The developer of A Bard's Tale is moving into free-roaming crime sims with its second game. We tooled up and caught up with Hei$t at a recent Codemasters preview event.
Developer inXile is in Britain to show off its new crime sim, Hei$t, for the first time. We've just sat through a presentation detailing the game's major features and, eager to find out more, we cornered the American developer for a chat. Far from revealing any juicy new details about Hei$t, though, the representative seemed more concerned about how we Brits found the voice acting in their first game, A Bard's Tale. Concerns about nailing the atmosphere in its games seems to have led the American developer to set its latest game much closer to home, in swinging-'60s San Francisco.
You play Johnny Sutton, a man whose father was gunned down during a robbery gone wrong. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, it seems, and you join the game with a fresh-out-of-jail Johnny planning a series of elaborate robberies all across San Francisco. You can't do this all on your own, though, so you put together a team of the best criminals in the city to help you out. Cracker is the appropriately named vault opener; The Kid acts as your getaway driver; and the muscles for each job is called Crumb. The final member of the team is Uncle Sal, who feeds you intel about each of the banks and helps you plan each one of them down to a tee.
While you can spend hours poring over each of Hei$t's finer details, the demo that we saw was an example of how you can just go in there guns blazing. After driving up to a bank with his team of crooks, Johnny climbs onto a table and announces that a robbery is taking place. From this moment, a clock begins to indicate how much time you've spent holding up the bank, because as time passes more people will begin to figure out what's going on. From here, you have to organise your men, keep an eye on what's happening around you, and, most importantly, make it out with as much cash as possible.
It's easy to pull off a robbery in Hei$t thanks to a simple, intuitive interface. Your team members are intelligent enough to go about their own business, but there's a carrot-and-stick approach to forming their behavior patterns during the game. If one of your team knocks out a guard and you like it, you can give him verbal encouragement. If, however, you don't want him to do that again, you can smack him around the head and tell him to cut it out. These decisions are very important to the success of each job--kill a guard and people might hear the gunfire, but knock him out and he may wake up again.
While the current communication system is based on button presses, the team is promising to implement a very cool voice-controlled system as well. Using a standard microphone, you will be able to record your own sayings for various situations and then use them in-game to perform those actions. For example, you can record yourself saying, "Stick your hands up, this is a robbery!" and then use that phrase in-game to start off a robbery. We've seen this system implemented in a couple of games before, but hopefully it will still add to the feeling of starring in your own heist movie.
Speaking of movies and the whole '60s San Francisco setting, Hei$t looks to have captured the period setting with élan. The characters boast cool afro haircuts and huge sunglasses, while the famously hilly roads of the city are re-created perfectly. One important aspect of the game will undoubtedly be the music, and while the soundtrack hasn't been finalised yet, we did hear "Break on Through (to the Other Side)" by the Doors on the menu screen. When asked about this, the designer said that it would love to include obscure Jimi Hendrix tracks on the soundtrack for people who really love the music of the period, but whether this will come to fruition remains to be seen.
While we didn't get to see the planning or getaway stages of the game, the developer did hint as to how these two elements will work. Uncle Sal will scope out each branch in advance and let you know the locations of cameras, how many guards there are, and what security measures are in the vaults. This last bit of info will determine what explosives you need for the safe, as well as what skill level you need to crack it before the cops turn up. inXile likens the cops to the agents from the Matrix films, meaning that if they're going to turn up, you want to be getting out of there pretty quickly. On the getaway side, you'll take the position of The Kid and do the driving yourself, but you'll occasionally have to perform Starsky & Hutch-style shooting as well. Shooting at the cops will help get them off your tail, but you'll also be able to shoot down signs and other roadside objects to create diversions.
In between missions you'll have a full city to explore, as well as the ability to perform tasks that will help you in the heists themselves. Part of your job is to increase your contacts in the underground crime world, because you'll need new equipment, skills, and allies if you're to make it through the dozens of banks in the game. One example we were given was a mission to get the city's garbagemen on your side. You'll be able to use these allies during getaways, calling on them to use their trucks to block police cars so you can flee. Optional side missions will be available to make some of the heists a little easier, but you'll have the choice to skip these if you want.
After our presentation, inXile was incredibly coy about releasing any further information about the game. Questions about city size and multiplayer elements went unanswered, leaving a lot of uncertainty about how much longevity the game is set to offer. However, we do know that the game will offer an in-depth backstory to the main character of Johnny. It will also give you plenty of chances to break away from the main group, as well as control the other members of the team directly.
At only a 30 percent completion level, there's still a lot of work to be done on Hei$t; hopefully the designer will deliver a compelling game from this original idea. There's still a lot to be seen, such as the heist planning, the getaways, and the general free-roaming elements, but we should be fed information between now and the game's release. Hei$t is set to come out on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in Q4 2007, meaning you should be looting the banks of San Francisco before the year's out.
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