Fed up with the current glut of slow-moving 3D strategy games, Rage Software have taken it upon themselves to put a stop to this turn-based combat madness with a new action game of their own. Looking like a cross between Incubation and Incoming, but with gameplay that mirrors arcade classics Commando and Ikari Warriors, Expendable was initially due to brush the cobwebs off the shoot 'em up genre this November, but has now slipped back to early next year. Not that Rage Software's Newcastle division (the team designing the game) have run into trouble with the project - just that they've realised how much potential the concept has, and what they can do with it given the time.
More cynical readers may question the depth of something so seemingly simple as a top-down shooter, but from what we've seen so far, Expendable will be much more than a vertically-scrolling turkey shoot. For starters, the camera will move around your soldier dynamically, emphasising targets and giving the best view of the on-screen carnage.
Secondly, with Expendable, Rage will be showing off the latest version of their revolutionary 3D engine. We plan to squeeze as much as possible out of the current and next-generation 3D cards, they claim exuberantly. And - looking at the success they had with Incoming, and the screenshots on this page -you'd be mad not to put money on Expendable being the best-looking shoot 'em up around at the time of release. Early versions we've had the opportunity to play show off some moody coloured lighting, not to mention a wide variety of tremendously huge explosions -currently something of a trademark of Rage and their games.
Although the storyline is still being worked on, Expendable's designers have already decided their game will take place on a small, colonised planet, set in the year 2498. Therefore, you should expect lots of high-tech weapons and vehicles that Chover' in the game. In the version we played, your character was bestowed with whatever weapon they picked up last, although this is likely to be replaced with a system that enables browsing of your current, full arsenal. And, as you would expect from a game of this sort, the guns will get bigger and better the further into the game you go.
One interesting feature of Expendable's design is that it enables more than one player to play traditionally Csingle-player' missions on-screen at the same time. Instead of opting for a split-screen mode, the game keeps track of each player by tracking out as they get further apart - a technique Cborrowed' from 3D beat 'em ups such as Tekken and Virtua Fighter. And, because the levels are tightly constructed and the enemy attacks carefully choreographed, there's little chance of getting lost. Killed maybe, but not lost. Of course there'll also be all the deathmatch play you could hope for, but how that will work has yet to be nailed down.
Rest assured we'll be there first when there's more to show you.
Expendable uses a pretty low-brow game concept, but there's no denying that there's a certain charm about a mindless shooter--it's just too bad that this isn't a good one. Instead, it is a cookie-cutter game that relies too heavily on its veil of gaudy special effects which, no matter how flashy, can't cover up this game's ugly flaws. Within five minutes of trigger time, I was already frustrated with my Dual Shock as I tried to grasp the game's crappy control scheme. After awhile you get used to it, but only after realizing that all you really need to control your soldier is to use the shoulder buttons to strafe (slide left and right while still aiming forward) around enemies back and forth while dodging their bullets. Hell--since you just slide back and forth the whole game, you barely even need the control pad or analog sticks. This is almost a blessing in disguise since when you do use them, you'll notice that they are very inaccurate and clumsy. The rest of the game isn't much better. The animation is shoddy--it looks like your soldier slides around the battlefield rather than running, and most of the humanoid enemies aren't much better. Expendable might have been worth your time if its two-player cooperative and Deathmatch modes were any fun. But, like the rest of the game, any amount of entertainment you could have gotten from those modes was also deemed expendable.
Expendable reminds me a lot of Activision's Apocalypse, but with one very important difference--the controls here suck. And I don't mean they're a bit sluggish; I'm talkin' thumb-blistering, scream-out-loud, drag-the-whole-rest-of-the-game-down-with-them-bad controls. They make it impossible to zone out and get into the twitchy reflex driven game-play, and that's pretty much the whole point of a game like this. Who the hell decided Resident Evil style controls were appropriate in a 360 blast-every-thing-in-sight shooter? You end up circle strafing around like an idiot, only to get caught on walls. Frustrating as hell, and not much else.
What is this tripe? Expendable might have been a decent rental had Rage gotten the control right, but as the game is now it's hard to believe anyone even play tested this title. In digital mode the game controls like Resident Evil. You need to push up to move forward whichever way you happen to be facing. It just doesn't work well in a game that's all about fast-paced shooting action. Besides which, the digital control is so imprecise that it's hard to hit any targets consistently. On the flip side, the analog control is totally broken. You can't even move horizontally while it's on. The bottom line is that you shouldn't even waste your time trying Expendable.
What looks great but doesn't quite live up to the hype in the gameplay department? It's Expendable, from purveyors of quality 3D-card fare Rage Software. Showcasing just about every fancy graphical effect that the Dreamcast is capable of producing, this port of the recently unleashed PC shooter is set for release in September. Imagine a cross between Contra and Smash TV...but with lots of fancy lighting.
