Comic-Con 2011: SOE Triple Preview Feature

Sony Online Entertainment was showing off three new online experiences at their Comic-Con booth this year and myself and fellow GameFront writer Phil Hornshaw got our hands on them all.

From the graffiti-themed platformer Sideway: New York, to the bank robbery fantasy FPS Payday: the Heist, around to living the Green Lantern Corps arc in DC Universe Online, there’s bound to be something you’ll like. Check out what we thought in our show floor hands-on demonstrations.

Payday: The Heist

We were fortunate enough to get one-on-one with Payday Lead Director Ulf Andersson for some inside info on the game. I’m sure you’ve already read about some of Ulf’s history and views from his seat on the Journey+ panel so you know he loves shooters and co-op, but hates meetings and bureaucracy. It’s this direction that lead to the creation of Overkill Studios and their flagship game Payday.

If you’ve played Left 4 Dead or any other modern FPS, you’ll feel right at home with Payday. Controls are standard console-shooter affair with assault rifles, shotguns, SMGs, and grenades at your fingertips. Gameplay is completely cooperative oriented so even if you’re playing offline you’ll be accompanied by A.I. companions.

When your partners are in another room their visage is outlined in a bright distinctive color to indicate their location. Objectives are similarly marked once discovered to allow for clear communication and cohesion. Indeed this is a major driving force behind Payday’s design.

“The actual objectives within a specific scenario are always very, very similar. And the reasoning why is people need to have something to communicate around. And we want people to be able to play with friends, but also with strangers now.” But don’t get rustled up about just playing the same thing over and over again.

Where Payday finds its variety is in the non-scripted dynamics of its events. One mission, for instance, has a helicopter arriving and dropping C4 for the players to acquire. The pilot will attempt to drop what he can on the roof, and in one playthrough, he may keep them all close. Another play, however, may have C4 getting dropped in the back alley which requires a different approach to acquire, including different enemies to bypass.

Opponents are similarly dynamic in their assessment of situations. There are no always-take-cover types just as there are no always-charge-forward. Instead, each skirmish is assessed individually and the A.I. factors in its strategic programming with a bit of random chance. The intended end result is something believable but unpredictable.

“An important thing for us is being able to pick up the game, play it again, and still get that adrenaline rush from playing it – having fun with it.” Ulf specifically mentioned Left 4 Dead as influence and it shows. He also cites Modern Warfare, and again, the effect is clear. But having aspirations to combine these two forces is something worth taking note of.

Certainly in playing Payday: The Heist I was aware of an immediacy to my situation. Whether having just taken over a drug den from the inside or pulling out guns at the entrance of major bank, there is a clear and persistent threat that pushes on your need to keep moving. Objectives in my playthroughs ranged from securing hostages, to acquiring and using C4, and even placing and protecting saws around a vault so it can be dropped to the floor below.

The issue with hands-on was the environment. Playing anything at a major convention is difficult, let alone at a booth that is designed for drop-in drop-out visitors. Without proper headsets I was unable to hear any of the in-game audio indicators (of which there are many) just as I was unable to actually perform any interhuman coordination.

Without the cooperative element functioning I was able to entertain myself for around 20 minutes or so each time until I no longer felt my next goal was clear and then I returned either to interviewing or wandering.

There is a lot already being planned for Payday’s future. A sequel is of definite interest to the team, allowing them to explore new components they didn’t have time to implement this round, as well as modifying elements based on player feedback. Character customization was a notable feature Ulf was looking into though he understood the potential risks.

“When you’re introducing a brand like this, you want to have the iconic thing going.” He said ideally players could wear chicken suits if they felt so inclined, though how to maintain a reasonable bank infiltration while dressed in yellow feathers is not easy to make believable.

Ulf also, somewhat hesitantly, let me know that he is currently penning a Payday film script. It seems like an obvious venture and it certainly makes a lot of sense to Ulf. “If I saw a guy with a shotgun and that American flag mask? Yeah I’d see it. It has to be done.”

Ulf was a great host and a blast to talk to, but I’m going to need a series amount of more (focused) hands-on time to see if Payday: The Heist is something that can get my lone adventurer mind into the cooperative arena. For now, the Direct X9 graphics, wandering A.I., and (potentially not to their fault) unclear goals just don’t have me sold. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see when the game reaches its TBD launch date.

Sideway: New York

Moving from bank robbery shooters to graffiti themed platformers our grubby little hands got kicking and jumping with the new franchise IP from Fuel Entertainment. Scott Simon, President/CEO of Playbrains, the company developing Sideway, was on hand to give us the skinny while we played.

