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It's An Impressive list Total Annihilation. Dungeon Siege. Supreme Commander. So it's hardly surprising that, as the first tantalising titbits of information trickle into our inboxes on a rainy morning, proclaiming that games development legend Chris Taylor (the man behind these three PC gaming leviathans) is working on a brand-new space-based RPG called Space Siege, we're tripping over our shoelaces to speak to him.
Fast-forward eight hours. After a day of RSI-inducing thumb twiddling waiting for Seattle-based Taylor to speak to me, I finally get to chat to him in his private office, rumoured to be situated in a giant robot-shaped tower made entirely of diamonds. Also joining us is lead designer Daniel Achterman, who doesn't have any kind of rumours circulating about his office, but does know enough about Space Siege to fill two and half encyclopaedias. Large ones. With reinforced spines.
Pepped up on a caffeine kick that would kill a bull-elephant, Taylor is eager to dive straight in. Staying true to the frenetic action-RPG formula that brought Gas Powered Games such success with the Dungeon Siege series, he informs me that Space Siege is an intergalactic action-romp that sees humanity battling for survival against a terrifying alien race that could peel a man like a monkey would a ripe banana.
Walk The Walk
Stepping into the gravity boots of human hero Seth Walker - a combat engineer onboard a city-sized space cruiser called The Armstrong - you'll be tasked with single-handedly fighting off hordes of aliens in an attempt to save the last dregs of humanity from annihilation. And there you were thinking that you'd just have to mend a couple of hover-tanks before taking an extended lunch break and knocking off early for a session down the boozer.
While Space Siege will be frenetic, pacing is also set to play a major role. "In Dungeon Siege, it was all about using melee and spells to push through tons of enemies," explains Taylor. "Space Siege's combat is far more tactical. You'll go into situations where you encounter aliens and you won't just take out your biggest gun and start blasting them. There'll be combat that's as frenzied as you saw in Dungeon Siege, only there'll be far better pacing this time around. One minute you may be involved in a really intense battle, the next in one that requires strategy."
Aiding you in your critical mission will be a brand-new control system, which Taylor believes will trump even the legendary Dungeon Siege interface. "Yon won't recognise the interface from Dungeon Siege," ho promises in a confident timbre. "We're very devoted to simplicity and ease of use so that people won't be overwhelmed. The interface will evolve as yon gain abilities and will also allow yon to give commands to your HR-V robot - an NPC buddycharacter who'll back yon np throughout the course of the game."
Making A Mess
Taylor would be the first to admit that in the past, plot and characters haven't been his main focus when approaching game design. However, all that's about to change. With the games industry slowly waking up to the power of storytelling and believable, deep characters, Taylor and Achterman believe that they and their team are ready to join the burgeoning number of developers intent on injecting their games with entertaining plots.
"Man has colonised space. The first colony ship to launch from Earth was the 1SCS Chrysanthemum in 2056," chimes Achterman, as Taylor sips his 14th coffee of the interview. "Over the next 138 years, 18 other colony ships were sent out, but none of the ships were successful in establishing a terra-based colony. Instead, upon their arrival to their destination, the colony ships converted into permanent spacestations. Of all the planets initially targeted as colonies, only Elysium IV was capable of supporting human life." e With the humans settled, they waste no time doing what humans do best - stripping the planet of natural resources, pumping the air full of chemicals and filling every TV station with vacuous reality TV programs about housekeeping. Or at least something along those lines. Point is, the colonists end up pissing off the locals - a race of giant alien killers called the Kerak, which bare more than a passing resemblance to the giant bugs from Starship Troopers - so much that they wipe out the colonists, then head to Earth to do the same to the rest of humanity. If you've ever seen Anthea Turner: Perfect Housewife, you'll no doubt sympathise.
