Battlecry – Preview

Title   Battlecry
Developer  BattleCry Studios
Publisher  Bethesda Softworks
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Team-based combat
Release Date  TBA 2015
Official Site

First, there was black. Almost immediately, the darkness clears and you find yourself flanked by a number of new-found allies while, only a few feet in front of you, a horde of oddly-clothed bruisers raise their respective weapons and charge, hell-bent on taking you down before you can even catch a breath and take stock of the situation.  Growing up in Glasgow, this sort of scenario is far from fresh ground, and the fight-or-flight instinct would take hold quicker than a shot of single malt in the neighbour’s dog.  With a controller in hand, however, it’s all very alien and makes for one of those embarrassing ‘school sports’ scenes where the geek is expected to jump in to ‘substitute the centre forward’ and just stands there as everyone runs past with great gusto, sniggering. This is the furiously paced, frenetically charged, and beautifully drawn, Battlecry.

The premise lends itself to some pretty damned interesting slants on weaponry – after a devastating war at the end of the twentieth century, a Black Powder Treaty is set in place and all countries agree that gunpowder will be outlawed to avoid any further cataclysms.  Rather than war, the world entered into the Pansophic Revolution where all focus was directed to innovation, design, and manufacturing. While this could have helped pave the way to a violence-free society and potentially end war entirely, old rivalries eventually sparked renewed tension between nations and it simply meant that mankind had to turn its hand to creating an all-new style of weaponry where it was less about detonation and took a much more hands-on approach.

The result is a free-to-play, third-person, thirty-two-player battle arena with a Victorian-era art style designed by none other than Viktor Antonov, responsible for Half-Life 2 and the hand-painted stylings of Dishonored.  It is this similar art style which initially caught my eye during the presentation and I quickly forgot that I was about to get hands-on with a genre which is perhaps the farthest removed from my comfort zone.  There was little time for consideration or planning, no opportunity to surveil the entire battleground from a God perspective, and taking time to stare at weapon stats was never going to be an option.  Instead, a quick glance at the control layout on the card resting against the monitor would have to suffice as an angry Cossack Enforcer raged towards me.

Surprisingly, the controls were more intuitive than I’d imagined and it wasn’t long before I was giving it my all, darting from one enemy to the next with my eye occasionally flicking over to the minimap to see where the other yellow blobs were, dispatching them with my comrades-in-arms in the hope of a strong victory.  Getting around the multi-tiered, and very organic, arena is effortless thanks to a combination of fast-moving characters and the odd grappling point from which to leap for a much-needed shortcut.  Whenever the advancing horde looked as though it was getting the better of me, I was able to switch from offensive to defensive by activating the shield mechanism in my sword where mechanised layers from within the blade shot out to create enough cover to field oncoming attacks.

With two factions on offer, Royal Marines and Cossacks, as well as six classes therein (Archer, Brawler, Duelist, Enforcer, Gadgeteer, and Tech Archer) there will undoubtedly be a play-style to suit most gamers and the weaponry felt balanced on both sides, with no advantage for one over the other.  To add an element of sportsmanship to the proceedings, BattleCry Studios have introduced what can only be described as a ‘snaps’ mechanic whereby, at the end of each level, the top players in each match are highlighted in fake newspaper stories.  As these are displayed, players have the option to bounce around the arena and offer support to those who excelled by saluting them which, in turn, also earns extra points.  It’s a bizarre move, especially as most people will end up doling out salutes specifically to garner points for themselves rather than to show support for their comrades and adversaries, but it may work.

Progressing through the levels will earn you iron, the in-game currency, which can then be spent on character upgrades such as more advanced skills, additional weaponry, and armour.  As well as currency, players will also collect adrenaline as they attack, serving to fill an ultimate-move meter which, when filled, will unleash a full-frontal devastating assault on the enemy before entering into a cool-down.  The ultimate abilities, as you’d expect, vary depending on which class is being played, but the range of non-adrenaline-fuelled character-specific abilities – invisibility, explosive and electrified attacks, or even the ability to see through walls – are perhaps enough that you’ll rarely find yourself reaching for the all-out devastation unless you’re seriously backed into a corner.

As with any multiplayer combat arena, the danger is that, rather than a case of ‘every man for himself’, it will invariably become ‘everyone kick the shit out of this guy until he dies’ and that’s exactly what happened for most of the time during my hands-on experience.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it still served the purpose of one team prevailing over the other, but hopefully with headsets in tow it will become more of a tactical affair where every unit has its own target, as I imagine it’ll make for a more rewarding experience than a Rodney King re-enactment.

Ultimately, what Battlecry offers above anything else I’ve played within this genre is a strong sense of fluidity – all of the motion feels very organic and, while the movement is more cartoon-like than realistic, it does work well and there’s never a point where a clunky control system gets in the way of the fast-paced action.  Above all else, however, is that you can easily salivate at the beautiful art style while simultaneously having your arse kicked by an opponent whose weaponry is a stunning mix of Victoriana and retro-futurism.  Even as someone who rarely strays into the unfamiliar territory of the combat arena, Battlecry had just enough pull to make me consider joining the 2015 beta, at the very least.

Last five articles by Mark R


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