Eyes-on at E3 / Gladiator A.D.

Every time we meet with the guys from High Voltage, the wonderful people bringing us The Conduit, they’re constantly telling us that they love reading about what we think of their games so they can dive back in and make changes. It’s one of their two constant tenants, the other being to give players as much choice as possible in control and presentation. With that in mind I’m going to be harsh on the very, very early build of Gladiator A.D. I saw behind closed doors at E3.

In case you didn’t know, High Voltage announced two new games in production for the Wii the week before E3. They were Gladiator A.D. and The Grinder (eyes-on coming tomorrow). Both are relentlessly mature games operating off of High Voltage’s amazing engine that lets them pump out those impeccable graphics on the Wii. Both are in their very early stages, though Gladiator A.D. shows it a little bit more.

This may be because the game isn’t up the same alley as The Conduit. It’s a fighter and it is definitely taking a different approach to the genre by infusing a hefty story and some pretty strong RPG elements into the game. We didn’t get to see those, but we did get to see some fighting.

The real problem with seeing only the fighting at this early stage is that there wasn’t much to bite into. I watched as Matt Corso, Art Director at High Voltage, started duking it out with his gladiator versus another — using a Wii Remote without Wii MotionPlus. Swing, punch, dodge, block, waggle, possibly a few grabs. The initial impression was that of a pretty shallow fighter with some pretty stiff looking controls and movements. The game just didn’t look like it was much fun in the state it was in. It didn’t even seem that overly bloody, as I was personally hoping, except at the end when Matt delivered a finishing blow with a simple wag of the Wii Remote that lopped off his opponent’s arm and head. Graphically the game looked sound (the screens we have look better than what I saw, it was an older build), but still very rough and nowhere near the quality of what we’ve seen from The Conduit. But this in an immensely early build, and my lack of excitement over what the game was at the moment quickly became eclipsed by what it could be.

So, what are we possibly looking at if everything High Voltage is looking for shows up in the game? Well you won’t be delivering massive amounts of combos, and plowing through rounds like in Street Fighter. Eric Nofsinger, Chief Creative Officer at High Voltage, says the game’s style of fighting is geared more like Bushido Blade or Fight Night, meaning that well timed and strategic attacks are going to trump out ridiculous combos and super moves. We’re not talking the simplicity of Punch-Out!!, which isn’t always a bad thing, but this will definitely be a different style of fighter than most.

It might not be the fight style that differentiates it the most though. The guys at High Voltage are very intrigued by RPG-light infusions into games and allowing the player to really decide how they want to play it. This shows up in two ways. The first is that Gladiator A.D. will have a robust RPG background, where players will be able to design, upgrade and equip their player with a plethora of different types of weapons and armor. The gladiators we saw demoed both carried shield and short swords, but there will be options to play dual wielding, with heavier armor, with longer or shorter weapons, etc. Within the fights, items can be damaged too. We saw the opponent’s helmet get knocked off after several severe blows, leaving him open to taking more damage from attacks to that area.

The RPG elements don’t stop at your stat building and equipment. The game is going to feature a robust (for a fighter) storyline that changes depending on the player’s decisions in battle. For instance, at the end of each fight the player can choose to kill or be merciful to his now defeated enemy. Kill the guy and you never have to deal with him again, though it could come back to haunt you in the end. Don’t kill the guy and he might come back later in the game to get revenge, or maybe he’ll be thankful and help out some way. It is also possible, via a hub world, to get sponsorships and do deals with NPCs. Players may get a sponsorship from a rich Aristocrat and be able to buy better weapons, but it could create problems for you in the future because of your allegiance to him. It’s this angle to the game that really stands out, and sadly that we saw absolutely none of. Having a battle actually have consequences to the game is awesome, especially if you’re like me and feel that $50-$60 is far to much to pay for a game that just pushes you from match to match.

The second way the devs are choosing to allow the player as much control over the game as possible is by giving them plenty of options to control and view the game. We we’re demoed a few stages (all round and relatively the same size) and I asked why they decided to go with what seemed to be the slightly awkward angle of third person. Turns out it’s not what they chose because they didn’t choose anything. Nofsinger says the player will have complete control over where he wants to play the game from, and while they’re still tweaking which angle will be the default, it will be up to the player to choose how they want to play the game.

So, as I said, what I saw was what looked to be a very shallow fighter, but what I heard about, and, if The Conduit is any indication, what High Voltage will deliver in the end is going to be something very interesting. A final thing I heard about but didn’t get to see is that there will in fact be other elements in battles than just the two fighters (what’s a gladiator game without lions?), which should be cool. However, if the fighting doesn’t pep up a bit then it will all be for naught as that is obviously the main draw of the game and we don’t want to end up with another Castlevania: Judgement on our hands. Uggg, just typing the title makes me shudder.

No release date has been set yet, and High Voltage is keeping mum on online capabilities, but considering they’ve already had experience with the Wii’s online service, we’re assuming it’ll be there.