Preview: RTX Red Rock
Rambled On and On by Jake Rodkin
I've said it before, I'll say it again: I absolutely love previewing games, but man oh man do I love being burned almost as much, and that's led to a bit of a bitter Jake. Given that little word of warning, I've gotta say that what I've seen so far of RTX Red Rock doesn't look that bad at all.
When the title was first announced at E3, "the many adventures of oh-so-extreme EZ Wheeler on the planet Mars," I couldn't have been more unimpressed by a concept. But, since that initial impression, I've seen the game twice, played it once, talked to some of the people behind it, and begun to change my tune. LucasArts' in-house team has injected RTX with more than a healthy dose of thought, inspiration, and spit-shine, and (potentially cheesy story aside) I'd go ahead and call it one of the most solid titles LucasArts has had in a while.
As anyone who's been following RTX knows, the story follows one-man-army Eugene Zeno ("EZ") Wheeler, and his unraveling of the mystery behind Red Rock, Earth's Mars colony. To manage through all this unraveling, EZ has to run, jump, shoot, cut, drive, ride, and robot-arm his way all across Mars and back. Yes, RTX Red Rock is an actiony game. However, not only is the action I've seen pretty fun, but the game's got some puzzles long enough that describing them would start to resemble a walkthrough. On top of that, they've got a story going on. Amazing? Well...
In the world of RTX, Earth has just fended off its first ever alien invasion. Before any major gloating can begin however, all communication with the Red Rock colony suddenly vanishes. Sigh. Yes, of course its the aliens. Apparently the government can't find anyone else to look into this sudden, dangerous sounding situation, so Wheeler is reluctantly tapped to perform a simple check-up mission via a small base on Phobos [For more on this, check out the RTX opening cutscene on LucasArts' website]. As expected, Wheeler quickly discovers that he's needed on the surface of Mars, and heads down to find a small handful of survivors, and a lot of aliens who demand blasting with laser guns.
Fortunately for everyone involved with this game, the plot does take a few twists beyond the "Soldier disobeys orders to save some cutie on Mars, shoots things" storyline, but I won't go into them. Why? Because I don't fully understand them. Why? Because nobody will tell me anything. Rest assured, they have told me there are some healthy plot twists going on with the people, the aliens, and the planets themselves, and as far as I know, not a single one of the crazy twists involves "the government wants to harness the alien technology as a weapon."
But really, forget the plot. Ask anyone (who happens to be Remi or Marek), and after dodging the question for a bit they'll tell you that RTX's real strong points are its aim towards mixed gameplay types, and the strong attention to realistic detail shown by the art and design teams.
Lots of 3D games suffer from what I guess you could call the "Quake 3 miniature syndrome." Games suffering from Q3MS try as hard as they can to fake you into thinking that you're actually there, in the abandoned hallway of some space station, but they just never cut it, and its not for lack of detail. No matter how ornate the wall textures and furnishings of a Q3MS room are, it still ends up looking like you're floating through a tiny model from some 80s robot film. Tables, chairs, pots are all welded in place and look like their shadows were painted on by hand. Lights and shadows don't move - nothing moves for that matter.
Thank God, this is not the case in RTX. Producer Reeve Thompson told me one of his goals for the game was "challenging our level developers to make sure there was something moving in every room," citing examples ranging from massive spinning and whirring turbines in the generator room to a flickering light bulb in the trashed kitchen. Simple (and maybe stupid) as this rule sounds, and over-excited and paid-off as I may or may not be, the feel of RTX's levels is a very alive one, and its probably my favorite part of the game so far.
While exploring the abandoned Mars colony I not only got to visit the standard heaps of computer-filled control rooms and futuristic hallways (and of course utility ducts), but I also got a lovely tour of some bedrooms, a kitchen featuring a full set of futuristic yet utilitarian appliances, and the "downtown" mall area, featuring a simulated outdoor park. You have to hand it to them for really making it feel like you're in a real place, one (recently) occupied by real living people. Good stuff.
Though most of RTX seems to be split between exploring the levels and shooting at guys, there's still some puzzling to be had. One example given involves finding the parts to and assembling some sexy robot who will go and flirt with a robot in the casino as a distraction, presumably allowing you to slip by. Another involves overriding an airlock door controller and faking the colony computers into allowing you to wear a spacesuit inside to gain access to an area that's become de-pressurized.
Additional missions involve various modes of vehicular transportation. One has Wheeler riding around on Mars's landscape in a big-wheeled rover whose physics and build oddly resemble a martian monster truck. Another involves a (fully controllable) chase and shootout in a hijacked alien ship where you have to send the other ships crashing into weak points in the canyon walls. And the third type involves an all terrain motorcycle type vehicle, but with four spider-like legs. The all-terrain motorcycle-spider-thing is for climbing steep hills and jumping up to normally unreachable ledges.
Though the vehicle stuff doesn't play a huge part in the overall scheme it does do its job of mixing up the gameplay. Also, I'm sure the vehicles will help move Wheeler from place to place across Mars in a pretty big way. Apparently the RTX team can, if given a well labeled map of Mars, point out where each of the key story and level points in RTX would lie on the actual planet surface. I figured that would mean that they are far apart, see, so you'd need vehicles to get you about while you're there? You know?
Anyway, what more is there? Probably quite a lot. Wheeler's bionic arm and eye, controllable robots, multiplayer. The list goes on and on. You'll definitely be hearing about them in the full review in a couple months. I'm personally a bit apprehensive about the whole game, but it definitely has a lot of promise especially in certain areas. I think its a big step for LucasArts in the 3D graphics and properly-done epic action/adventure departments, and I hope that when we get a look at the final game, everything else's shown itself to be of equal quality.
Of course RTX is still a little ways off, and, me being the bitter preview-writer that I am, who knows what the final game will be like? My guess is that as long as the goofy plot revealed in the intro turns out cool instead of incredibly goofy and trite, it should be a unique lengthy game with a healthy amount of exploratory depth. In reality, I'm probably totally wrong as usual. My entire assessment is probably backwards, I got everything wrong, and everyone (especially Remi and Marek) will laugh endlessly at me for months to come. Regardless, my advice is that you definitely keep an eye (a mechanical eye?!) on RTX Red Rock, and give it at least a rent when it comes out this Summer.
Bonus Paragraph: The mysterious disappearance of the Gamecube port: LucasArts said that the GC port is on indefinite hold, but not completely cancelled. Apparently the Gamecube port was lagging more and more behind its PS2 counterpart, and it was deemed more important by LEC to get one game out on time than to get two really late ones, so some of the Gamecube people were moved over to help finish up the PS2 port. Once that happened, and given the recent shifts in the "industry perception" of the ol' Cube, its not that surprising that a GC port become less and less of a priority. The Cube port was pretty far along when it was left behind, though, so who knows if attention will be turned to polishing it up for release once they get the PS2 one out the door.