Star Wars 1313 E3 Preview: I Have a Great Feeling About This
When I saw “Unnanounced LucasArts game” on my schedule this E3, I feared Star War Kinect 2 or LEGO Indiana Jones 3.
Star Wars 1313 is a different beast entirely. Billed as the “first mature-themed expression of the Star Wars universe,” 1313 will follow a not-yet-revealed bounty hunter as he navigates the seedy criminal underworld of Coruscant — chronologically sometime between the first and second film trilogies. The Imperial capital planet is essentialy one giant metropolis, divided into several thousand “levels,” stretching for miles from the surface down toward the planet’s core. The game is set specifically on level number 1313, a particularly dangerous den of criminal activity.
In their own words, LucasArts described Star Wars 1313′s gameplay as a combination of “agile cover-to-cover combat,” and “death-defying platforming,” which in practice seems to place the game somewhere between Gears of War and Uncharted. You can see this gameplay mix in action in 1313′s first publically released trailer. While attempting to descend deep into Coruscant, our bounty hunter’s ship is assailed by some unknown enemy. After blowing a whole in the ship’s hull, several masked enemies board intent on violence. As the action ramps up, it’s clear that Star Wars 1313 wears its influences on its shoulder. Our bounty hunter dive-rolls between cargo boxes for cover, pops up to deliver blaster fire and concussive blasts, and even pulls an unlucky baddie over a box to deliver a Drake-style beat down.
It all looks pretty familiar, but it also looks damn good. LucasArts ran the demo on a state-of-the-art PC (built by NVIDIA), and it shows. As the ship gradually falls apart, colorful sparks spray off the wreckage. Panning floodlights paint circular paths against the interior bulkhead. Pieces of hull blow off, revealing a spinning canyon of lights as the ship falls toward Coruscant’s center. It was one of the most visually impressive games of the whole show, to be sure.
In the next sequence, the enemy tethers the two ships together, and nearly rips the bounty hunter’s ship apart. Our bounty hunter decides the best thing to do at this point is to JUMP from one ship to the other ship. He barely makes it, and proceeds to climb up the outside of the
falling train crumbling ship’s hull. Pieces of metal snap off and fly away, and piping proves to be insufficiently fastened — but the bounty hunter manages with some smooth-looking climbing mechanics.
Drake would be proud, and so too would Marcus Fenix, and probably Commander Shepard as well. While Star Wars 1313 is clearly inspired by established franchises, it’s worth noting that (at least in the eyes-only demo I attended) none of it feels cheeply lifted. What we saw was a pre-production build of the game, but even so it looked solidly crafted.
The sequence felt like a well-choreographed set piece, which is a design choice LucasArts is extending throughout 1313. Though Coruscant is a vast metropolitan underworld, it’s not an “open world.” In an interview with Game Front, Creative Director Dominic Robilliard described the game as more of a “linear, crafted roller coaster ride” experience. It’s a bit of a shame to have a big, unexplorable Star Wars planet. I felt similarly on Mass Effect 3′s Omega — that there were mysteries to solve around every corner, and people to shoot from air ducts, but that it felt like a roped off amusement park. Of course, if 1313′s roller coaster is good enough, we won’t really notice.
So, on one hand, Star Wars 1313 blatantly imports familiar mechanics from other titles, while on the other it omits the most iconic Star Wars thing of all: The Force. You don’t play a Jedi in Star Wars 1313. You won’t fight any Jedi, either. You have no access to Force abilities. There’s no Force way down here under the surface. It’s a different world, where power is enforced in ways other than lightsaber amputation and Jedi mind tricks. Personally, I’m excited to play with something besides The Force in a Star Wars game. LucasArts could tap into some really cool gadgetry there. Jet packs, grappling hooks, different grenades. A well stocked bounty hunter has a Batman-grade arsenal. Combine that with the tone LucasArts is going for, which they described as “ruthless and scary,” and you have the makings for something very cool and different.
Helping bring this world to life is a development dream team, including key members of Skywalker Sound, Industrial Light & Magic and LucasFilm Animation. One area this really comes through is in cutscenes. In a behind-the-scenes developer diary we were shown, the development team described how the actors used full-body mo-cap suits with extra face-mounted cameras, allowing them to capture extremely nuanced facial movements. The result was some of the most impressive facial animations I’ve ever seen in a game. In an early cutscene, our bounty hunter and his unnamed partner stroll through the ship, discussing their plan to descend deep into Coruscant. The quality of the captured performance is very high, and it better be: LucasArts mentioned it can take 10 hours to render a single frame. The characters’ eyes dart around. Their faces twitch. Lip sync is dead on, reaching the level of animated film. It makes akward facial animation (for instance, in Batman: Arkham Asylum) look almost medieval.
While this first glimpse of Star Wars 1313 is very prommising, there’s still so much we don’t know yet. Who is the main character? What’s he after on Coruscant? What sorts of weapons and abilities will be at his disposal? Is it even a “he”? Will we encounter known Star Wars characters, or will the game tell all-new stories? What about multiplayer? What platforms is the game for? We’ll have to wait until LucasArts is ready to pull back the curtain a little further.
Star Wars 1313 is currently slated for a 2013 release, on unknown platforms. Stay tuned to Game Front for more Star Wars 1313 coverage.