Gunmetal Preview

Rage's latest Xbox game features a transforming robot. We have a fully playable build.

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Giant robots have all the fun...
Giant robots have all the fun...

Gunmetal, along with Vicious Cycle's upcoming Robotech game, is sending us one clear message: there's absolutely no shortage of games involving giant transforming robots in development for the Xbox. Here's to this trend continuing. In any event, Gunmetal is Rage's latest, easily most noteworthy known Xbox project, and we recently got our hands on a playable build. It's built, as you know, around the enticing notion of transforming mecha, and Rage seems to be pulling the game's concept off in a pretty interesting manner. The concept involves positioning your combination mech/jet, basically, in something of a "striker" role throughout most of the game's missions, having you take on entire platoons of enemy gear unaided. Not other mechs, mind you, but mostly carriers, flying battle pods, tankoids, stationary emplacements, and even puny infantrymen. The fact that your mech is light-years ahead of your enemy's military tech is driven home more or less immediately, however, so you probably won't be that intimidated by the odds.

The form you're in, as you'd imagine, determines both how you move and what you shoot. In theory, the robot form is better suited to battles in which you have to deal with relatively stationary ground-based targets, while the jet form is used to dispatch fast-moving airborne threats. In practice, though, it seems like you'll be able to handle any enemies that come your way in both forms, provided you have the right weapon sets equipped. The missions will certainly keep you on your toes in this regard, as the types of situations they throw at you seem nicely varied. One, for instance, presents you with the task of defending against a three-pronged assault on some friendly settlements, all of which are placed in different portions of the mission map. One group consisted mostly of ground troops, with another being mainly air-based, and the third a bit of a mix of the two. Dealing with the situation effectively means not only being quick enough on the afterburner to reach each distant assault as it's happening, but also having a varied-enough weapon set to take on the actual attackers. The missions all seem to have one thing in common, though: most of them take place on some fairly nice-sized maps. Each mission area seems quite nicely realized, from a geographical standpoint, replete with hills, valleys, bodies of water, and all sorts of vegetation. In the case of trees, you'll get to see the effect of your giant metal frame's interactions with them--they'll fall under your step and char when caught in the wake of your napalm. The same can also be said about the game's urban environments, as you'll crush weak city walls under your heel and bring down some pretty huge compounds with your shellfire.

...and when they can turn into jetplanes, it just seems even less fair.
...and when they can turn into jetplanes, it just seems even less fair.

Most of the time, though, it won't be in your best interests to rain hell on your surroundings. Rage has played up the "mech as defender" concept, after all, so it's the very opposite that you'll often be shooting for. Though many missions have you launching strikes on enemy compounds and units, it seems likely that more of them will have you escorting otherwise-defenseless convoys through enemy-occupied areas and protecting friendly settlements from attack. Some missions will even have you doing both at once. Everything generally feels like more of a series of prolonged skirmishes as a result, rather than an actual drawn-out battle. Some stages come pretty close--one of the missions involves a series of strikes on enemy communications emplacements that devolves into a fairly reckless assault on a fully defended base, for instance--but from what we've seen, moments like that seem fleeting. That isn't to say that the pacing for the battles isn't enjoyable, but some players simply prefer shorter, more intense scenarios, possibly with friendly units playing an increased role.

Many of the scenarios will have you defending friendly structures from attack...
Many of the scenarios will have you defending friendly structures from attack...

Regardless of how pitched the battles are, when it comes down to it, you'll probably have fun just blasting things with your mech. You're able to equip it with all sorts of weapons in both of its forms, ranging from a variety of artillery in the mech mode to gangs of missiles, bombs, and other, nastier sorts of munitions in the jet mode. You'll have access to things like flak guns, gauss cannons, dispersion rifles, ion beams, disk launchers and much more. The list is impressively long, and the weapon effects seem pretty diverse. The weapons are rated in several categories, including relative power, ammo count, and firing rate, and the weapons you gain access to later in the game are naturally being more powerful than the ones you start with. At this point, you're made to select your weapons before your actual mission briefing, which actually prevents some of the strategizing that you'd assume you'd have an opportunity to practice. The briefings don't really clue you in as to what sorts of enemies you'll fight, at this point, either--they just lay it out in terms of where their groups will move in from and where they'll hit. It's up to you to figure it out from there. Hopefully some meat will be added to the briefings, as otherwise they'll be lacking a potentially cool element.