Strong Of Arm
With Earth on the brink of annihilation, only one human ship full of refugees -The Armstrong - escapes the blanket of Kerak warships pummellincfEarth from orbit. "Earth ships are escaping like crazy trying to get off the planet, but the Kerak destroy them," explains Taylor "Your ship barely escapes, but the aliens manage to send an invasion force onboard before you get away." Flying aimlessly into the void commonly referred to as space and with his ship infested with enemies, Seth Walker only has one choice, and I don't mean curling up into a ball and shouting: "We're all gqpna die, this is the end, we're all doomed. Whyyyyyy?!'' No my friends, his and ultimately your only choice is to pick up a gun and start blasting some bugs.
"Although their appearance suggests otherwise, the Kerak are extremely intelligent, capable of adapting to any environment and are brilliant military strategists," explains Achterman as I press him about these alien killers.
"There are several types of Kerak warriors and each type fills a specific combat role. Drones swarm their enemies and explode on contact. There are also nimble, armoured skirmishers, bipedal Kerak warriors who can deploy advanced weapon systems and even an invulnerable monstrosity that barrels forward with alarming speed. There's no question that the Kerak are the greatest foe tnat humanity has ever faced."
But enough about the bugs for now, because I make it about time to talk more about Seth, a character who's a world away from the player-generated heroes that starred in the Dungeon Siege adventures.
"Instead of a generic male or female character, we decided that we wanted a character that you can go through a story with," explains Taylor. "Seth is like our Gordon Freeman, only lie'll be able to speak. He has a lodk and a history and there's something loveable about him."
Being the kind of bloke who likes to moisturise his palms with engine grease, Seth will possess a profusion of technical skills with which to thwart the alien menace. Resisting the temptation to return to Dungeon Siege's use-skill-gain-experience mechanic, Taylor and his team have opted to create a completely new skill system for Space Siege. At your disposal will be a collection of abilities that'll provide you with bonuses, including reduced cool-down time for power shots and an increased blast radius for your grenades. It's a system that hints at a far more tactical experience than the frenetic and often mindless mouse-clicking mayhem of its fantasy predecessors.
"Hie other way that Seth improves is by upgrading and customising his gear," expands Achterman. "He can find various materials in containers, or by defeating enemies, like scraps of metal, various chemicals and pieces of alien technology. He can use combinations of those materials to upgrade his weapons or armour. Upgrades to damage, armour or critical hit chance all use the same types of materials, so you'll have to choose which upgrades are most important to you."
Now for the really exciting part. Bubbling beneath Space Siege's buffed surface, searing action and jntergalactic conflict will be a moral vein that centres on morality and humanity. In a twist that would have an '80s perm feeling inadequate, it'll be up to you to decide whether or not you want to equip Seth with a collection of cybernetic upgrades that'll make him a more potenHKIIer. But here's the catch. With a Humanity meter tracking how far away you've strayed from your original soft-tissue self, you'll find that the closer you come to becoming a distant relative to RoboCop, the more estranged you'll become from other humans onboard The Armstrong.
"When you start . playing, you'll think you're in a very traditional RPG where your job is to load up your character with armour and weapons, then blast your way through the game," explains Taylor, rejuvenated by caffeine injection no.19 of the morning. "We thought it'd be fun to bring in a moral choice question, to give the player a choice between going down the path of cybernetic upgrades and losing their humanity, or staying human. The more upgrades you install, the more your Humanity meter will go down. As you play through the game, you'll be romanced. You might find a large gun, but you can't carry it because you're not strong enough without cybernetic upgrades. You may need a powerful robotic arm, or a lung upgrade to get through a chamber because the air is too hard on human lungs. From a gameplay perspective, the game becomes easier as you lose your humanity. The downside is that the other characters in the game start alienating you. They start treating you like Frankenstein's monster."
I'll Be Back
Faced by this moral dilemma, which will feed seamlessly into the branching plot you'll have to choose between compromising your humanity with these cybernetic implants, losing your mates and spending your evenings alone lubricating your joints with WD40 and making love to a Dyson, or opting for the harderlnit more morally rewarding route of maintaining your humanity. The latter choice will be akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on the Predator, the former like Terminator vs Predator.
