Iron Phoenix First Look

We get an exclusive look at Sammy's upcoming Xbox Live brawler.

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Since Microsoft first launched Xbox Live, a number of third-party releases have tried to take advantage of what the promising service has to offer. While there have been strong releases in several categories, the fighting genre has been sorely neglected. Outside of Capcom's 2D brawler Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO, there hasn't been a Live-enabled fighter to speak of on Microsoft's system. Thankfully, Sammy is stepping up to deal with this sad state of affairs with its recently announced Iron Phoenix, an Xbox Live-enabled brawler for up to 16 players with some unique twists. We had the chance to see an exclusive demo of the game and have come away impressed. The promising fighter features some interesting variations on what you'd expect from an online fighter, and it seems to be headed in a good direction.

Iron Phoenix will help to fill the conspicuous void of Xbox Live-enabled fighting games.
Iron Phoenix will help to fill the conspicuous void of Xbox Live-enabled fighting games.

Iron Phoenix's premise is firmly rooted in fantasy, with both Asian and Western influences at work. The title refers to a mysterious meteor that fell from the sky and caused a hefty amount of destruction and was subsequently sought out by a blacksmith and his apprentice. The pair saw the meteor fall from the sky and leave a ghostly afterglow in the shape of the mythic phoenix. Upon reaching the point of impact, the blacksmith gathered the ore from the rock and crafted nine of the finest and deadliest weapons known to man. The weapons came to have their own legend, which says that anyone who wields them will be assured victory in battle.

As you'd imagine, said weapons became quite the hot commodity in the years to come, with bloody wars taking place over their possession. The passage of time did more than serve up a high body count, however. It also served to increase the power of the weapons, which resulted in an addendum to their legend: Whoever possesses all nine weapons will achieve supreme power. This suitably melodramatic setup serves as a fine way to kick things off in the game. While the exact details of the story are being kept under wraps, we can tell you that you'll play as a young fighter (your choice of male or female) sent out to gather all nine weapons.

The game is being developed by InterServ International, a Taiwanese developer whose PC catalog is extensive and varied. One of InterServ's key strengths is its experience in online games, which is just what the doctor ordered for Iron Phoenix. While the game will have a single-player story mode, the meat of the package will be found in the online play modes. The single-player game will follow your fighter as he or she sets out to gather up the nine weapons, which are all currently held by a colorful assortment of folks who aren't in a huge hurry to give them up.

While the uncooperative bunch doesn't make for a particularly pleasant recovery job, it offers ample opportunity to beat the smack out of a whole lot of people. The online game will also offer the same opportunity but on a much broader scale and with voice support (allowing plenty of free-form cussing to accompany the action). One of the most interesting aspects of the online game is the fact that you'll find some very unique modes in the mix, along with the standard versus game you'd expect. Besides versus, you'll find deathmatch and team deathmatch modes and some other surprises that will be revealed later.

You'll compete for the possession of nine supernatural weapons that will ensure your supremacy.
You'll compete for the possession of nine supernatural weapons that will ensure your supremacy.

Iron Phoenix's gameplay will likely be its most surprising component for many players. While we've described the game as a 3D fighter and a brawler, neither description is entirely accurate. The fighting system in the game is made up of equal parts traditional 3D weapons-based fighter, 3D action game, and Double Dragon-style brawler, with some Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon thrown in for spice. The hybrid gameplay system plays with a number of standard conventions that may confuse and frighten fighting game veterans, but this should prove to be a flexible system for dedicated players to master.

You'll be forced to accept new elements from the moment you pick a character. Unlike in most fighting games, the gameplay setup in Iron Phoenix won't have unique moves associated with each of the 10-plus characters. Instead, the game's combat system is weighted according to the weapons you'll find in the game. These weapons will let you perform unique attacks and use unique combat styles that all have individual attributes. The key to victory is knowing when to use each weapon in battle. This interesting twist makes for a much more dynamic battle than your typical combo- or fireball-laden duel. Rather than be pummeled mercilessly because the moves on your fighter aren't suited for an opponent, which is sometimes the case when playing fighting games, Iron Phoenix lets you essentially switch combat styles on the fly, provided you can find the weapons to use.

The game lets you perform a number of acrobatic moves that are right from the wireworks-laden martial arts films we all know and love. You'll be able to run on walls, perform single and double jumps, and even float to get around the vast arenas to reach a new weapon or get out of harm's way. You won't be able to abuse your jumping and wall-running skills to turtle or evade forever, though, since your ability to perform these moves stems from your fighter's stamina meter, which will run down over time. The meter will replenish if you stay grounded for a while or collect specific pickups in the arenas.

Kung fu movie-style high-flying acrobatics will enhance your fighting experience.
Kung fu movie-style high-flying acrobatics will enhance your fighting experience.

When you have to stand and fight, you'll be able to enhance your ass-kicking skills with your chi, which will let you power up your weapon attacks or let out a concussive burst that knocks nearby foes away from you. Like your stamina, your chi will slowly refill when not in use or when you collect a pickup. The pickup system will also come into play via your fighter's limited inventory system, which will let you collect and hold pickups. The collectibles will range from the meter-boosting items we mentioned to performance-enhancing items that will bulk up your attack or defense while you hold them.

As mentioned, the core combat in the game will revolve around the weapons you'll find in the levels. The weapons will have their own unique combos and speed attributes that will have a noticeable effect on how your attacks come off. When you want to get your hands dirty, you'll find you can grab your foes and throw them around, and you'll be able to interact with some elements in the environment that become handy projectiles when you're in a pinch.

The graphics in the work-in-progress build of the game we saw were coming together nicely. The frame rate was solid during combat, even when the two fighters we saw duking it out leapt about to various parts of the arenas. While the character models look solid and move well even in the game's early state, showing off their eclectic designs, the arenas are looking the most impressive right now. The 10-plus arenas in the game will offer a mix of indoor and outdoor environments of varying sizes. The scale to the arenas that we saw was impressive and also impacted the gameplay. The massive outdoor arenas will likely be the easiest to use when you're getting a handle on the combat system, since the wide-open spaces should provide ample room to get the hang of all the combat mechanics. The smaller arenas and indoor spaces, on the other hand, will likely prove to be tests of skill that force you to think on your feet. The reduced maneuvering room will not reward sloppy button-mashing; you'll have to work for your victory.

The mayhem will take place throughout a wide variety of interactive backdrops.
The mayhem will take place throughout a wide variety of interactive backdrops.

In terms of locations, you'll find a broad range of places in which to duke it out, including Asian-themed castles and the like, as well as what appeared to be a rather bloody temple interior (best not to ask exactly what went down in there). The most eye-catching backdrop we saw was a fog-filled stage that sent you jumping to the roofs of buildings. While cool, the stage seemed to have one serious drawback: a bottomless fall if you missed a roof. While our host made it look like a breeze, we foresee some deaths happening in that stage.

From what we've seen so far, Iron Phoenix is a promising game that Xbox owners, especially those with Xbox Live, will want to try out. The unique combat system is a nice change of pace that should let players of varying skills mix it up a bit more fairly. The 16-player Xbox Live support should make for some hectic and insane versus matches, although the multiplayer team action looks like it should be an addictive blast as well. While we'll have more on Iron Phoenix in the coming months leading up to its release later this year, visit our media page for an exclusive interview with the first footage of the game in action.

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