First and foremost, the use of Unreal 3 tech by Playlogic’s internal development team absolutely has to be seen in action to be believed (and highly commended, to boot). Not only is this possibly the best artistic use of the engine to date, the long dev cycle (3 years and counting!) has allowed for the artists and programmers to pull off some pretty spectacular cartoon visuals, outstanding animation and numerous visual tricks you haven’t seen in other U3-based games. McGowan and Torkan noted that even Epic was suitably impressed with how well the team has manipulated U3 to their advantage. Note to Cliffy B: put Red in the next Gears of War or other Epic game as a hidden character.
You’ll know what I mean when you’re sliding around in bright red blood pools and other liquids (watch out for cliffs and traps as you’re slipping about). In the meantime, you’re laying waste to angry lumberjacks and other baddies armed with axes, shotguns and tons of other weapons. This certainly isn’t a kid’s game by any means, so if you’ve got them around when the game ships, go send the little urchins to bed early and lock them up good and tight. McGowan emphasized that the tales in the game are based more on the original European stories, not the sanitized western stories we all heard as kids growing up in the States. Go poke around on the ‘net and check out the stories kids got put to bed with over the pond sometime and you’ll see for yourself.
This particularly fractured fairy tale concerns four iconic storybook characters, Little Red Riding Hood, Beanstalk Jack, Snow White and the Naked Emperor. The game intro shows their falls from grace thanks to a little help from the main villain, Little Boy Tailor, a nasty egomaniac who wants to steal what little spotlight these former storybook superstars have left. After showing up in different books and basically undoing their stories with a bit of magical assistance, the formerly fantastic four set out to get their revenge while reclaiming their fame.
Here’s where the game gets under way and I soon found myself practically falling out of my chair laughing non-stop. If you thought Rare’s M-Rated Conker games were the bee’s knees back on the N64 or original Xbox, FF outdoes these by light years in terms of overall sense of scale and yes, sheer outrageously goofy use of gore. Despite the high violence quotient, phrases such as “cartoon violence” and “over the top” fit like a glove here. Granted, the ERSB rightly thinks lopping big-eyed rabbit heads into six pieces or cleaving an enemy’s body into two thick slices are worth a Mature rating and the game literally pulls no punches when it comes to serving up the red stuff.
When the build was fired up, the first thing I noticed after the awesomely hysterical opening movie was there’s no options screen. Instead, once a character is selected (Red Riding Hood is my favorite), he or she is dropped right into a free-roaming village that’s about the size of a small town in an Elder Scrolls game! Interacting with certain structures or familiar fairytale characters allows for the usual adjusting of gameplay, audio and other functions and there’s a big book that keeps track of the fairy tales you’ve “fixed.” While navigating through the options village, there was a twisted version of Puss ‘N Boots lazing around like an old tomcat, eyeballing my avatar as she ran past. That and a few other story time faves is assorted states made me laugh pretty hard and it was hard to stop once the game proper got under way.
After showing off some basic platforming moves and killing a bunch of woodsmen, Torkan handed me a controller to show off the drop-in/drop out co-op mode. I picked Red Riding Hood, of course. Choosing the same character drops in an alternate color costumed version, by the way. At any time during gameplay, up to three other players can hop into a game to help out (or hinder, if friendly fire is activated). Controls are simple, yet the combos you’ll pull off are numerous and often outrageously funny. The left stick moves your character, the right attacks. This is similar to PS2 games like Rise to Honor, The Mark of Kri and Rise of the Kasai, but with much more freedom and fluidity in terms of attacking multiple enemies.
The game soon introduces you to its next element: challenging platform-based and environmental puzzles that require perfect timing or you’ll lose face (literally and figuratively). I died more than a few times simply because I was checking out the spectacular graphics or how enemies reacted to being struck with stuff. In one early section, huge rapidly dropping blades, spiked rolling logs or giant saws kept things tense while we attempted to cross an otherwise simple bridge. Later, a set of railroad tracks became an obstacle, thanks to a super-fast train that splattered anyone it hit across the landscape. The neat thing in these sections is you’re able to push or throw enemies in front of the train or any traps in the game for an instant kill and even play “chicken” with the train once you get the timing down.