"We're not going down the Deus Ex road though," explains Taylor when asked if there'll be any similarities to Warren Spector's RPG classic. "Space Siege isn't as hardcore. It's a little more like World Of Warcraft. We've realised that the market is changing. Games are entertainment and people don't want to get stuck on games all the time. We want Space Siege to appeal to everyone. If you want to make it more difficult, you'll be able to go down the human path. If you're younger, the moral dilemma may not be so important and you may just want to become a cyborg. More hardcore players will no doubt want to get through the game with no augmentations, simply out of principle."
As Taylor alluded to a few moments ago, a supporting cast of characters will aid you in your attempts to thwart the aliens from wiping out the last humans in the universe. Among these will be Gina Reynolds, a foxy communications officer - aka the love interest - a fiercely anti-cybernetic communications officer (you can se? the post-coital arguments already). There will also be Dr Edward DeSoto, a cybernetic surgeon; Jake Henderson, a hardened soldier who'd do anything for Seth with the possible exception of giving him his last Rolo; and Frank Murphy, a washed-up alcoholic with a penchant for mechanical repairs.
Despite attempts to siphon more info from Taylor and Achterman, I'm informed my time is up. However, I do manage to extract one last tantalising morsel from them before they leave. Apparently, there'll be another sinister force at work within The Armstrong, which will throw the moral dilemma mentioned earlier wide open. Hmmmm, interesting...
Satiated by enough information to make an android haemorrhage, I bid my farewell to Taylor and Achterman as they head off to one of Seattle's 423,007 coffee bars for a cheeky espresso before cracking on with the game.
While it's still too early to make any concrete calls on how Space Siege will turn out, it certainly appears to have the makings of another top-quality title. Given Gas Powered's already impressive collection of hits, Space Siege's strong moral themes and a solid role-playing core, Chris Taylor and his team may soon find themselves with another gem to slap onto their sparkling resumes.
Download Space Siege
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
When I Played Dungeon Siege about six years ago, I hated it. Compared to Diablo II, I found it too simple. It amazes me to say then, that while some Dungeon Siege fans bemoan the streamlining of the 'siege' mechanic - I'm really quite enjoying it. To be honest, I wonder if they should have stuck the word 'siege' in the title at all; it's a weird tactical shooter-RPG now, and it's obviously had a great deal of effort put into its playability.
There's a satisfying weight to the experience, from the way that you can carefully pick off enemies from afar then wade in with a space-punch to the anarchy of the physics-engine's explosions. It all "works," and I can't applaud Gas Powered Games enough for how well it plays. Many developers miss that crucial step to making a control system really click with its environment. GPG cover up the ongoing blandness and repetition of the vast ship by making affairs about as tight as possible. I couldn't help but whoop when I successfully warded off a giant group of Kerak with a shower of bullets and a super-punch, with my little buddy Harvey peppering them from a distance, beeping like the robo butler I never had.
I have to admit though that the only-just-better-than-porno story was predictable and had me clicking through all the talking just to get back to the endless fighting.
I realise that it's not meant to be the next Baldur's Gate, but it did little to draw me in, and I was almost disappointed every time I had to stop shooting to listen to Seth drone on about how everybody kept dying. Why didn't they just rush everyone through the corpse reanimating rooms? That's what I want to know.
If You're Having a siege in space, then you'll have to think twice about traditional siege machines. The lack of gravity makes boiling oil an absolute nightmare to tip onto people and makes catapults and trebuchets useless, while without a solid reference point, you're never k sure if you're climbing the ladder, or simply pushing it down.
Luckily, in Space Siege, you're not actually under siege, so you don't have to worry about any of that. All you have to do is run around, kill all the filthy Kerak invaders, find out why they're intent on wiping out humans, plug metal eyeballs into your face, become best friends with a robot, and find out what it is that's making everyone in the ship go mental.
