CES 2008: Hands-on with first public showing of Space Siege

sapce siege
The last Dungeon Siege update came out almost 18 months ago. Chris Taylor and his Gas Powered Games have had plenty of time to mull the next move, reflecting on half a dozen titles in the fantasy world, and even a major motion picture. The move they've made – a quick hyperspace jump away from the fantasy setting – shouldn't surprise anyone. With the Games for Windows initiative ramping up to full power it's the perfect time for the unveiling of Space Siege.

Even in pre-alpha state, Space Siege is already exactly what you'd expect. Instead of a hard-jawed warrior wading through waste-deep goblin blood with sword clenched, the protagonist is a hard-jawed space marine wading through waste-deep alien blood with a big gun clenched in his hands. There isn't a lot of game to actually play on the CES show floor, but what there is reminds us of how much fun it is to mindlessly click creatures to death. Despite the similar-sounding nature of the game, there were actually a number of changes to the formula on display; enough that we think some folks are going to be surprised.

The basics are the same as other Siege games. Space Siege is an action-RPG, built on an evolved version of the same engine used for Dungeon Siege II. The game's perspective is shown from a 3D isometric view, and you can zoom down quite close to the action. To interact with the environment, you just 'point and click.' Protagonist Seth Walker takes care of the hard part (actually firing the gun); you just have to point him in the right direction.

As with previous Siege titles, the engine Gas Powered is using aims to be scalable to multiple levels of visual quality. The Pre-Alpha textures are fairly boring, but the build does feature a few nice explosions and some interesting art choices. It's clear that, given enough time, Space Siege should eventually have a look comparable to past Siege titles on higher end machines. Just the same, the goal is to allow anyone "who has bought a PC in the last few years" to run the game with no slowdowns or hiccups. The term the developers use is 'mass-market.' Given the simple gameplay and uncomplicated graphical presentation, that seems a goal within reach.

Space Siege's physics engine allows for the usual rag-doll hilarity. Walker can toss grenades across a room (and watch them bounce), or shoot a tank of compressed gas and have it fly into a crowd of aliens. The folks at the Games for Windows booth made a point of mentioning the title's verticality. Some spaces are quite deep, and all of it, they claimed, was usable by the developers. They compared this to most action-RPG titles, which tend toward flat plain and confined zones of play.

The developers are also trying hard to switch up another standard of the RPG genre: the confining of the 'story' part of the game to NPC towns. Instead of "action in the field, story in the city," Gas Powered is attempting to weave story elements into the combat-heavy areas of the game. "This is just like a movie, where the story and the action is taking place simultaneously."

One area that doesn't stray far from the RPG standard is the ability to upgrade your character. Unlike the Dungeon Siege games, your protagonist is essentially your only piece to move around the board. NPCs occasionally accompany you into battle, but for the most part you'll find yourself alone. Upgrades are performed by collecting 'parts' that drop off of aliens. These parts will allow for improvements in different areas of character customization. Weapons can be upgraded, as can various skills.

Gross combat upgrades are reflected in the appearance of the character, giving Walker an ever-more robotic-looking exterior. These changes also have story ramifications. Walker's humanity is lessened with every change, and your ability to influence NPCs goes down the more you choose to adopt cybernetic implants.

An alternative to upgrading your own body, and a break in the monotony of playing all by yourself, is the option to upgrade a robot companion. Called the HR-V, or "Harvey," the robot buddy introduces some elements of tactical combat to the game. He can be upgraded just like Walker, with better armor and weapons. The inclusion of a directly controllable robotic companion is (hopefully) going to introduce a new element of strategy to the otherwise straightforward gameplay.

The CES reps reiterated that the game's simple style of play is one of the back-of-the-box features. Like other titles that emphasize "casual" gaming, Space Siege is hoping to draw in players who might not otherwise invest in a sci-fi epic. Assuming that this genre isn't a turnoff, we can definitely see the appeal.

This newest Siege title is staying close enough to its roots to please point-and-kill RPG fans, while introducing a few new interesting twists in the formula. With months of development time between now and the game's release, we're hopeful that the already solid platform Gas Powered is previewing at CES will be a worthy successor to the Siege name.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.