Nutty wordplay aside, S.L.A.I. tackles the genre by combining fast-paced combat with extensive customization and--of course--multiplayer play. Split-screen and online modes are planned. In fact, If Konami releases the game this fall as scheduled, S.L.A.I. will be the first PS2 mech combat game to feature online play. As many as four players will be able to go against one another "battle royal" style. Meanwhile, the game's customization features are sure to appeal to the OCD nature of typical mech-heads. More than one million possible variations will be possible between all of the dozens of various body parts and weapons.
We got a chance to play S.L.A.I. in Konami's booth during E3, and while our impressions were mixed, we think this title has unlimited potential.
The controls aren't terribly complex. The left and right analog sticks control movement, while the shoulder triggers (L1, R1, L2, R2) activate each robot's hand-carried and shoulder-mounted weapons. Mapped onto the controller's main buttons are functions such as jump, dash, jamming, and optical camouflage--an interesting ability that can turn the mech almost invisible and make it immune to radar-lock.
Unlike many mech combat games, S.L.A.I. is by no means a sim. In fact, it has a great deal in common with Sega's classic Virtual On series (though the arenas are larger). In the version on display at the show, we participated in an arena battle in a shipyard level. Inclusive in the level was the main dock area and a large cruise ship with three accessible decks. CPU-controlled drones appeared at regular intervals and we were able to dispatch them with a few clicks of the right and left trigger buttons. Combat is very fast-paced. A typical skirmish with another mech involved getting in close, dashing to avoid its attacks, and then letting loose with three or four blasts with our own guns. We also encountered a boss robot, which had stronger armor and did a much better job of avoiding our attacks--but still eventually succumbed to a nasty mix of stealth camo and grenade sneak-attacks.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to take the online mode for a spin. We did at least try a couple of split-screen games and they seemed relatively fast-paced and fun. One thing we really like is that matches aren't setup as winner-take-all. Instead, you play deathmatch style until a player racks up a certain number of kills.
We're not sure how people will take to the game's visual style though. The environments are nice enough--large and with plenty of objects and buildings to destroy. However, the mech designs are squat and stocky. When you factor that in with the game's excessive use of primary colors, you end up with a visual style that's more cartoon-like than realistic. It'll come down to personal taste whether or not players ultimately like or dislike the mech designs and overall visual style. Still, the developers haven't cut corners with regards to graphical effects such as smoke trails, heat distortion, explosions, and environmental damage. A single missile volley can produce as many as eight individual explosions and kick up all sorts of nasty dust and debris.
It was impossible to hear the audio over the hustle and bustle on the E3 show floor, but we're told that the final game will indeed include sound effects (really!) and a soundtrack packed with more than 90 individual songs.
Those of you that can't go online with your PS2 will be happy to note that in addition to split-screen multiplayer, the game will also include an in-depth story mode that will supposedly clock-in with approximately 40-hours of gameplay.
S.L.A.I. for the PS2 is scheduled to ship later this fall.
5/24/2005 Frank Provo