This demo is just the opening act of the game, but you'll get a taster of the wide range of weaponry you'll see in the title, before you're coerced onto the train that'll take you to the Cold Sleepy Room (stupid for 'Cryostasis Chambers').
Here's a secret tip - if you want to make it last longer, just stand outside the train shooting things forever. This is one of the rare areas where the aliens will continually respawn, so you've actually got hundreds of hours of gameplay right there. In all seriousness, Space Siege is one of the finer and more enjoyable action-blasters we've played through in the past few years, and while it's hardly going to set the world alight, it's definitely worth your readies in times of boredom.
In The Late 22nd century the name Seth has finally become cool. So get ready to play Seth Walker, a man whose name was unusable in Britain for many decades, thanks to the mutton-chopped gamekeeper in Emmerdale Farm. These were dark years for Seths everywhere: until spunky American Seth Green tried to reclaim the name, hindered only by an acute case of ginger hair. He was the turning of the tide though and in the 22nd century, Seth is the name of humanity's last hope in a war it wasn't prepared for.
Galactic exploration hasn't been going too well. A colonisation of the wrong planet triggered a catastrophic response from its hidden insectoid owners who embarked on a universewide genocide of humanity. When Seth appears on the scene a tutorial shows you the usual basics and gets you into a vast ship's cryostasis pod, guided by the ship's computer - PILOT - and Commander Vargas, a gruff military type who seems like the sort who'd secretly love his wife.
Quickly it becomes obvious that this isn't a full-blown RPG adventure - there's no character creation process or classes. On top of that, an instinctive tap of the T key fails to produce anything like an inventory. You'll find weapons on your travels, but other than that, the only currency is upgrade materials. These come from everything - ship robots, the Kerak (the insects), and Cybers (humans who've gone strangely mental since waking up weeks early from coldsleep).
Upgrade materials do everything. They can be used to upgrade your personal skills, the abilities of your helper robot, the speed, damage and crit rates of your guns, and even used to build the items that you'll find in chests. These are the clearest indication of Gas Powered Games' intention to clear as much junk out of the genre as possible. And incredibly, it works. You can be careless and rely on medkits - but you'll end up with fewer gun upgrades in the process. It even works logically - nearly. Not quite, but nearly enough for your belief-suspension to web over the gaps.
Fighting, then. Your arsenal kicks off with the basics: your Mag-Blade arm provides powerful melee and can be upgraded to deal powerful critical hits, and then there are your machine guns. There you have your combat basics: two equipped weapons that you can hot-swap with a tap of the Tab key, and fire with the right mouse button. Exploding barrels are so prevalent that the developers couldn't avoid making a joke about them, so the sheer brazenness and overuse of the cliche actually breaks the spell of naff. You'll gasp as ever-larger explosive crates are introduced, and whimper in anticipation as a massive crate of gas cylinders explodes to the sound effects of fireworks. You know someone's having a laugh, somewhere.
Your keyboard hand is left to deal with the special attacks. These give battles punctuation - without them, it'd be a strategy-free bullet-slog -and require energy that you can only regain by causing more damage to enemies. This doesn't make much sense, and you'll often find yourself damaged, drained and unable to sensibly enter combat. Sometimes this'll happen at the of stairs, at which becomes an even like a superheroic you can't look up. Zoom out, yes - but not enough to see whether there's anyone there. Never mind, though - you've got a robot companion you send ahead. HR-V (aka Harvey) can be produced from any of the game's manufactories at a small, but not negligible, cost to your upgrade materials. If you're going to avoid cybernetic surgery, you'll have to learn how to use this little robot and your engineering skills.
Harvey is mostly helpful, causing less damage than yourself, but providing a valuable shield. He can repair himself, so mastering the balance of allowing him to pull enemy fire quickly becomes an important strategy. Out of combat, he can be a right prick - a number of times, he eagerly ran into a crowd of proximity bombs, causing me to suffer enough direct and subsequent burn damage to die a horrible death.
