Livelock – The March to Launch Continues
After hearing great things from JamesBl0nde, Bakerman Brad, MissyS, Outfoxed, and seemingly near every member of my staff that’s gotten their hands on the game prior, this E3 I was finally able to build my own perspective on Perfect World Entertainment’s big foray into the buy to play PC/Console simultaneous launch title that is Livelock. Our sites have spent enough time breaking down what it is, so I’ll leave it to a quick summary. Sci-fi twin stick RPG co-op top-down shooter built around story driven missions. Got it? Then let’s roll.
With James, Brad, and I hitting the Terminator apocalypse streets as the cyborg survivors Catalyst, Vanguard, and Hex respectively, I soon recognized the biggest hurdle Livelock has to overcome. The designers have created an unholy holy trinity between this healer, tank, and DPS combo. Their synergy for working together makes a team of competent gamers feel like their exosuits are built of plot armor. With Vanguard shielding and blocking from the front in small corridors, Hex dropping mines to cover our tracks, and Catalyst spot healing and throwing turrets when the gauntlet is really down, the team rarely felt threatened. Sure, early on when we went rambo mode we had a few close calls. But when the chips were down and we knew we couldn’t screw around, our united Megazord of Action Lords charged fearlessly through any obstacle.
This leads to a serious challenge for the developers. Finding the right balance between single vs group play, and casual vs hardcore gamers, to provide an interesting experience for all involved. The only way it’s possible is combining multiple difficulty modes for each stage with proper balance scaling depending on your party size. Perhaps even performance based scaling in the highest difficulty mode to really make scarred veterans twinge and sweat. But with how expansive of a story mode they developers are pushing for, getting all that done by quarter 3 AND QA tested seems like a mighty steep wall to climb. Especially with beta tests not even having begun.
The other feature to consider is the RPG elements. Characters advance from completing missions as well as gain upgrades from little blue capsules that drop throughout the stages, meaning friends that don’t always play together will likely be on very different power levels when partying up. I imagine Livelock is looking into a system to scale friends to similar levels, but it’s yet another cog in the balance wheel that I’m sure is the driving force keeping the playable roster at only three characters for now.
All development challenges aside, if you don’t buy in with too critical of an eye, you’ll agree with every member of my staff – Livelock is a blast to play. You don’t have to be on the verge of death to have an enjoyable time. The team has clearly been putting work in to flesh out the roster of baddies to keep you guessing, with fast mechanical swarm doggies, juggernauts that unite to paint half the ground red with incoming explosive missiles, and stealth agility snipers that are just sneaky enough to chunk half your HP before you even realize they’re lurking. Boy does map design have atmosphere as well. If you weren’t all such bad asses armed to the steel teeth with weaponry, I might consider some of the darker factories and halls creepy. It feels great walking your team in a triangle shape shining gun lights in different directions trying to anticipate what has to be an enemy trap.
But all of that pales in comparison to the boss battles. That’s where the focus is clearly best. Our test run boss battle was essentially a spinning top with one crazy long arm that turned the game on its head, making it feel suddenly like a bullet hell rather than rogue-like. Even our mighty trinity formation was forced to scatter and fight solo battles against the ever increasing mobs of mechanical dogs, leading to some interesting 2 man cooperation while our third would go toe to toe with the boss to keep their health bar going down faster than our own. Honestly the only thing I feel is needed is more constant banter between the heroes in multiplayer and the whole summer blockbuster movie feel would be spot on.
Livelock is coming soon(TM). Far sooner than soon was when soon was first said. Though I still suspect the games best days lie ahead as player hands-on feedback direct the game to greater heights. The base game has all the speed, pretty explosions, top tier class synergy, and atmosphere to be a winning formula. Stick the landing TuQue and make sci-fi twin sticks great again!