...or else defending helpless convoys as they travel through occupied territory.
...or else defending helpless convoys as they travel through occupied territory.

The game moves pretty decently, regardless, once you actually get on the field. In mech mode, you move around with the left analog stick and aim with the right. Aiming, though, will automatically be set to auto, which you might not exactly want--when you're fighting lots of things, especially from the sky, you're going to want to be able to shoot at several different targets very quickly, especially if you have some powerful area-of-effect weapons equipped. You can switch the auto-aim on and off at any time with the Y button, though, and once you know this, you are empowered ever forward. You can perform a somewhat lame jump with the X button and transform with the B button. The A button, finally, allows you to flip through your weapons, and the R trigger allows you to fire your weapons in both modes. In jet mode, you steer with the right stick and accelerate and brake with the left stick. You're pretty fast while in jet mode, so you're going to want to make use of the some of the maneuverability options you'll have at your disposal. These are executed by means of "L3" button/control-stick combos: pulling back on the right stick while clicking L3 held down causes you to perform a 180-degree loop of sorts, while lateral motions will result in tight turns. Both of these maneuvers are essential when you're on bombing runs of any kind or else using air-to-ground missiles to take stuff out. Also, accelerating a lot works much like an afterburner would in a real jet, so if you have to get somewhere fast, you'll likely do that. There's an onscreen bar that depletes as you zoom, though, so you'll have to travel extremely long distances by means of shorter hops.

If the mission briefings were made a bit more robust, the game would enjoy a nice tactical element that it currently lacks.
If the mission briefings were made a bit more robust, the game would enjoy a nice tactical element that it currently lacks.

Getting there will be half the fun, though--Gunmetal is a pretty smooth-looking game. The environments, as mentioned before, are usually really natural looking, and you'll encounter them in various different seasons--grassy hills will turn icy during winter missions, while their faces will be much more subdued in autumn. The textures wrapped around everything look marvelous as well, with some neat level-of-detail effects thrown in for great effect. The surface of your mech/jet, too, looks quite nice, with some sort of subtle, toned-down reflective of some nature implemented. The result is very tasteful and minimal. The particle effects look marvelous as well--each weapon has its own look to it, and enemy machines explode in very exquisite ways. The battles themselves are impressively robust, from a performance standpoint, with not nearly as much of a hiccup as you'd expect with so many polygons moving and so many particles being pushed during some of the more hectic moments.

The only misgivings we have at this point are related to the actual transformations, really, and it's mostly about how they look when they occur. The animation itself seems to be missing something; it looks too much like a toy transforming, at this point, rather than a huge war machine snapping violently into action. The current one is serviceable, in any event--it won't really offend you at all, if you're the type who scrutinizes the way robots look when they transform into other things. But again, it could certainly use something. What is kind of sad, though, is just how useless and immobile you are for the few seconds after your transform from a jet into a robot. If you do it in the air, you simply fall to the ground, unable to shoot at things from your way down or really affect the trajectory of your descent. This certainly could use some spice, and it would be neat if Rage were to implement it at the last minute.

Any way you slice it, though, your weapon set will allow for a decent bit of carnage.
Any way you slice it, though, your weapon set will allow for a decent bit of carnage.

One thing that we very much approve of, though, is the robot's actual voice. It talks quite a bit--you'll hear it announce its hull's diminishing integrity when it's taking a shelling, as well as note every time you turn auto-aiming on or off. It'll also chime in mid-mission, quite often, to inform you of any new objectives that might have arisen. We're happy to report, in any event, that the Gunmetal robot's voice sounds a lot like the digitized voice made popular by Texas Instruments' Speak & Spell interactive educational toy. If this is a placeholder, then we urge Rage to reconsider its status and keep it in the final game. It sounds both brilliant and powerful.

Anyway, Gunmetal is definitely one of the cooler Xbox games on the horizon, and it's very apparent that Rage has worked quite hard to make it nice and solid. A lot of the missions are also very challenging and exciting, and they're quite engaging to go at, given the unique properties of the machine you're in control of. We'll give you an update as soon as we have one, but at the very least, wait until the review for the final word.

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