Remember when I said in my Dead Island preview that Techland could have another sleeper on their hands if things work out? Warhound is that game. Most of the journalists I talked to at Leipzig who went to Techland's booth went there for Dead Island, but over the course of the week the subject of the developer's other game just kept coming up over the various pints of coffee consumed in the press center.
If there was one thing that typified the GC this year, it was first-person shooters with a new angle on the genre. While the gimmick-factor is unsurprising given how many FPS are around these days, I found it an increasingly worrying sign of how far the over-saturation has gone that this approach is having to become standard practice now. What's worse, "fresh and different" FPS have become so prolific so as to become a pretty standard and predicable phenomenon in themselves. The whole thing is starting to feel a lot like the goth kids who hang out in Hot Topic and brag about their individuality while dressing exactly like all of their friends.
Warhound however, did manage to put a smile on my face. It doesn't claim to change the face of FPS forever, -- though it does have a couple of very cool little tricks of its own -- rather it comes to the genre from a slightly different angle and shakes things up more through its general approach than through any one feature. If you'll be so good as to accompany me over the jump, I'll fill you in exactly how it does that.
Warhound is essentially a mercenary career simulator. You'll play an ex-military guy who now works for hire, sorting out all manner of conflicts and disputes by way of a contract and a bullet, and the game treats the whole process as exactly what it is, a business. Missions can be largely taken in any order, and while some of them will further the overall story of the game, many of them will be purely for the money. And money it turns out, is very important indeed.
The central hub of the game is the merc's home and its grounds. It'll start out empty, but as the player progresses and builds a successful career, more money will mean more weapons and equipment to buy, eventually leading to a garage packed with all kinds of guns, explosives, gadgets and toys. Weapon-sets can be selected at will before each mission, based on each one's requirements and whatever way in which the player wants to approach it, but that's just where the planning and budget-juggling starts.
Every mission takes place in a free-roaming environment, and methods of execution are entirely down to player interpretation. Before entering each one, there's a chance to check out a map of the area and choose a start point. The map will show the location of the primary objective, and at that point it's time to decide how easy or difficult to make things. A helicopter airlift kicks off every assignment, but like everything, it needs to be paid for. Choosing a drop zone nearer to the target means that the job will be quicker and easier, but it'll cost a hell of a lot more that starting a few miles away.
Time is just as important as place during the planning process, and a time-line stretching back a few days allows a selection of times and dates for insertion. A night hunt, for example, will require different tactics from a run-and-gun daylit approach and will result in different placing and behavior for the bad guys. Naturally the time and day chosen for the start of the mission will also have a heavy bearing on the gear that'll be needed.
Customization doesn't stop there though, as the bigger picture is apparently going to be as important a factor as the job at hand. This is a mercenary career simulator, remember? Competition for the best jobs is going to be high, and to stay on top of the pile, new skills are going to need to be learned and upgraded all the time. As well as providing a place to stash the firepower, the house holds a variety of training gear such as shooting ranges and climbing walls which can be used between missions to build up stats and earn qualifications in areas such as marksmanship, agility and use of cover. It'll cost you mind, but budget well and the improvements will send you to the top.
That seemingly innocuous mention of cover now brings me onto those "cool little tricks" I mentioned in the intro. You see Warhound includes a couple of little innovations that really made me pay attention, the first of which being how it treats the all-important use of solid objects to soak up the hot lead intended for your face. While F.E.A.R. and Crysis provide the facility for peeking out from behind corners to deliver a few safe blasts to the deserving, Warhound adopts Gears Of War's cover-hugging technique, but does the entire thing without breaking out of the first-person perspective. It's a really simple-sounding addition, and simple it is indeed, but it does add a freshness and variety to the game, almost feeling like a mouse-controlled Time Crisis in places, without risking any of the loss of immersion that comes whenever third-person animations invade an FPS.
Secondly, and potentially most fun, particularly in multiplayer, is the use of the grappling hook. A handy little gadget which first comes into use in the mountain-based missions of the game, it lets you aim at and zip up to any high-up area in the game -- brilliant for hiding in trees during jungle levels -- before alowing the player to fire a second grapple somewhere else to create a tightrope. Use these beauties stealthily and you're going to be inflicting unseen death from above before disappearing Batman-style in no time.
At the moment, the game looks pretty sexy. The jungles and forests are looking particularly gorgeous right now, with the dynamic plantlife all moving and reacting very realistically. I was actually told that this factor will be used during gameplay, being sensitive enough to allow the player to spot adversaries by its movement, and presumably giving him away in stealth sections too. Trees can also be mowed down with gunfire, Crysis-style, and can be used tactically as diversions, road blocks, or for some satisfying splattering of the enemy.
It's still early days for Warhound -- as is the case for Dead Island, Techland are still negotiating distribution deals -- but I really hope things work out well for it. Techland could really make a name for themselves with either of their games from what I've seen of them so far, and as is also the case with their zombie bludgeon party, a collection of cool ideas as good as Warhound's really does deserve a great game to show off with. More details as they say, as and when they come.