Sacrilegium – Preview
by Mark R
Shortly before this year’s E3 expo in Los Angeles, a press release was issued which shed light on the “unannounced Reality Pump title” that we had down on our schedule, unveiling this new IP as a survival horror going by the name of Sacrilegium. As someone who has always enjoyed the Two Worlds series, championing it to a seemingly-endless sea of unimpressed faces, there was already an air of excitement surrounding this new title before any information was known about it but, with it finally being announced only days before E3, there was nothing on show beyond a cluster of beautifully-detailed screenshots and a brief synopsis of what the game would have to offer.
With only two months having passed between E3 and Gamescom, there wasn’t much hope that there would be much else to show that we hadn’t seen before but, thankfully, the team at Reality Pump had been working hard behind the scenes and so what we got to see was a considerable section from the start of the game. For those of you unfamiliar with Reality Pump, they are the Polish studio responsible for the Earth series of games as well as the critically-divided Two Worlds franchise. Their most recent release, Two Worlds II, was the first to use their own in-house GRACE engine, developed specifically to capitalise on modern-day tech and allowing for simultaneous cross-platform development, and Sacrilegium uses the latest build, GRACE 2, which does look incredible when you see it in action.
Our story follows a young girl by the name of Alex, living a presumably-uneventful existence in San Francisco until she receives a letter in the mail explaining that her grandmother, whom she’d never actually met as she never knew her father, had died and requests that she make the trip out to deal with all the necessary arrangements. As with any classic tale of horror, this trip involves her travelling further afield than any neighbouring state and out to the historically-sinister Eastern Europe. Not being one to pass up the opportunity of some time away, Alex invites her friend Kazumi along for the ride as her travel companion and the two head off to the darkest reaches of everyone’s favourite idyllic getaway – Romania.
Once in Romania, Alex enlists the help of a travel guide by the name of Ethan, who is tasked to make sure they reach their destination without getting lost in the wilds. A quick overnight stay in a local hotel changes everything, however, when Alex is disturbed from her sleep by someone screaming her name in terror. Jumping up to see what’s going on, dressed only in a tiny black top and lace boy-shorts, she encounters a similarly-startled Ethan in the hallway and discovers that Kazumi is nowhere to be found. Prompting Alex to go and seek help, Ethan offers to fend off the horde of unknown invaders that are attacking the pair in their hotel.
Without going into too much detail, or dwelling on the fact that Alex is a stunning brunette, it’s very apparent by her physique that she’s athletic at the very least, and is more than capable of outrunning most hulking predators if necessary. Climbing out of her hotel room window and down to the grounds below, it becomes clear to us that this is more than just a couple of country yokels out for a jolly on a Friday night – these guys are brutish, and they mean business. While it was made clear to us in the presentation that Alex is a keen kickboxer back in San Francisco, she’s also not an idiot and knows that taking on Romania’s equivalent of an axe-wielding Mariusz Pudzianowski isn’t the smartest of moves, and so we watch as she climbs into a nearby dumpster to wait for the foe to pass before carrying on her search for help.
As it turns out, the attackers are vampyric creatures known as Moroi, but the game itself is more than just a vampire game and is based more on the horror genre of a near-bygone era. While the surroundings do have a very ‘Alan Wake’ feel, insofar as you’re dropped in to dense forest in the middle of the night with very little natural light around you, it’s less about checkpointing and destroying foes and more about deciding on the best course of action at every turn. You’re also ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught, expecting a simple trip to tie up some affairs, and so aren’t laden down with a bottomless backpack full of weapons.
“What we wanted to do with this title was bring horror back to what it was around Resident Evil 1 days, so you’re not going to have a ton of ammo and you’re not going to be running around spraying people with an Uzi; this is going to be high on tension and less about mindless action.”
While the immediate task in hand is to find out what happened to Kazumi and what these strange creatures are, the main thread running throughout is that Alex, having now found out that she had a grandmother until recently, is using this opportunity to find out as much as she can about her past and her heritage. So, even as far as the storyline itself is concerned, there is more of a character-driven plot rather than a simple case of ‘people staying in scary woods, one goes missing, the others try to find her and avoid being killed by beasties’. It may also come as a surprise to learn than Sacrilegium sidesteps another of the horror-genre conventions and doesn’t take place under the veil of darkness, having more than its fair share of sunlit action.
“Survival horror works best at night but, with that said, there are going to be some daytime sequences. But just because it’s daylight, doesn’t mean that you are necessarily safe.”
And it’s in the daylight scenes where you really get to see how much effort Reality Pump have gone to in order to make this a truly immersive affair. In one particular section of the presentation, Alex was running through a forest, sunlight ripping through the trees, and the scene had so much detail that it looked like it had been lifted from one of those rather bizarre ‘tranquility DVDs’ where someone films an hour of a log fire crackling away, or a tropical fish tank. The realism was outstanding and, as we reached an area with wooden steps curling around a forest clearing, it was explained to us that this was a meticulously-detailed recreation of California’s Muir Woods, with actual high-def photography of the woods being used to create the textures.
Similarly, at night, we were presented with some of the most atmospheric and realistic dynamic lighting I’ve ever had the privilege to see, and the particle physics on show were mind-blowing… if you took the time to notice such things. Rather than passive particles passing through shafts of light, as part of pre-determined animations, these would react when Alex walked through, swirling behind her in lively spirals. Jumping forward to later in the game, the aforementioned hotel was now nothing more than burning embers, with the wooden carcass smouldering and glowing in the night as flakes of ash drifted up into the sky – a stunning display of what the GRACE 2 engine is capable of.
While it may be argued that photorealism doesn’t necessarily make a game great, when you’re talking about survival horror and want the player to feel the fear and anticipation along with the character, then surely the more realistic it is, the better. Just as Team Bondi did with L.A. Noire, Reality Pump have used close-up motion capture for all facial movement, including individual muscle tracking, and in-game combat features motion capture of martial arts teams, brought in to legitimise the action.
Graphics aside, however, Sacrilegium is a voyage of self discovery within a horror-driven backdrop and appears to balance story with combat and tension. Even at this very early stage of the development, it’s clear that Reality Pump see this as a labour of love and are leaving no stone left unturned when it comes to piling on the immersiveness. With a tentative release date of Q2 2013, it’ll be interesting to follow the development and see if they can carry it off in such a short space of time. I, for one, hope that they can. If the difference between Two Worlds and Two Worlds II is any indication, however, then there’s certainly no harm in waiting until something is polished before releasing it.
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