When Left 4 Dead, Valve Software’s zombie apocalypse simulator, hit the Xbox 360 and PC last year, it was to both critical and commercial acclaim. Now, High Voltage Software, developers of The Conduit, are looking to bring an even more immersive monster experience to the Wii. VGChartz got some one-on-one time with Eric Nofsinger and Matt Corso, Chief Creative Officer and Art Director, respectively, where they walked us through a level of the game.
As in The Conduit, the controls for this FPS are completely customizable. By default, the B trigger fires, the A button performs a melee attack, and a flick of the Nunchuk tosses a grenade, but these can all be remapped to the player’s liking. There is even some currently-unknown MotionPlus support planned.
Our demo began in an old farmhouse, with the player touting a shotgun and a machine gun. I immediately noticed the great graphical polish going into this game. The textures and character models looked roughly on par with Left 4 Dead, and though that game wasn’t exactly a graphical tour de force, it’s quite impressive for a Wii game, and signifies the effort going into this title. As he made his way through the house, a few zombies ambled into his path, but it was nothing a little buckshot couldn’t handle.
More impressive on the technical side was when he got outside into the huge mountain valley. A red haze covered everything as the sun peeked out from distant clouds, and the heat was almost palpable. An abandoned car lay by the wayside. There was no time to take in all of the little details, however, as the game took this time to send about ten vampires at Mr. Corso. These completely pale, bat-like creatures were none too pleased to be disturbed, and tried to bite and slash at the player, their glowing red-yellow eyes piercing into our souls. Mr. Nofsinger took this opportunity to mention their in-house ‘Impostor’ system, which allows them to duplicate the same character model sixty or more times without taking up a noticeable amount more memory or causing a dip in framerate. A few satisfying shotgun blasts followed by a full magazine of machinegun ammo later, the vampires were dead, and Corso could move on.
After several encounters with increasing numbers of vampires (including some who dropped from the ceilings of caves), Corso eventually came up against a werewolf that served as a miniboss. This agile, terrifying beast relentlessly charged and leaped upon Corso, leaving him very little leeway in terms of movement—all he could do was shoot, shoot, shoot, and hope for the best! Eventually, this smoothly-animated, eight-foot-tall monstrosity was put out to pasture and we could move on once again.
Finally, the piece de resistance of our demo came in the form of one of the game’s Slashers. Slashers will be found at the end of most levels, and can be considered the game’s bosses. If the vampires or zombie swarms can be considered the 28-Days-Later aspect of the game, these guys are more akin to Freddy or Jason. The one we saw was about twice Matt’s character’s height, completely black, had what looked like two-foot-long nails sticking out all over his body, and was intent on slowly advancing toward Matt and hacking him to pieces. It may have seemed like a good idea to put some distance between the player and this dude, but, as Mr. Nofsinger warned us, Slashers have the ability to teleport if they are outside the player’s line of sight. This is intended to give the horror-movie feel of “Where’d he go? He should be right there! OH MY GOSH HE’S BEHIND YOU!” This feature works very well, and the entire boss fight really did make it feel like the end of one of those grindhouse horrors where the main character finally gets the guts to go toe-to-toe with the still-terrifying villain. After soaking up pretty much every bullet Corso had, in addition to most of the extra clips stashed around the environment, the Slasher finally went down.
Just past the boss area, High Voltage had set up a shooting range of vampires specifically for E3, to show us just how many enemies they are able to toss at this engine, and there were indeed at least sixty of the little buggers off in the distance, ready and waiting to be picked off by Corso's machine gun. Also, they were quick to point out that this was only the engine's alpha build, hinting that the enemy cap will likely rise.
After the demo, Mr. Nofsinger and Mr. Corso were kind enough to clarify/reinforce a few questions we still had remaining. The game does indeed sport an AI Director system similar to the one found in Left 4 Dead, which dynamically adjusts the number of enemies or health/ammo packs it spawns in the next area based on how well the player/players are doing, so no two playthroughs of a level will be the same. In addition, though there weren’t any in our demo, there will be survivors to rescue, though the benefits of doing so have yet to be revealed. Also, one of the four playable characters is an assassin with a sword, and they reconfirmed to us that the blade will indeed be MotionPlus-compatible. The game is running on an updated version of High Voltage’s Quantum3 engine, also being used in The Conduit and Gladiator A.D.
A heavy focus on multiplayer was also confirmed, with two-player splitscreen a lock, along with four-player online. They are still looking into supporting three- or four-player splitscreen. WiiSpeak is supported (a must for a cooperative game such as this), and players will be able to play in splitscreen mode and go online to fill out the rest of the slots. There will also be some form of Vs. Mode, where some players take on the role of hunters while others control werewolves and the various Slashers.
All in all, The Grinder is shaping up to be a very special experience. The developers were quite frank with us, saying they developed the game because there really isn’t this type of frantic cooperative shooter experience on the Wii, and it’s a shame because the system lends itself so well to this play style. They seem to be delivering on this promise, too, as the game looks to be the Wii’s definitive multiplayer shooter when it launches in December of 2010.
Thanks to Eric Nofsinger and Matt Corso for the one-on-one time with VGChartz!