The Precursors

FPS meets RPG lite, with a bit of space-sim thrown in for good measure

You could call it the Mass Effect effect if you were willing to bend history a little to make your theory fit. After a few fallow years, it seems that Epic Space Games are no longer an endangered species. Precursors, for example, heads off and explores a galaxy that%26rsquo;s been ignored pretty much since %26ndash; ooh %26ndash; Mercenary III circa 1992. It%26rsquo;s a sister game to White Gold, Deep Shadows%26rsquo; spiritual sequel to their expansive (and expansively broken) South-American GTA/Adventure/FPS game Boiling Point, and based on the same technology. As ambitious as White Gold is, Precursors goes even further. So as opposed to a series of islands off the coast of South America, we have a solar system of planets, each with its own inhabitants, flora and fauna. Plus space-stations and God knows what else.

It%26rsquo;s a hyper-developed first-person shooter, with a light roleplaying element stuck on %26ndash; like Deus Ex. As you gain a level, you pick up quirks which boost your skills in a given area. For example, your pistols or rifles do more damage. There%26rsquo;s a mass of more unusual abilities, such as being able to bluff it out if you%26rsquo;re spotted by a guard or hold your alcohol better. You%26rsquo;re playing a character with similar abilities to White Gold%26rsquo;s protagonist, in a completely different world full of different characters, weaponry and vehicles. Rather than cruising around a shanty-town at the edge of a jungle with your trusty AK-47, getting a mission from a local boatman before driving off to solve his problem in your old Cuban-style motorcar, you%26rsquo;ll be cruising around a spaceport on a desert world with your trusty biological weapon which demands to be fed live things to continue to fire, getting a mission from a local cybernetic scientist before stomping off in your enormous mechanical exoskeleton. Well, actually, enormous-robo-machines are rare, but you do get hoverbikes and Halo-esque buggies.

Amusingly, the one area where Precursors is more down to earth than White Gold is its airborne units. You%26rsquo;ll find few of these when you%26rsquo;re planetside. That%26rsquo;s because when it comes to aerial endeavours, Precursors is aiming at a higher target. The crucial difference between the two games is a Big Place. The Biggest Place, in fact: space. Rather than just auto-travelling between worlds, you%26rsquo;re put in the pilot%26rsquo;s seat of your ship, and enter a Freespace-styled space-sim. You can move freely and explore, getting in trouble with pirates, trading, upgrading your vessel and so on. So it%26rsquo;s Deus Ex meets Knights of the Old Republic meets Freelancer. See what we mean about %26lsquo;ambitious%26rsquo;?

But we have a fear that Deep Shadows may have bitten off too much. While White Gold has the advantage of all the lessons they learned from Boiling Point, with this %26ndash; bar the shared tech and some lessons learned, i.e. not making an enormous game with just 13 people %26ndash; they are starting from scratch. It wouldn%26rsquo;t be at all surprising to see Precursors slip from its estimated release date. In fact, some small slippage could even be taken as a good sign. Better a delay in countdown than risking a brave-looking vessel exploding on takeoff.

Aug 7, 2008

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