Spanish studio Mercury Steam is best known for creating the successful Castlevania: Lords of Shadow action-adventure series for Konami, but now the team is taking a bolder step in the form of Raiders of the Broken Planet, a new independent project without the shelter of a big publisher. When the first gameplay presentation was held back during the summer at Gamelab, there were many questions asked as to what could this would actually add to the packed shooter genre, so we were excited to play it and see if this question might be answered.
The other day we had the chance to give the Xbox One pre-alpha version a hands-on try, and so begun our quest for answers. The demo consisted of two levels, the first one acting as a tutorial for players to get to grips with controls and mechanics. One of the most important features of Raiders of the Broken Planet is its asymmetric co-op component. This means that if you're playing with friends, one could choose to switch sides and surprise former teammates. It's a different approach that games such as Evolve have used in the past, but the way it works here could reach a whole new level in terms of freshness. It's still too early to say, however, as the only mode available to us was single-player focused. Luckily enough, the devs are promising a closed beta test for consoles pretty soon.
Before the real meat of the game started we were introduced to the game's plot via a cinematic cutscene. So far we know it's set in a future where the titular planet is fractured and a powerful form of energy is sprouting forth from the breaches, causing all kinds of conflicts between federations that want to get their hands on it. The player then steps into the shoes of one of the mercenaries hired to investigate what's going on on this planet, and soon enough a plot twist adds new enemies with different motivations that you're forced to somehow stop.
A different aspect about the storytelling is the mission-based structure with objectives that can be tackled independently without a fixed order. It's a narrative device that we're interested to see in terms of whether it keeps working and whether it ends up being a hurdle for a properly immersive tale. It looks like the characters will bear the narrative weight by being well-defined and having unique features, reminiscent of other titles such as Overwatch, however, the developers are keen to point out this is not another hero shooter. The comparisons are there, though, as every mercenary has its own unique personality, along with its own special abilities to unleash during matches.
It struck us immediately in the first mission how similar some of the gameplay mechanics for the game are when compared to the style seen in Gears of War. The camera behind the character's shoulder, the heavy feeling when running around, the cover when you stick to the surface - these all remind a lot of Gears. However, there's another cool difference here: whereas the Xbox classic is relentless and hectic in terms of shooting at literally everything, here the possibilities are wider and you're encouraged to deploy some tactics when in combat. Oh, and you snap to cover automatically here too.
By default the camera controls are inverted, and perhaps the actual character moves aren't yet as polished as we'd have wished, but all in all it really looks like Mercury Steam wants to add an interesting twist to the classic structure and gameplay of third-person shooters with the addition of the special abilities and, above all, with the peculiar way of getting ammo by hitting enemies with close-quarters melee attacks. Among character-specific actions there's an ability to teleport your view to a different point of the map to take a quick look at your options, or equip a shield for a limited time, but the final game will add some other cool special powers we're told.
For the second mission the goal was also clear: rescue a hostage by taking down a boss. To get there we first had to knock down a tentacle-powered projectile-launching robot, which took some skills to move around the environment and attack its weak points. As the ammo is scarce, every now and then some grunt enemies spawn on the field, both slowing down your progress but at the same time refilling your weapons. Likewise, when you survive for some time, you get some health back in order to endure even longer; a must since the battles aren't a walk in the park.
The final boss was some sort of mad doctor chaining up pretty powerful attacks, so both finding good cover and waiting for the right moment was the way to go. During the showdown we had to deal with the minor enemy waves as well as trying to activate some switches in a given time. The combat isn't just made up of relentless shootouts, and the devs are adding some ideas in search of dynamism, both being wise choices that we'd like to see more of in the future. We also liked that the visual style moves itself away from realism and Gears' over-burly guys. That said, as this is pretty early still, the texture and graphical quality isn't there yet.
This brief demo was enough to remove some of the fears we had regarding the game after its initial reveal. Raiders of the Broken planet is a different proposal that, even though it might remind you of other titles from the genre, once you get controller in hand is able to change that preconception completely. The mechanics are easy to grasp, and at the same time the gameplay system has enough depth for you to try different approaches, and we're really looking forward to seeing more of its fresh asymmetric multiplayer. The new game by Mercury Steam looks riskier, but also bolder considering the studio's previous works and this project's ambitions (and, by the way, as a safety measure, the project will keep taking shape based on community feedback by way of an episodic model). Let's see how it keeps progressing in upcoming betas.