The amount of animation for all the characters is mind-blowing, as there are no “routines” or canned combat animations. Enemies (and allies) react to hits differently depending on where they’re struck, making every play through of a level a completely unique experience. Two things the dev team are proud of, “Dynamic Slicing” and “Dynamic Bone Crushing” are two of the best buzzwords you’ll ever see in action because they actually describe what it is you’re doing onscreen to friend and foe alike.
As baddies (or buddies) get the beat down, a yellow bar fills up next to your character’s portrait icon, allowing you to use “Glory Attacks.” A tap of a shoulder button while near an enemy sends the game into picture in picture mode where you can chop or punch away for a brief period, and watch as your victim reacts and often, falls into a pile of bloody slices. Using the right analog stick for combat is quite intuitive and once you get accustomed to it, you’ll be carving up enemies into as many chunks as you like. I asked if really skilled players would be able to literally carve their initials into an enemy and was told “maybe.” That made me laugh even more as I was in the middle of turning a now headless enemy’s corpse into a chunky pile shaped like a meaty “X” with a big knife before I turned him into an asterisk with a third swipe.
There are currently over 140 different weapons in the game (so far), and when I say “different”, I mean you can pick up everything from swords, axes or shotgun to offbeat items such as a rolled up newspaper or a swordfish. Even enemies can be used as weapons by picking them up and throwing them into each other (or into traps). If you’re weaponless, fear not – fists and feet work as well, especially when you can break every bone in an enemy’s body in glorious slow-motion and see the bones crack via a quick picture in picture shot. You’ll be able to carry one weapon ans “bank” a second, switching between them at the touch of a button.
You’ll also find treasure chests packed with gold or other useful gear such as magic wands or powerful potions. The wands and potions may seem like they’re yanked out of a RPG, however, this is a fairytale land, so it’s all good. What’s better than using a fire wand to burn enemies and send them screaming away in flames ’til they drop (or worse, set other enemies or flammable liquids ablaze for a really fine finish)? Poison, Lightning, Freeze and other wands also do the trick. Potions can be drank or thrown, resulting in surprising effects. Torkan’s Little Red popped an ice potion and froze me and a few nearby baddies in our tracks, then knocked us into a pool of liquid he’s set aflame a few seconds earlier. Lovely.
After a few more minutes of chase ‘n chop action, I got a brief look at the intro to the game’s first boss, an angry (and pug-ugly) over-sized beaver wearing colorful surf trunks. We didn’t get to face off against him, as the guys wanted the boss fight to remain a secret until the retail release. Instead, Torkan switched to a later level set in the Giant’s castle from Jack in the Beanstalk. We both played as Red Riding Hood and faced off against slightly creepy-looking mannequin-like enemies and some cleverly insane platforming sections. Torkan warned me as the level loaded up that this was one of the tougher sections in the game and he wasn’t kidding. There were toxic beer pools, deep water in a dish-filled sink and even darkness in some spots to deal with.
The best bits I saw here (next to chunks of fallen foes) were the amazing depth of field as we hopped and fought our way around the kitchen as a giant walked around behind us preparing a meal. At one point, the giant walked up to our location and lifted two big jars to look at their contents. Torkan asked me to follow his moves and without missing a beat, we jumped on one jar, then the other as the giant passed them close to each other. Timing needed to be perfect with two players, as if one falls off, the other player has to wait in a not too safe spot as the other tries again.
My own time with the game was coming to a close, yet between Adam McGowan’s detailing plans for tons of features, possible download content, Achievements/Trophies and more note-pad filling stuff I was too busy playing the game to take notes on, I was overwhelmed… and happily so. The overall enthusiasm for the project by Playlogic since the beginning combined with the thrill of playing and seeing a work in progress that nails everything the team is aiming for makes this one of my most-wanted games of 2009. I left the meeting and pretty much had a silly grin on my face for a few hours afterward. Fairytale Fights just may be one of those “little” games that catches on like wildfire once more gamers check out its charms.
Great, stylized graphics? Check. A long single-player game with black humor that’s a cross between Monty Python, Tex Avery ‘toons and The Three Stooges? Check. 4-player drop in/drop out co-op online or off? Check. More gore than you can shake a bloody stick you’ve just beaten a pack of baddies to a pulp with? Check. Hell, I’m actually more thrilled at playing the final build of FF than I am of certain other higher-profile holiday games. Thanks to the guys at Playlogic and PR whiz Danitra “It’s Always Sunny In” Alomia for the opportunity to take this one for a spin.