During the almost one-hour long presentation held by creative director Enric Álvarez (with the assistance of producer Dave Cox) at Mercury Steam's offices in Madrid, the amount of cool and inventive gameplay systems on display really surprised us. Systems that work behind the scenes as you play Raiders of the Broken Planet, the brand new asymmetric shooter from the studio that gave us Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. But this pleasant surprise came with a caveat; as refreshing and deep as those mechanics may seem, the last thing you want in your fast-paced co-op slash competitive game is too much complexity. You need immediacy, user-friendliness and accessibility upfront.
Raiders is indeed direct. It's pretty easy to read and get to grips with, and thereafter incredibly hard to master. And it really feels like something fresh and different, as the Spanish studio have been trying to base their idea of a new type of shooter using their previous experience with characters and stories. Without the pressures of working for a publisher, "we can do whatever we want", they told us, and it is plain to see that they've been taking advantage of that freedom.
So, how does this work? At its core, the game is a 4v1, mission-driven online third-person shooter. 'The 4' are the raiders and 'the 1' is the antagonist, but contrary to other asymmetric experiences, the roster is exactly the same for both sides, including special abilities. What this means is that you won't get a hugely powerful monster when playing against a team, instead, you'll focus on ruining the team's objectives, and you'll also have AI enemies on your side. Meanwhile, the group of four will be focused on not just trying to kill you, but on accomplishing their missions and staying alive.
Naturally killing the antagonist is an option, but he or she has infinite respawns (it just gains the raiders some time), whereas the raiders have to share a fixed number of lives, with the respawn cooldown increasing in length with each death until the game is over.
It's more a matter of strategy and play-style, even when you've found your favourite character. When playing co-op as a raider, you try to find the best-fitting class and gear to compliment your teammates, and you focus on specific tasks (escorting, shooting down a giant mech, hacking terminals, etc). When playing alone, you must try to be a pain in the ass of those raiders, and believe us, both roles are quite satisfying. "If you learn to play as a raider on a campaign, you'll have to relearn how to do it as an antagonist," as Álvarez put it, even if it's the exact same character/build.
But that's just scratching the surface of the main gameplay concept, as there's a bunch of really unique things in terms of presentation, release and, as you might have guessed, narrative. And then there are the numerous mechanics working underneath the hood that we mentioned earlier.
Raiders of the Broken Planet will have four releases during the so-called 2017 Season, but it's not episodic as such, nor is it some sort of Early Access (feedback and continuous development is still part of the package). After the imminent final beta, Mercury Steam will schedule the launch of four complete campaigns, each one telling the full story of a number of protagonists (raiders) and antagonists. They want players to jump in at any given point, with any campaign they fancy, as there's no specific order, nor cliffhangers or continuation (although there is a conclusion to each campaign); just four narratives adding to one central story arc.
There will, of course, be a season pass, but each campaign will also be released standalone for "an incredible [TBA] price". Each campaign contains a free prologue and the content itself, which consists of several story missions. Think around 20-30 minutes per round, 5-6 missions, and at least 6-8 hours of playtime per campaign.