One Must Fall: Battlegrounds Preview
An update to the 1994 classic, One Must Fall: Battlegrounds will be the first 3D fighting game to allow up to 16 players to compete online.
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Their games might not have always gotten as much publicity as they do today, but the developers at Epic MegaGames, makers of Unreal and Unreal Tournament, have been turning heads for years, especially with their 1994 fighting game, One Must Fall 2097. The original One Must Fall was a remarkable PC fighting game that featured one of the most beloved gameplay archetypes: robot combat. One Must Fall 2097 is now shareware, but it's far from forgotten, as interest in One Must Fall: Battlegrounds--currently in the middle of a popular, exclusive beta test--attests. Sporting a new 3D engine, One Must Fall: Battlegrounds incorporates many of the traditional elements of its 1994 predecessor, including its penchant for innovation: In this incarnation, freshman developer Diversions Entertainment takes One Must Fall online and aims to maintain all the depth and strategy that makes the original worth playing to this day.
A feature that has been unique to One Must Fall since the original is its two-tier character system. First you'll pick a pilot for your mech, and then you'll choose the mech itself. Each pilot has certain strengths and weaknesses in four attributes: power, agility, strength, and focus. But the chosen mech will then add another layer to character complexity, as each mech has its own special abilities, moves, attacks, and play style. Choosing both the pilot and the mech allows for much greater diversity. You could play one mech with a character who is very physically strong and have an entirely different play experience from playing as a character who has exceptional focus. In all, Battlegrounds will have eight different robots, each with three different looks, and 50 pilots to choose from.
Online multiplayer fighting games are still in their infancy across all platforms, and a PC fighting game focusing on online multiplayer is especially unique. Because Battlegrounds aims to accommodate up to 16 players in multiplayer matches, it frees you from traditional arenas and places you instead in the middle of a large map. The maps will often have multiple levels, platforms, and overhead walkways, and the game will feature both indoor and outdoor maps. One map features a large, central pyramid with power-ups arrayed around the exterior and boosts that that propel you to the top of the pyramid itself. With a good number of players, fighting takes place on all sides of the pyramid, on top of it, and in all the space in between. If the game were seen through a first-person perspective, you'd likely be hard-pressed to differentiate the maps structurally from those of modern multiplayer shooter maps. And the gameplay actually seems to be designed to be very similar.
One of the main differences between this game and a first-person shooter, in fact, is the perspective it uses. Though Battlegrounds doesn't use guns, myriad ranged attacks are available that handily take the place of firearms. Because it is at its core still a fighting game, though, melee combat is very prevalent. But with the size of the levels, the sheer number of players, and the ability to move around the levels freely, Battlegrounds seems to take the elements of first-person shooters that make them so much fun for large multiplayer games and combine them with fighting game mechanics. Just about everything you'd expect from a fighting game is slated for Battlegrounds. You'll find plenty to test your reflexes, including healthy amounts of dodging, blocking, punching, kicking, and jumping, along with the requisite combos and special attacks.
As in traditional fighting games, the maps have a number of hazards. Some maps feature blades that will knock you toward the center of the arena, some have sand that stuns you, and others have narrow pathways that you can be knocked off of. But Battlegrounds goes a step further with the arenas and includes a good deal of interactivity. In one arena, you can take control of sentry guns if you stand near a pillar for a few moments and wait for your portrait to appear. The sentry guns will then proceed to hunt out and start attacking your enemies. Since other players can attempt to wrest control of the guns away from you, the control spots for the guns quickly become hot spots. Some kind of interactive component is present in almost every Battlegrounds arena.
Many of the game modes will also seem very familiar to first-person shooter fans, but because of the fighting elements, they should play a lot differently. Instead of basing victories on the number of kills a player racks up, many game modes in Battlegrounds are decided by point totals. As in other fighting games, points are accumulated by completing combos, landing hard punches, executing special attacks well, and so on. In the demolition and team demolition modes, for example, victory is awarded according to point totals. On the other hand, the last man standing and last team standing modes award victory to the last remaining player or team.
Must You Fall?
One of the most unique elements of Battlegrounds is "laser ball," which is a football-like game that can be played in either of the team-oriented game modes. Like in Unreal Tournament 2003's bombing run, the aim in laser ball is to score goals by carrying a metal ball to the enemy's end zone, or throwing the ball through a moving metal goal. If you score, the ball flies back to the center of the arena and blasts your enemies with a laser beam, helping you either eliminate your foes in last team standing or helping you rack up points in team demolition. But since this is a fighting game, the ball itself can be used as a weapon against enemies who turn their backs to you, and it will also explode if it touches the ground. And you thought football was a dangerous sport.
As you'd expect in a PC fighting game, Battlegrounds is controlled using the keyboard by default. Battlegrounds is in fact controlled solely through the keyboard, and it does not support a mouse-look feature. Using a combination of the directional arrows and the A, S, D, Z, X, and C keys, you can command your robot to perform its various moves. All robots share some common moves and actions, while some are unique and specific to each individual robot. But for those of you who balk at the notion of using a keyboard for a fighting game, fear not! Battlegrounds is fully compatible with gamepads as well.
The technical aspects of Battlegrounds seem to be spartan but serviceable. The graphics engine isn't in the same league as the one used in Unreal Tournament 2003, but it does feature some impressive effects, especially for special attacks. A favorite of ours, and a current favorite among beta testers, is a gigantic fireball that the robot Pyro can summon. The fireball dwarfs the robot itself, and it can be rolled toward enemies until it satisfyingly crushes them into the ground or explodes against a wall. Furthermore, the robots themselves sport some nice design, with shiny, reflective surfaces. The animations for the robots are also noteworthy, particularly for the robot called Katana, who will perform cartwheels, flips, scissor kicks, and a variety of other fun moves. The music, which is dynamic and will change based on the in-game action, is either stylistically similar to the music from One Must Fall 2097, or does in actuality resurrect some of the riffs from the original game. Either way, players of the original will likely find it fitting.
The obligatory single-player mode serves mainly to prepare players for online combat, and it's structurally identical. However, the single-player mode is story-based, and it's set 20 years after the events of the original One Must Fall 2097. Every main character in this game will feature his or her own unique plot. Also, many of the main characters from the original game will make appearances here.
Rounding out its multiplayer capability, Battlegrounds will support online rankings and statistics, though the development team is currently still investigating different possibilities and their feasibility. What is known is that multiplayer will use GameSpy, though it will likely run hidden and unseen in the background of the multiplayer search menu.
The team at Diversions Entertainment is aiming to keep the game easily modifiable in an effort to extend the game's longevity. An editor that can modify or create nearly everything in the game--from robots, arenas, pilots, power-ups, and hazards to sound and music--is already planned for release several months after the game ships.
One Must Fall: Battlegrounds is currently set to ship sometime in the spring of 2003, but that doesn't mean you'll need to wait until then to try it out. The game is currently in beta testing, and Diversions is accepting applications now for future phases of the test. The beta has proven immensely popular already, and in response, the team has decided to release a public beta sometime in February. But a word to the wise: The team at Diversions has divulged that it will allow community members who have accounts on their message board to access the beta applications two weeks early.
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