E3 2003: Wrath Unleashed Preview (PS2, Xbox) The Preview

by James "Spaff" Spafford with lots of additions by Jake

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LucasArts demos Wrath for all. All who happen to have appointments.

Wrath Unleashed is billed as a "brutal action game where mythological creatures roar to life in a spectacular and deadly fantasy world." Wow, does that sound trite as can be. Fortunately for anyone who read that description and still has any interest in the game, Wrath Unleashed does have some potential in it to suck away hours of you and your friends time.

Picture, if you will, a game of chess. A game of demonic glowing chess with lots of explosions and lava beasts. A game of strategy and war played by gods or monsters, or whatever, for possession of temples that might dictate their power. Players must spend allocated points to choose an army based on an Elemental allegiance of either earth, fire, wind or water and battle it out on a landscape divided into tiles. As players move around the board, they inevitably collide and when this happens, battle commences.

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Sorry, it's hard to see the cool character animation in a still screenshot.

The tile set board is replaced with a battlefield - an arena where your Monsters must fight it out. The battling takes a similar approach to most fighting games (Tekken, Virtua fighter, etc.). A life bar represents your health, whilst a mana bar dictates the amount of magic you have left for exploding your enemy into a misty red cloud. A balanced fight can often occur, where the opponents are equally matched. However, more often than not, the army you've assembled will consist of different types of pieces, ranging from pawns to generals. When these two meet, the pawn is going to last about as long as Chesney Hawks' career. Once a battle is over and a winner declared, the world map returns with the recently battled-over square in possession of the winning player.

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As basic as this all sounds, there is more to take into consideration. A straight on straight fight can easily be avoided, or an uneven match made fairer as there are many ways to alter the outcome of the approaching battles from within the world map view. Certain tiles have certain elemental properties, meaning that if a fire aligned player fights on a firey square, he has an advantage over the other players. The fire within the level will not hurt him, but will scorch his opponent into blackened hunks. Using spells at the start of their go, players may alter the alignment of tiles they are about to approach, or simply explode the lower level pieces into tiny tiny pieces. All pieces keep their damage, so casting spells and damaging them before a battle will be reflected when the fighting ensues. This also means that after a particularly nasty fight, your character retains all of their injuries and can come into the next round more or less already dead. Because of the damange retention, you can use your smaller characters to slowly whittle down your opponents' big guys over a number of rounds. A fighting game where you have to employ some sort of moderately long-term strategy?

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Who's winning? Who cares, it's a screenshot. Yok yok.

Jake would probably describe Wrath in terms of Nintendo: "an evil Mario Party meets an evil Smash Bros." That sounds like a really good game. Of course, to be fair, one could also describe it in terms of LucasArts: "Force Commander plus Afterlife meets Masters of Terras Kasi." Eeeesh. However you describe it, Wrath looks to be pretty fun. It's combination of one-on-one fighting with cutthroat board game elements and a dab of turn-based stragegy seems like a successful recipe for an addictive multiplayer experience similar to Mario Party Monkey Ball, Chu-Chu Rocket, or something.

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Probably the most risque character LucasArts has had in a game? Except for that nude patch for Infernal Machine...

It would be nice if the game's visual design had a bit more of a twist. The characters (especially that rock monster who is held together by lava) look damn cool, but they're still all fantasy cliches. But, though the characters at first glance look a bit recycled, and atmosphere in the arenas is looking a bit drab (look at that vibrant concept art, then compare it to the dull grey-brown of the fighting arenas), the overall style and design is nothing to gripe about. The character animation is all very smooth and the models and textures are high quality. It's fun to watch. Of course, after the fighting in Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, one would expect The Collective to deliver really fluid realistic animated fighting.

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Hopefully the final game will more closely resemble interestingly-lit concept art like this.

Though gripes, complaints and suggestions in previews are completely worthless (because 1) the game will get better on it's own over time, and 2) developers aren't really interested in hearing about it), we thought Wrath's limit to one-on-one fighting was a big weak point, especially considering up to four people can be playing the game at a time. That can leave up to two people just sitting there watching. Fortunately, as we said earlier, the fighting is really well animated so it's fun to watch, but it would be far more fun to jump in and play. The ability to have one-on-two, two-on-two, or one-on-three team-ups would be excellent. Some sort of allegience system, or simply the ability to have two players combine forces to amass an immense fire army or whatever would, in our opinions, massively increase the replayability and cutthroat wanting-to-beat-up-your-friends-when-you-lose nature of the multiplayer.

Whatever your opinion of Wrath is so far, we recommend keeping an eye on it. It may end up being a complete turd, but as of now it definitely has potential. If you like games with a simple premise that are tough to master, or if you like cutthroat single-screen multiplayer gaming, what we've seen so far from Wrath Unleashed seems to be right up your alley.

Winter 2003

Fighting, Strategy, Board Game
Single or Multiplayer

What with?:
PS2, Xbox

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