Namco over the past decade or so have built up a fairly solid fighting franchise in Tekken. Taking on games such as StreetFighter II and being exclusive to the one console, Tekken still stands out as one of the premiere fighting franchises available today. Aside from being a great fighter it also has a wide variety of characters and this is where Death by Degrees comes in. Namco are creating an offshoot franchise from Tekken starring one of the female stars, Nina Williams. With the game only a few months from release we went hands on with the game and came away quite impressed.
The game actually revolves somewhat around the Tekken universe, keeping Nina a fairly believable character for the storyline. She works as an undercover agent for MI6, who many people will recognise from the James Bond films, but Nina is no Bond. She is one brutal and tough lady as the storyline shows. After winning a tournament on a cruise ship she is discovered to be an undercover agent and thus a wanted woman. From there you take control of Nina as she works to find a secret weapon and escape the cruise with her life.
Death by Degrees is played from a third person perspective although that seems to be used only very loosely. The game will offer you two views, from behind Nina or a cinematic panning style to view the action on offer. The main aim of the game is to obviously put together clues to find out what is exactly going on but to do this Nina will have to use all her fighting power. The control system is going to be a contentious issue for some gamers especially considering it's been tried before and dismally failed. However it seems to be working in Death by Degrees extremely well. After just a short period of time we were linking combo's together well and taking the enemy out.
The control system uses both analogue sticks with buttons reserved for things such as eating food, looking at the map and checking out the inventory. The left analogue stick is used to avoid attacks whilst the right is what Nina uses to defeat enemies. The direction you push each stick, determines either where Nina will dodge or punch/kick towards. The control system will feel fiddly at first but the way the game is built really lends itself to this control system and it does work extremely well. Linking moves together is much easier and it will offer a great deal more control to you than had Namco gone with a button mashing style.
While Nina does have the opportunity to use weapons occasionally (which will again be controlled by the analogue sticks), most of the time her martial arts skills are put to the test. This is where the best feature of the game lies and that is the way Nina moves about while fighting. Nina can perform pretty much all her moves from Tekken (punches, kickflips, trip moves) in the game but this is all automatically handled depending on where the enemy is in relation to the character. Nina also has critical strike moves to use. When the meter is built up by defeating enemies, you can unleash a powerful strike which will actually show on screen the damage such as a rib cage being shattered. Also throughout, occasionally the x-ray style view will appear to show arm breaks. Basically you will get three seconds to line up the vulnerable area before a whole heap of hurt is put on the foe.
The game as mentioned before will be set on a cruise ship which will allow Nina to fully exploit her ability. From the variations of gameplay we have seen thus far not only will you fight enemies with the sticks, but also have a time crisis style gun section as well as the ability to sneak up on enemies for silent and deadly kills. The boat is highly detailed and while it may seem like a limit to the gameplay, Namco appear to have put quite a lot of detail into the cruise ship and we've only seen the top level. With this much detail the visuals are obviously looking rather good for a PS2 game and the motion capture which Namco have done for Nina truly looks sublime in motion.
Death by Degrees looks like it will successfully take the Tekken franchise and manage to use the universe for a character focused game. With a character that people can relate to from other games, a great control system and interesting location and storyline, Death By Degrees could be one of the better PS2 games for early 2005. Look for it in a few months time.