Death, though, has very little sting. The admirably seamless save system lets you dip in and out of a medical room, and if you're not too far from the last one, there isn't much strategic difference if you choose to respawn rather than waste a medkit. As the enemies you've damaged remain damaged, the only thing stopping you choosing the less honourable latter path is a sense of embarrassment at your own shoddy tactics. You can plough through the game like an idiot - rare boss battles aside - but it's rewarding only when you put a bit of thought in.
Apart from occasionally blowing you up, Harvey's a good companion, making up for the general tactics that go with a party system by having a more pet-like relationship, with his abilities spread above your own, along the function keys. Use him with style, or use him as a firepulling decoy - just remember that every time you have to rebuild him, you'll use upgrade parts you could have spent on your own weapons.
There might be no classes, but you do get a choice of where your character's finer specialities lie. Every major mission will give you two skill points, allowing you to climb down the combat or engineering skill trees. There's a good range on offer, for a single play-through -but not really enough to warrant playing the game through again. However, on certain stages during the game, Doctor DeSoto will alert you to the presence of a cybernetic implant.
This is the game's one moral quandary: how far down the cybernetic path should you go? Not only do the mechanical parts give you an instant stat bonus, they unlock parts of the already limited skill trees. In its early stages, the game actually does a good job of steering you down the mechanised path. You've got an entire species to save, after all. And it's just an eye. The arguments against are pretty much summarised by "ew". You might be offended by the crude notion that three per cent of humanity resides in the eye. Then you'll notice that the last item on DeSoto's shopping list is a tin brain. Ew.
Space Siege is a very linear affair -exploration is only useful for two things. First, the secondary missions, which are marked on your map. Harvey upgrades, weapons, and cybernetic implants are all mapped out for you. The only other rewards for an inquisitive mind are bones, upgrade parts and grenades. It's here that you feel the absence of Diablo-esque armour sets, recipes, and a rich world of randomly-generated hats. GPG have successfully streamlined the action-RPG - a fairly incredible achievement -but chests feel underwhelming without the chance of epic loot. This is a matter of taste, but if you want Legendary Sets, you'll find Space Siege lacking.
Whilst the main story is fine, the scriptwriting isn't afraid to splash around in the paddling pool of cliche. However, the dialogue is well-acted, even when the script rings false. Bonus plot information is offered to those who give a toss, in the time-honoured tradition of audio diaries. These can be gratingly satirical news stories or unsuccessful attempts to give the lost crew a human story, but there's a truly compelling chain of notes from a man who is looking for his daughter. His descent into madness is surprisingly well-handled, and makes up for the phantom of the giggling girl that runs through the ship's corridors for the majority of the game, like a shit Ripley's daughter.
I say that, but about two thirds through the game,"an innocuous chair cast the perfect silhouette of a slouched girl, and I haven't tiptoed so gingerly towards a chair since my grandmother fell asleep watching TV, and everyone thought she was dead. So, hackneyed as a small girl might be, it's still effective on some level.
Space Siege is an achievement, answering a question that no-one really asked, by thinning out the deeper elements of the action-RPG to the point where you might as well just call it an action game. The combat has that intangible but important sense of connection. Although the first half of thi game falls into a lull of mundane and repetitive baddies, it definitely becomes more interesting, difficult and intense toward the closing acts. But don't expect brilliant innovation.
Have you got skills?
And if so, are they in combat or engineering?
Your skills tree has only two branches: combat and engineering. If you want to remain human, you'll be relying more on your engineering side.
This contains gadgetry such as stun grenades - useful for taking the edge from powerful enemies such as the Rhino. Crowds of enemies can be weakened with a bomb drone, which scuttles autonomously to areas of high bastardry. All these weapons need finding or building, however - and your main weapons have infinite ammo.
Replacing yourself with metal bits isn't all sunshine and stat bonuses. High-tier powers such as Inspiration become inaccessible once you've removed a certain amount of your humanity. That said, these powers do feel like a token nod to balance in a game where the cyborg path is deliberately easier. Just don't expect a perfect ending...