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UTk4 Mod: Ashura – Dark Reign Demo

September 16, 2008 4 comments

Intro: I’ve been following this project for a long time, it’s pretty damn ambitious. A small (and varying over time) team of people are making the amazing effort to bring a blend of old and new school Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay together to do what Sega can’t seem to: Make a Sonic game with fun gameplay, and an engaging story. Eight or nine months ago, they released their first public demo after nearly three years of development. So does the proof of concept deliver a feeling of blissful nostalgia, or make me want to go back to Sonic Heroes for a 3D Sonic fix?

Graphics/Art Direction

I have to be nice here for two reasons:

A) This mod is based on Unreal Engine 2, last gen, and therefore I can’t expect a bunch of fancy pants effects and
B) It’s a tech demo, meant to show the concept off more than the graphics.

Though, I don’t have that many negative things to say about the game’s graphics. The characters are either minimally or completely untextured (hence the washed out colours on Sonic.), but other than that, the environments look and feel like Sonic fare. The demo takes place primarily on a tropical island that looks a lot like Sonic 3’s Angel Island zone meets Far Cry, but it works. Rings, star posts, springs, and speed boosters all work to bring this level from run-of-the-mill to Blue Blur worthy.
The art style itself in some screen shots released of environments not shown in the demo feel extremely at home in the Sonicverse, too, with checkered terrain and exaggerated cartoony structures, whereas other places look like the belong in the 360/PS3 Sonic game. Hopefully these contrasting styles will balance out somehow.
From a technical standpoint, this game is a testament to how much life Unreal Engine 2 still has in it. Even without bump mapping and bloom, the game looks gorgeous. Earlier on in their development, the team showed off a multiplayer map based on Sonic and Knuckles’ Sky Sanctuary zone, and I swear to god it almost looked like it was from a current-gen game. The ADR team is clearly pulling out all the stops to squeeze every last ounce of graphical prowess from the dated engine.

Score: 4/5 (1 point off for untextured characters. You’d hope after three years of development they’d at least have a final texture on their main character.)

Gameplay

This is where the tech demo sadly falls a bit flat. For the most part, everything works, and somethings even succeed in trumping Sonic Team by a longshot (unscripted loops ftw. You actually control where Sonic is going when he starts defying gravity, and if you really wanted to, you could just stop in the middle of a loop), physics aren’t too wonky, the spindash and homing attack work like a charm most of the time, and when you run for long enough you get this really cool motion blur slipstream effect. However, the big crux for the entire thing falls in the camera and controls category, and trust me when I say they go hand-in-hand.

First of all, the controls just feel sloppy and loose, and it’s mostly thanks to the camera. This is a little forgivable, because trying to turn what’s meant to be an FPS into a full blown 3D platformer is hard work, but after three years I expect more. The biggest flaw here is Sonic and the camera move independently. In other words, yes, you can control Sonic entirely with the ASWD keys, the the camera will remain facing the same way, so you’ll have no clue where you’re going. This would be easy to fix, simply by having the camera fixed behind Sonic as all times, otherwise in this demo you’re forced to move the mouse as you move sonic, and that just takes away from it feeling like a Sonic game. Because of this dysfunction, spindashing and homing in on enemies can be particularly annoying, because even if you’re right next to an enemy, if the camera isn’t facing that direction, your homing attack will just send you flying aimlessly forward. The sloppy controls have killed me many a time in the second half of the demo, where I get stuck in places, repeatedly barraged by multiple enemies, and then killed.

The game has potential, but until the controls are tightened up, it will stop just short of bad.

Score: 3/5 For technical proficiency, but poor execution.

Sound Design

You can’t hear anything in that video but a track from Sonic Adventure 2, I assume because the sound didn’t capture properly for the guy who recorded it, but the sound design is mostly a good deal. Proper classic sounds are where they should be, enemies explode instead of simply going pop, which is one thing I can live with changing from the classic formula, and Sonic has a decent voice actor. Not the best i’ve heard, but it could be much worse. the only thing I could possibly complain about is the music, which is a more ambient track that I think takes away significantly from the Sonic feel. Give the level something more… Angel Island-esque, and maybe something a bit darker for the swamp half of the demo, and I’ll be happy. Overall though, the sounds feel right on.

Score: 5/5

Verdict: Potential, and lots of it. If nothing else, these guys have done something revolutionary with Utk4, defying gravity and giving it a platform-y feel I haven’t seen any mod of the game pull off otherwise. Soon as those controls are tightened up, this would be a worthy entry in to the franchise.

Total Score: 4/5