You play as a graffiti artist named Nox who has “sprayed over the wrong man’s tag” and now been sucked into the actual world of the paint. This makes for an interesting visual style as Nox, enemies, power-ups, and traps are all flourished with the bright pop of modern sellable street art while the actual buildings and their environments are given more realistic colors, though with a decidedly cartoon emphasis.

Where the real spray flows is in how this story affects gameplay. “We call it a 2D platformer in a 3D world,” Scott explains. And indeed he’s right. Nox exists on the 2D plane of the side of the 3D building he’s moving on. This means you can turn corners (with a cool visual bend to Nox), move from surface to surface, and even transition onto roofs.

When moving to a plane such as a roof, gravity becomes a more prominent factor. Depending on which way you entered an area, the gravity will be directed accordingly. “Because we have the gravity that we can play around with, we can make levels where, you go in one way and find some stuff, but then you’ll have to go onto this roof a different way to get the rest of the stuff.”

To give us an example of this interesting mechanic, Scott guides us to a secret location. From here we re-enter a recently left roof and notice that the guiding arrows, facing their original directions, no longer apply to direction of movement. And in fact, when we progress to the exit, we are dropped through multiple planes resulting in several shifts of gravity and camera. It’s a little jarring but also totally cool.

Our demo character is maxed out on upgrades so we can experience it all. The boosted single and double jumps feel nice, with a good deal of control over falling. Combat is a little lose but specific tools, like lobbing globs of paint in the air, are required to dispatch certain enemies. I noticed that many platforms seemed to be at their maximum reachable height or distances. I’m not sure if this was a later level but it was surprising to have to stretch up for so many ledges.

There are also graffiti-themed obstacles throughout the world including Mega Man spike-style vines (see: one hit kill), as well as artist tags that Nox can mark over with his jump to create a solid platform. Scott clarified that there will be many more objects like this throughout the world and they are already looking at improvements for future iterations.

Clearly the biggest draw to Sideway’s play is its approach and re-approach design direction toward level exploration. “The challenge becomes the opportunity,” as Scott says and Playbrains seems to be making the most out of the chance. Hopefully the replayability of exploration really will be there to match the solid controls and distinct art style. Check back for our final verdict when the game releases… sometime this year.

DC Universe Online: Fight for the Light

Last, but certainly not least on our Sony Online Entertainment tour was some hands on with the Green Lantern expansion to the popular DCUO MMO. For this demonstration DC comic author, and lead writer for the DCUO Green Lantern arc Geoff Jones was there to make sure we didn’t miss anything cool.

Let me start by admitting that I have only played a little of DC Universe Online as MMO’s just aren’t really my thing (until T.E.R.A. anyway). So just keep that in mind before dropping any “turd n00b” comments below. That being said, I think we got a good grasp on how the Corps differentiates itself from other DCUO characters and why they’re just so damn cool.

The first expansion since the game’s release in January, the Green Lantern DLC allows players to play as a member of the Reservist Corps and interact with the namesake hero. “This has been a huge fan request. We worked really closely with DC… And it has been really important to us to make something that works within the entire fiction.”

Having the new Light powers means players finally have access to the Constructs. These abilities can be used as one-offs like the game’s other skills, but they also introduce a new feature available with the DLC. Being treated like weapons, a Construct can be combo’d on itself for as long as you don’t initiate another building. Better still, other Constructs can be chained together to accommodate some serious combat variety. Plus energy use is minimized when used in this manner so there’s really no reason not to mix things up.

The expansion pack also has some new locations to visit. Our demo took place on the Sciencecells of Oa. You’ll also get to battle through Coast City where you’ll face off against Atrocitus. Finally, make your way to S.T.A.R. Labs to wrap up some story lines with Brainiac. There are three alerts based on these locations and a 2-player Duo Instance.

Expect to also run into several requested characters during your travels including Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, Fiona, Vice, and others. If you’re a fan of the Green Lantern lore, especially Geoff Jones work, you’re going to find a lot to get excited about here.

Being somewhat unfamiliar with DC Universe Online I can’t fairly speak to the differences between the Green Lantern Reservists and other hero types in the game. What I can say is that the combat felt surprisingly fast and refreshing with the new ability to extend single ability attacks as well as combine various Constructs for customized destruction. If you’re a fan of Green Lantern and already play DCUO it’s a no-brainer you’ll love this. If you’re still on the fence about the game this might just be the boost you need. Enhanced combat, new locations, and fan-favorite characters make Fight For the Light worth a look when it releases this summer.

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