Section 8, ghettos, and projects…oh my! Preview

Section 8, ghettos, and projects...oh my!

Game designers sure don't make the future seem very fun. Either the rich are hoarding all the clean air, fresh water, 2-ply toilet paper and other essentials, or the whole planet has been reduced to a putrid, festering, nuclear dumping ground where half of civilization looks like Dennis Rodman and the Elephant Man's love child. Doesn't anyone foresee a Jetsons type of future with flying cars and escalators that can take you from your bed to the office in mere seconds? Or are we all truly doomed to cosmic disaster?

Well, if the folks behind Project Eden have anything to say about it, don't expect robotic maid service or television watches any time soon. Their vision of the future is indeed grim, though the game looks bright.

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Eidos' upcoming squad-based first/third-person action adventure is developed by the folks from Core who brought us the original Tomb Raider. It tells the story of an Earth that is ever increasing in diameter due to humans incessantly building upwards. The wealthy enjoy a secular life in the newest and latest living arrangements high above the impoverished, while the latter have living conditions that degenerate to full-fledged ghettos the further you descend through the slums underneath the rich. Malicious thieves, demented and deranged criminals and other nefarious characters have made these lower levels wholly unappealing. Life at the bottom ain't easy in Project Eden. But then, is it ever?

You control four specially-trained members of an elite forces unit called the UPA (Urban Protection Agency). Each member has his own unique abilities and equipment. As the leader, Carter is the only direct line from the control center and receives order assignments. Minoko is the computer expert, handy for tapping into terminals. Andre is an engineer used to repair broken machines and doors, and Amber is the brawn of the gang, a behemoth in an exo-suit who can hold more weaponry than the rest and is impervious to hazard materials like flame and steam. The crux of the game is using the separate characters wisely to solve puzzles and kill bad guys.

Taking control of the UPA team is very intuitive. Many other squad-based games can intimidate gamers with overhead map displays, confusing waypoints and a congested HUD. Project Eden dispenses with all of that madness by using a streamlined interface. Switching between team members is done with a simple mouse click on the character's icon at the top of the screen or in the drop down inventory menu. Want one or more team members to follow you? Then get close to the character/s you wish to lead, bring down the inventory screen and left-click the member/s you need. Simple!

The combination of first and third person gameplay seems to work well. Unlike Sierra's new Tribes 2, Project Eden offers an aiming cursor in third-person mode to help you actually shoot something other than your feet. And quite frankly, the third person view is much more desirable for general gameplay - at least in the single playable level in the preview build. However, the two different camera modes can be accessed seamlessly.

Regardless of your view, you use the keyboard to maneuver (strafe, forward, backward etc.) and the mouse to position the cursor where needed. This typical FPS setup makes running and gunning both easy and fun.

Your characters will also stumble upon various forms of robots to aid in puzzle solving. You can use small flycams to see where human peepers can't. Tiny rover units outfitted with short-range lasers can scurry through small crevices. Small sentry guns can be placed down anywhere you want to protect choke points. Very cool, yet even cooler is that every unit can be manually controlled for more efficiency. I drove the tiny rover under some fallen debris into an area that my characters couldn't reach, where I was able to wipe out a few nasty looking slugs that were clinging to materials which prevented my crew from passing. McGyver, eat your heart out.

I guess there are some definite benefits to movin' on up, because there are some nasty baddies crawling through the lower levels. The enemy types range from the grotesque to the just plain weird. Some of these threats are huge, doubling your own stature. Expect some epic Boss battles.

If you're interested in the audio quality, you'll have to wait until we are blessed with a final version. Unfortunately, none of the audio has yet been implemented, so playing this preview build was like a brisk walk in the shoes of the hearing-impaired gamer.

Project Eden will also offer a 2-4 player cooperative experience via Internet/TCP/IP for multiplayer squad-based mayhem. So make a friend or two and chain them down until the game ships.

If the preview build is any indication of the immediate future, Project Eden is definitely one to keep an eye on. The simple squad-based gameplay and intriguing story could result in a refreshing take on the action/adventure genre. If it all comes together the way it should, Eidos just might have another winner on their hands.