GunGriffon: Allied Strike Hands-On
We get an exclusive look at Tecmo and Game Arts' upcoming Xbox mech game.
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Long before the days when MechAssault stirred the masses into a frenzy, mech games were the "problem children" of the console world. Despite the willing spirit of developers, the older generation of consoles had a tough time coping with the demands of a proper mech experience. One of the few franchises to make some magic on the 32-bit platforms was Game Arts' GunGriffon franchise, fast-paced games that were in many ways the spiritual predecessor of MechAssault. Game Arts hasn't put out a new entry in the series since GunGriffon Blaze for the PlayStation 2, which was published by Working Designs in 2000, but now the quiet spell is over. Game Arts, in conjunction with Kama Digital Entertainment, is currently working on a new entry in the series only for the Xbox entitled GunGriffon: Allied Strike. We had the chance to get an exclusive hands-on of an early work-in-progress version of the game to see just where the latest entry in the series is going.
If you're not familiar with the GunGriffon franchise you should feel some shame for missing out on such a forward-thinking series, but you should also know that you're probably not alone. The series began its life on Sega's Saturn in 1996 with the original GunGriffon, and it continued on the platform in 1998 with GunGriffon II. Of those two entries, only the original came over to the US, because by the time the sequel rolled around, the Saturn was all but dead. After the PlayStation 2 game was released, there had been little talk of a new entry in the series until this year's E3, when Tecmo announced it would be bringing out a new entry developed by Game Arts. In GunGriffon: Allied Strike, you will once again find yourself behind the controls of a massive, heavily armored mech, which is a versatile piece of machinery that you'll rely on for survival. The Xbox game picks up where the series left off on the PlayStation 2 in terms of the franchise's direction. You'll find a single-player campaign mode that will send you on a series of assignments throughout a variety of different and troubled locales. You'll take the role of a pilot skilled in operating the High Mobility Armored Combat Systems or "High Macs," which are the poster children for the franchise. Your overriding goal is to help protect your faction's interests and resources in the far-off future where war has wreaked havoc on the globe. Your main problem will be the enemy tank battalions of rival factions that try to encroach on your territory.
The missions we were able to try were frantic and featured a good deal of activity on and off the battlefield. You'll start out each mission at a briefing screen that will fill you in on your objectives for that particular assignment, and then you'll be allowed to select your weapon loadout and companion mechs for a mission. The missions we saw were pretty straightforward demolitions or defensive missions that require you to take out or protect specific targets. As with its predecessors, your missions will, more often than not, never be quite that direct, as something always comes up that requires you to be quick on your feet and ready to deal with whatever comes your way at a moment's notice.
In addition to the single-player missions, you'll find a multiplayer mode that will support online play via Xbox Live. While the exact number is still being ironed out, the team is aiming for roughly eight or more players. One of the major aspects of the online mode in the game is the formation of teams. Game Arts is aiming to offer a variety of competitive and cooperative scenarios wherein players will have to partner up and coordinate with their mates in order to succeed. While the mode is still taking shape, we're pleased to see where it's heading, as online play with friends is definitely the next step for the series.
The gameplay in GunGriffon: Allied Strike is coming together nicely thanks to the control layout, which is similar to the one found in the previous entries in the series. The simple layout lets you move, shoot, switch weapons and views, as well as perform massive dashes and jumps, quite easily. The design of the controls, much like those found in MechAssault, leans heavily toward arcade-twitch-style mechanics as opposed to the more complicated and slower-paced sim feel of a proper MechWarrior or Steel Battalion game.
Allied Strike's graphics are a little rough around the edges in the version we played, but they are heading in the right direction with some very solid elements coming into play. The areas we saw were large and featured a respectable amount of objects to destroy. The best aspect of the visuals at the moment is the hectic nature of the battlefield. You'll see enemies come at you from every direction, including from the sky. Your onscreen heads-up display is a simple but easy-to-follow display that keeps you on top of the enemies around you on the battlefield and the ammo counter for your mech's various weapons. You'll see a variety of onscreen filters used to blur your vision and simulate the anarchic madness of firefights between massive mechs and heavily armored tanks. You'll be able to view the action from the classic first-person view as well a third-person perspective. Though there are obviously some issues with frame rate, we expect that Game Arts will be tightening things up.
The audio in the game still needs a lot of work and right now it relies pretty heavily on sound effects rather than voice, although we heard a few snippets of dialogue here and there. One of the most immersive aspects of all the GunGriffon games has been its excellent audio, which frantically mixes all manner of beeps and whines to create a hectic but informative wall of sound for you. While it may be intimidating at first, you'll come to find you'll be able to pick out the tones that signal weapon locks, either by you or your foes, as well the radar warnings that alert you to incoming targets. Those sound effects were complemented by high-energy music that ranged from new tracks to some nostalgic tunes from the original game.
While what we saw was still pretty embryonic, GunGriffon: Allied Strike is showing a lot of promise. Game Arts has always been ambitious with the series, and we're anxious to see what happens when that ambition meets a powerful system like the Xbox. While there's certainly some stiff competition to be faced by the MechAssault franchise, there's still quite a bit of potential in Allied Strike. If Game Arts can duplicate its winning formula of impressive visuals and immersive, accessible gameplay with the Xbox, the franchise should make a stylish return on Microsoft's console. GunGriffon: Allied Strike is currently slated to ship this winter exclusively for the Xbox. Look for more on the game in the coming months.