landscapes haven't changed much since the showing at E3. They are still sparsely populated, with buildings, tents, and units more or less being focused around your base. Whether that's going to change in the later missions remains to be seen. However, with locations like the Sahara desert, you won't expect a lot of buildings or troops anyway, so they serve as an optimal setting for the game. What's impressive is the draw distance, which lets you see up to the horizon with a steadily fluent frame rate. Since our version hasn't been very battle-intensive yet, we'll have to check whether the frame rate will remain constant when a lot of onscreen action is going on. Generally, the presentation is very nicely done, with impressive FMV cutscenes thrown in every now and then, as you'd expect from a game the size and importance of Dropship. Also, the sound portion of the game is very sophisticated, with great in-game sound effects and an orchestral score during FMVs and menu screens.
Dropship is finally starting to take shape and starting to become a very important title in the upcoming PS2 lineup. While the game is still only confirmed for Europe officially, we still expect SCEA to make an announcement regarding a US release, particularly since the game was shown at E3 in May as well. The game is scheduled to ship in Europe this winter and is being published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.
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