The clash of steel on steel rings out as 16 warriors brandishing exotic and powerful weapons come together in a chaotic melee. As the battle rages, two archrivals spot each other across the field of combat; their eyes lock and, as if on a prearranged signal, the fighting parts around them, leaving them alone and untouched to settle their personal vendetta, apart from the larger conflict.
Scenes like this are a staple of kung fu cinema but the world of games hasn’t been able to replicate the majesty of the battle royale yet. In February 2005, that should finally change with the release of Iron Phoenix, a multiplayer-focused, weapons-based fighting game for the Xbox. Producer Tim Hess and Associate Producer Brian Urquhart revealed some details of the game’s online multiplayer modes in a conference call Nov. 11.
In a departure from the one-on-one focus of traditional fighting games, Iron Phoenix offers gamers the opportunity to engage in massive 16 player battles online or over a LAN. There is no split screen mode, however. The standard deathmatch and team deathmatch will be offered, but Iron Phoenix offers several more unusual modes to keep things fresh.
Giant Kill is a team-based mode where two players become Giants and the rest take on the task of taking them out. The Giants are represented by unique character models that are much larger than their normal counterparts. They’ll also have higher strength, more Chi (which powers special attacks and power ups), do additional damage and be generally more bad ass than their normal sized opponents. The Giants will be randomly selected at the beginning of every round. The mode is still being balanced and the details could change before release.
VIP mode is another team game. In this mode each team has a specially designated VIP that they must protect. The goal is to eliminate the opponent’s VIP. Additionally, the VIPs have the power to revive “dead” team members, a process that takes about three seconds. The VIPs are of normal strength and vulnerability so teamwork and communication are key to keeping them alive. This mode promises to be a unique experience that plays out like a cross between CTF and freeze tag.
Finally, there will be a Ring Challenge for those that like the head-to-head challenge of pitting their skills against a single opponent. This mode is a pretty standard ladder tournament with a series of one on one battles. As players win battles they move up the tiers. Victory is achieved by achieving the most kills while defending the top tier. A spectator mode will be available to watch the action while waiting for the next opponent.
Two features that should add some additional strategy were discussed. The first is called team kill, but it has nothing to do with the ever present troll habit that shares its name. Here, team kills are special coordinated attacks between multiple members of a team. By focusing their Chi energy, two or more members of a team can direct a special splash damage attack at their opponents. An exclamation point will appear over the heads of any team members that are close enough and have enough Chi to participate in the attack. Each team member must input the proper move and wait for a half second for the attack to charge. Each additional player that participates increases the damage and the area of effect. While it is charging, players are invincible. The effect requires excellent coordination and is difficult to pull off, but can be devastating if successful.
The second feature is called bloodlock and it brings the all important archenemy element to Iron Phoenix’s universe. Bloodlock allows one player to challenge another to a one-on-one grudge match in the midst of the larger battle. It is initiated when one player performs a taunt move on another player and that player returns the taunt. At that point both players go in to bloodlock and stay there until one is defeated. The players will be surrounded by red spheres that act as collision bubbles, keeping other players away from them. Both players have complete freedom to collect power ups, make attacks and maneuver, but can neither affect nor be affected by any other player besides the one they have locked onto. Both players will continually lose health while in bloodlock, which can be replenished by attacking.
The team also shared some info on the game’s projectiles, called darts, and relics, which are the game’s power ups. Previously revealed were normal darts that do damage to their target, stun darts that momentarily stun the target, and poison darts that cause the target to slowly lose health. Rounding out the set is the newly announced dart called an arcane dart will drain the opponents Chi power.
Relics are power ups that increase armor, speed, strength make the player partially invisible or boost the players health, stamina or Chi. Relics are scattered around the map and can be picked up and carried for later activation. Only a single relic can be carried but players can drop a relic in favor of another if they wish to do so. When the relic is activated the user’s Chi goes down and they gain the relic’s effect. Relics are fully stackable (players can benefit from more than one relic at a time) and if activated in close proximity to teammates, they will also gain the relevant effects. The relics are powerful and can easily turn the tide of a match.
The world will get a taste of this brand of multiplayer insanity with a demo coming in the February issue of OXM, which hits newsstands in early January. The demo will feature a limited number of characters, weapons and moves but will be playable over Live.
Iron Phoenix looks to be a unique cross between a fighting game and an online shooter. If the game comes together well it could be a truly original entry in the increasingly cluttered Xbox Live landscape. With its unique twists on familiar mechanics Iron Phoenix could push the somewhat stale fighting game genre forward in a big way.