Fallen Frontier Preview

By Xav de Matos, Mar 17, 2011 11:15am PDT

As a society, we've been promised a lot of things for our future: flying cars, jetpacks, and robot helpers who may rise against us after a random (yet harrowing) electrical storm. But there's one very specific thing we've recently been promised that has me tapping my foot impatiently, watching as the calendar pages fall softly on to the ground: the release of Fallen Frontier from Moonshot Games.

If you disregard the hyperbole of the previous statements, the point I'm trying to make is that developer Moonshot Games has something really special in the works and I'm looking forward to its release.

Moonshot Games was formed in 2009 by Bungie alumni Michel Bastien, Damián Isla, and Rob Stokes. With titles like Halo 2 and Halo 3 under their belt, the lead squad of developers are on a mission to deliver high-quality downloadable titles. The first endeavor from the young development team is Fallen Frontier, which was recently revealed and debuted in playable form at PAX East 2011.

Fallen Frontier follows a jaded lawman who travels to Alpha Centauri on a mission of vengeance. When he arrives, the protagonist must search our citizens who have information and uncover the secrets of a carefully guarded mystery. "It plays very much like a detective story," Producer Michel Bastien told me.

Taking nods from titles like Metroid and Shadow Complex, Fallen Frontier is one seamless world that players can explore. As more gear and abilities are unlocked, areas within the explored world become accessible to the player.

"There's a fair amount of exploration. Like other games in this genre, it's a big interconnected world," Bastien said. "Exploration is very much in the name of advancing the story and, basically, discovering more gameplay mechanics."

Fallen Frontier is presented on a 2D plane with players controlling movement with one stick and weapon aim with another. Taking a page out of their Halo playbook, the playable character has a rechargeable shield and wields weapons that carry the same look and feel as the Battle Rifle and Assault Rifle. Enemies will also drop weapons throughout the adventure, adding a strategic element to progression similar to that found in first-person shooters.

Even the mini-map has some extra thought put into it. Though it looks like the basic wall outline maps found in Metroid and Shadow Complex, the field of view for the map in Fallen Frontier is slightly pulled exposing surrounding areas with enemy location. This, Bastien said, is to help players strategize their next move.

At some point in the adventure, players will gain a grappling hook ability, which allows them to quickly traverse to the top of platforms. Additionally, the hook adds other surprises to the lawman's repertoire. Players can grab enemies and drag them in closer for a melee bash or shotgun blast to the face. If the adventure is being enjoyed co-operatively, players can grab their partners to swing them out of the way of danger or tether to each other as each play leaps from platform to platform.

There's also a pulse reflector-type power that repels enemies away from the player's immediate proximity. When playing co-op, the power will have the same effect on partners, bouncing them away. This opens up the opportunity to some cool platforming elements: if your partner leaps off a ledge and you execute the pulse ability, they soar higher and further away. Coupled with the ability to latch onto them with the hook, the two powers could work in tandem to create a slew of interesting traversal options.

Co-op has another great mechanic: the game's ability to automatically and seamlessly split the camera into two sections if each character takes different paths. Borrowed from the recent crop of LEGO titles, the camera fractures in order to give couch co-op players their own section of the television. The split also informs each player of their partner's basic location. If one player is on high-up on the left side of the screen and the other is down-low to the right, the split will bend the line between both views pointing in the direction of each player. As players move, the split moves with them. It indicates both direction and distance between players. The idea is to let each player know their teammate's general area. "Because the combat is very tactical, if you decide to split-up to flank enemies the camera is going to start splitting. You each go through the encounter and when you get back together, the camera merges together very seamlessly." Currently, this split only occurs during couch co-op sessions.

Though the game was showcased in co-op mode for the demo, Fallen Frontier is a single-player focused title. "We want it to be a stellar single-player experience. We think people love playing co-op. We love playing co-op, so we were thinking of co-op from the get-go. Either single box or over the network," Bastien explained.

When playing single-player, the main protagonist will deal with an operator that feeds him information. "She's like your Cortana or Alex from Halo or Half-Life. She'll be talking to you," Bastien revealed. Co-op players take control of another character in the Fallen Frontier universe, an "operative of your operator" that has been assigned to help the main protagonist uncover the truth. Bastien says there are no plans to feature modes beyond single and co-op campaign.

Fallen Frontier is visually arresting, injecting concept art into the game's locations (Screenshot vs. Concept Art). To add another level of detail, the team uses a parallax effect on the art to move some objects and structures into the foreground to give the world a beautiful sense of scale and depth. According to Bastien, the team thought "it would be cool" if people could play the game on actual concept paintings.

"It's a combination of the artistic vision that out artist Mike McCain has for the game and the needs of the design," Bastien explained. "For a game like this we thought it was really important that players never be confused about what's in play and what's not in play. We wanted the gameplay layer to be very contrasted and bumping out, but we also wanted to create this big world and this big universe that people felt inspired to explore."

"This game is for--and maybe this is the wrong word--the 'core' audience of gamers. People who like Halo, Call of Duty, Shadow Complex. It's a shooter," Bastien said, reminding us that Fallen Frontier also pulls inspiration from a handful of other titles for the included exploration elements.

I feel like Fallen Frontier is a hard game to describe without it making it seem like an amalgamation of other high profile ideas. It's the kind of game you have to experience to appreciate. Before playing it, I thought images and videos for Fallen Frontier looked good, but I didn't really get how well crafted it was as a complete experience until I played it.

Currently, Moonshot Games does not have a publisher for the game, so platforms are unknown at this time. "Those are decisions we'll make with a publishing partner. But we're really building it for gamers on XBLA, PSN, and Steam."

Before I walked away from my demo, I asked Bastien if Moonshot has received any interest from publishers to bring Fallen Frontier into their catalog. "Oh yeah," he said with a smile.

Fallen Frontier is an ambitious title. Though what was shown is extremely polished, Bastien said the team has a large world to complete before Fallen Frontier can make its way to eager gamers. I'm looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

Fallen Frontier is slated to release in the first half of 2012.

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