Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare are both veterans of the video game industry. They've worked together on numerous titles, including the cult classic Deus Ex and its sequel Invisible War. The one thing they haven't done is create a rollercoaster, thrill a second, heart pumping, adrenaline filled action title. This is what the pair claim Blacksite will be. It's the game they've wanted to make for some time, and early impressions suggest they're well on the road to achieving their goal.
By now there's a good chance Xbox 360 owners will have sampled the game thanks to the tasty little Xbox Live Marketplace demo. The game has come some way since then, with the demo based on a build that dates back to December 2006. I got hands-on time with three new levels and things are certainly looking action packed.
Surprisingly for an FPS of this type, Blacksite features a fairly heavy political undertone and references serious issues going on in today's world. The first level I played takes place in Iraq, and sees you and the rest of Echo Squad taking on Iraqi soldiers. Set in a deserted Iraqi town, the level proved to be a good location to make use of the game's squad control system. All commands are context sensitive and activated via a single button; so point at the floor and your squad will move to that point, while pointing at a door will see them open it.
Team-mates will naturally move to cover in the environment, but they require you to give them orders. Failure to do so will result in the team losing morale, which lessens their effectiveness in battle. Do well, though, and your team will turn into killing machines, running into buildings and taking out enemies at close range. This means that each player will tackle situations differently, with the game becoming substantially harder if your team is suffering from low morale. The team at Midway Studios Austin is still tweaking the system, but it looks like it will offer something a little different to the team-based shooter mechanic.
Moving on, the second level took place in Nevada, a few hours before the events of the Xbox Live Marketplace demo. Although also a desert location, this small village looked worlds apart from the Iraq level, and focussed on an old man who had locked himself inside a barn in order to get away from the dog-like aliens that had killed his family. Again, I worked with my team to take down the enemies - this time a series of aliens - before making it to the barn.
This triggered an in-engine cutscene, with the guy ushering us inside and telling us of the aliens' rampage. By using in-engine cinematics the developers have been able to keep control in the player's hands, in an attempt to keep you connected to the game world. On this occasion an alien burst through the glass window, but the squad took it down before it had a chance to cause too much damage. The old guy also commented on my actions inside the barn, and squad mates made little comments throughout the three levels on show. How far these little remarks go remains to be seen, but they add character and life, even if they're entirely scripted.
The final level showcased one of the game's on-rails helicopter sections, with the other vehicles being saved for another time. Much like in GRAW's in-air turret levels, you take the position of gunner and target the enemies beneath you. This level saw the chopper flying through a canyon, with aliens on the road beneath. Things started out fairly typically, with plenty of exploding cars and the like, but before too long a giant alien worm burst through the road below. It was Impressive enough in its own right, but had nothing on the giant beast that had taken up residence on the bridge up ahead. The octopus-like creature was a sight to behold and ranks as one of the most impressive moments I've seen in video games to date.
Of course, this giant monstrosity was no match for the power of the US Army's bullets, despite it being able to launch nasty looking fiery projectiles at the helicopter. Eventually the beast succumbed and crashed down to the ground, taking the bridge and a friendly chopper with it. I'm not one to leave good men behind, so we landed and headed to the crash site to rescue the squad. Sadly, only the key member of my squad made it out alive, but going in on foot and with the help of the chopper from above (taking out any enemies I'd targeted) didn't prove too difficult.
It's fair to say that Blacksite isn't going to offer much in terms of depth, but as a big and bold blockbuster it seems to have all the right ingredients. Visually it looks wonderful, with Midway Austin making use of the Unreal Engine 3 to create a game world that is leagues beyond what was achievable on previous-gen hardware. The object damage system that can be seen in Midway's other action title, Stranglehold, also appears here, so pillars, walls, and other objects ideal for cover can be partially or completely destroyed. Harvey was keen to stress that the final game will run at 30 frames per second, which will complement the on-screen action very nicely indeed.
It'll be easy for those of the 'video games are art' brigade to see Blacksite as an example of everything that's wrong with the industry, but for the rest of us there's every chance it'll be a highly entertaining slice of action. Two-player co-op will also be included, as will numerous competitive multiplayer modes, making what should be a rather feature rich title. The guys at Midway Austin are going through the final stages of development, so all being well Blacksite will arrive on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in a couple of months.