Livelock – PAX South 2016
We’re all used to Perfect World Entertainment as a publisher of free to play MMOs here in the West, but it isn’t all the company is good for. The publisher’s pairing with outside developers has resulted in them bringing Torchlight and Blacklight Retribution, and now, Tuque’s Livelock. I met with PWE and Tuque at PAX South to get a hands on demo of the game and learn more.
Livelock will be Tuque’s first published game, and is a top down action RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world. All life has been annihilated on Earth, but three humans have survived through an upload of their consciousness. Now, those three humans are being redeployed through linking their consciousness to human-like war machines in order to uncover what has happened to the world and perhaps reclaim a new hope for humanity. The first of these characters is Hex, the game’s marksman. He relies on powerful ranged weapons and actively mobile skills to fight enemies. The second and third characters have yet to be revealed, but will include a melee-type and support-type character.
The team first demo’d Hex running solo in a mission across a barren landscape – well, barren if we’re talking about the lack of plant life, at least. As Hex sprinted across the map, more and more enemies began to swarm him. Each enemy, the team explained, has its own unique AI and attacks, often several attacks depending on their range to the player. Constant swarms of metallic bugs would try to close the distance to Hex and, if not stopped, would climb on him and slow his movement. Another enemy which harvests algae would set off a secondary explosion after death, allowing Hex to set off a chain reaction to damage his enemies. I could see how each enemy acted independently but intelligently, making it clear that skill, not brute force, was necessary to take down foes. But that’s not all Hex has to offer.
Each character has its own customizable loadout. At the beginning of each mission, players can choose between two primary weapons, two specialty weapons, and two launchers. Primary weapons can fire endlessly, but the character’s other two weapons are capable of overheating and must be used wisely. Characters also can bring three skills with them into battle. The first two skill slots are open to the player’s choice (perhaps choosing stealth over a dash), while the third “ultimate” ability remains static. As players gain experience and resources, they can add additional power-ups to these skills that can add further tactical advantages. Loadouts can’t be changed during missions, but players can swap between missions.
One thing that Tuque emphasized is that they wanted the game to be more reliant on skill than grinding. As a result, there is no character progression. Instead, players will find progression in enhancing their weapons and skills. Power gaps are essentially non-existent: the only difference between players is their skill level and understanding of how to battle each enemy. There will also be no sort of matchmaking system for the game’s co-op mode. The goal is to make a game that’s not only fun solo, but that offers an enjoyable co-op experience without requiring level grinds to catch up with friends or find others to play with.
After seeing the game’s basic systems in action, I hopped in game with the team in the game’s co-op mode. Our chosen mission was to push across a bridge along with NPC troops. The high sensitivity of the controls took a short amount of time to get used to, but allowed for excellently precise aiming. As a twin-stick shooter with a big difficulty curve, Livelock benefits from this highly responsive control system. The current controls were also very intuitive: left and right sticks controlled movement and aiming respectively, right trigger acts as a shoot, left trigger activates the ultimate ability, and the remainder of the controller buttons allow for activating special skills and changing weapons.
Moving across the bridge together, the waves of enemies continued to get stronger, but I was also getting the hang of the controls. Knowing how to use Hex’s dash to move out of enemy fire, or close a gap to help an ally, was one key skill I had to pick up. Another was learning how to aim Hex’s ultimate, which appears about 15 feet in front of the character and takes a few seconds to deploy before blasting a mega orbital laser that destroys just about anything in its path. Hex also has a useful armor piercing round for when enemies are coming in hot and can be funneled though a choke point.
The end boss of the area was a massive turret-like creation that spanned the width of the bridge, blocking our passing. With a machine gun head larger than a car, it was a menacing sight to see. Thankfully the boss telegraphed its attacks and moved slowly enough that we could keep out of its range of fire as we unleashed our own energy barrage. On its defeat, the boss dropped a couple of pieces of loot, both cosmetic items. The game’s loot system is very minimalistic, but cosmetic items are the key rewards, letting players change colors, wear capes, and flaunt their personal style without affecting gameplay.
We finished the mission successfully with only one death (my own sloppy failure to retreat), but then again, that was just normal difficulty. Livelock will have multiple difficulty levels, and will have both a story-based campaign mode and a mode featuring procedurally generated levels for endless replayability. I was pleased to find out that in addition to the overarching story, each character will have its own backstory to uncover as the game progresses. Not only that, but unlike some co-op games where player #1’s story takes center stage, Livelock’s character stories will be revealed personally, meaning that players will see and hear dialogue and audiologs relevant only to their active character.
While there wasn’t much of it to see in the PAX South demo build, Livelock will also feature a lot of co-op synergy. A large part of this is the game’s bonus to positional attacks, meaning enemies take more damage from the back than the front. Teams can use this to their advantage by coordinating one team member to draw aggro while the other two move behind to take out high priority targets. With two characters yet to be revealed, there’s promises of more ways that characters can work together tactically to take down enemies.
Livelock isn’t just an exciting project for Tuque; it’s another new step forward for Perfect World as well. True, Livelock is one of the very few buy-to-play games to be published under the Arc-brella. It’s also the first title that PWE will be launching across Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC simultaneously as it’s ready to hit all three platforms out of the box. Alex Monney, Communications Manager from Perfect World, added that Perfect World’s focus is more about bringing quality, fun games to gamers than just publishing the next hot fad on the market.
PWE has worked closely with Tuque to fine tune Livelock into something incredibly fun. It’s a little like Dead Nation or Helldivers, with insane amounts of enemies and skill challenges that will make progression more personal and achievements more satisfying. With a very polished demo build already, the teams are looking for a 2016 release date, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.
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