Any time a new system is released, you can rest assured that the old faithful game genres will be hit right off the bat. I mean, hey, if it was successful on other systems, why not go with the sure bet and try it on the new system. Expendable falls under the shooter category and reminds me of the old Contra games only set in the desolate future. So if you are a fan of the all-out blast-fest shooting games, Expendable is right up your alley. If it were not for a few shortcomings, this could have been a great two-player cooperative game.
Expendable is set in the future and even after reading the storyline a few times, I am still not really clear on what the hell the game is about. Something to do with humans inhabiting barren worlds trying to survive. Aliens then attacked the peaceful colonies and nobody has been heard from there since. You are dropped in to find out what happened to the people and kick a little alien butt along the way. You play as an expendable, a soldier grown in a ship with only one objective: killing. All that really matters is that you are in for some seriously insane blasting your way through 20 levels. Get ready for a sore thumb.
Like I mentioned above, this game reminds me of the classic Contra games combined with the very old arcade classic Berserk. You can play either single player or two-player cooperative. The object is simple: run around shooting anything and everything that decides to get in your way. You will blow up crates, which expose new and more powerful weapons or health. The whole while you are racing against the clock. If you do not make it to certain points before your time runs out, you are deemed Expendable and blown up. This game follows the same recipe as the classics that came before it, but is missing a couple of the key ingredients that made the classics classic.
So let me just start out by saying that I am a big fan of games that allow two-player cooperative mode. I don't think that there are enough games out there that use this formula but some of my favorite games of all time are two-player co-op. The only thing about these types of games is that the way in which the characters are identified on the screen and what happens when one character tries to go off of the screen must be handled properly or else the game is just not much fun to play. Unfortunately, both of these things were not handled very well by Expendable. To begin with, it is very difficult to identify your character. It would have been a huge help to have an icon over the top of each of the characters making them easy to pick out. I will explain in more detail why this was such an issue a little later. The second thing that I mentioned that needed to be handled correctly in a two-player cooperative game was what happens when one character tries to go off of the screen. Some games in the past have handled this by having the character hit an invisible wall, have the game switch to a split screen when the characters stray from each other or, like Expendable, they let you go off the screen and they show an arrow pointing in the direction your character is but you cannot see him. This is my least favorite way to handle this problem because it makes it virtually impossible to see what is happening to your character. Plus, when one character is off the screen, it seems to effect the other players mobility and basically forces the player to go over and find the other guy. It just makes for some confusion and frustration.
One of the biggest problems I had with this game was that it was just a bit much. There were numerous battles that were completely chaotic and I had no idea what was even going on. I just sat there with the trigger pushed, firing away. I had no idea where I was or what I was shooting at. All I knew was that there was so much going on that holding down the trigger button as the only option I really had. This is lame to me because it requires no skill at all. Not to mention that I really did not feel in control of the game. On other games, I feel like when I get killed, it is my fault and I could have avoided dying. In this game, I felt that I died because in the complete mayhem, I had no idea who was shooting at me or how to avoid the shots. I just kept shooting and moving forward as best as I could.
Another problem with the game was the aim. It was an absolute pain in the butt to aim the weapons. When the action slowed down enough that aim became an issue, I could almost never shoot at a still target unless it was directly in front of me, behind me or beside me. Anything diagonal was safe as can be because I just could not aim. That made things pretty tough. Actually, a common tactic that I used was the hold down the fire button while rotating the control stick 360 degrees hoping that one of my shots would connect. Sometimes it worked while other times I was not so lucky.
Don't get me wrong though. This game is not all bad. For the fan of the shooter genre, this game offers up some pretty intense action and some awesome weapons. There are tons of different enemies to blast and secret areas will keep you searching. Also, in an attempt to discourage the rapid fire tactics that I was forces to use, there are hostages scattered around the worlds that you must rescue. If you shoot them, they will explode into splats of red so you really have to be careful if you want to rescue these hostages. This was a good addition to the game, but damn, it was tough to not catch them in the crossfire.
The other thing that makes this game worth at least a rental is the graphics. Talk about pure eye candy. I am really impressed with the Dreamcast and the graphics that it spits out. I am a little concerned because the game did experience some slowdown when there were explosions all over the screen. I am hoping this is just an indication of first generation programming and not that the system is already being pushed to the limits. Since this game is played from a top-down perspective and you are zoomed pretty far back, you will find that there is tons of action taking place at all times on the screen. Mix this with highly detailed backgrounds and what you have is a great looking game.
While I would not condemn this game as unworthy of a look, I will caution that it will cause most gamers frustration. I am a casual fan of shooters so I found that there was just too much going on at one time and it was difficult to keep track of where my guy was at. I can't tell you how many times I thought I was the other player and vice versa. Still, this is a pretty cool looking game that will appeal to hardcore fans of this genre. Might be worth an evening rental to decide if it fits your style better than mine.