Last week I got my hands on the preview build for Tokyo 42, a Syndicate/GTA 2 inspired action game combining stealth and bullet hell sequences in a seemingly utopian setting developed by SMAC Games.
The game starts with the protagonist being framed for a crime he hasn’t committed which is a rather weird event in a world where people shouldn’t really die as long as they take their NanoMeds. Thrown into a perilous situation with security forces on his tail, the protagonist is guided by the talkative Tycho into becoming an assassin, completing contracts to rise above the ranks and find the truth about his recent misfortune.
The intrigue feels generic, forcing the mute protagonist into catering the needs of various NPCs part of a reputation system that unlocks new content in the form of missions. These NPCs serve as the vocal advocates of the narrative giving context through dialogue for the protagonist’s actions and the world around him. Things pick up the pace when the narrative starts to connect with the world through corporate intrigue and obvious cats’ silliness (as advertised). However weak, the story isn’t the focus point of Tokyo 42 but rather a premise to introduce the players to an open environment with a tidy level design and a gameplay that’s simplistic yet full of possibilities.
The city of Tokyo has been reimagined countless times in media from TV shows to the big screen to the unique interpretation seen in some of the iconic anime out there. So it’s quite hard to imagine something that hasn’t been done. But this high altitude version of Tokyo has a truly distinctive design with its almost excessive contrast between colors pieced together like a LEGO on a blank slate in a chromatic harmony. It’s unnaturally clean and organized like it’s the masterful work of an OCDish architect obsessed with symmetry, my kind of person, but with a weird sensation of artificial life.
The level design takes advantage of this unique landscape shaping it into an interconnected playground of mazes that feel like separated levels contextually linked into an open environment. Enemy strongholds gate the way throughout the city asking for trouble or highlighting the well-used design concept of side routes. While covering objects, crazy parkour puzzles and plenty of secrets enrich this exploratory experience. But navigating this world is tricky, even more so with an edgy camera that’s crossing 360 degrees through fixed angles and controls which aren’t perfectly accustomed to the keyboard. These are most likely the reason why jumping from great heights does no damage and teleportation portals can be unlocked all around the map. There’s also a plethora of save points for a swifter transition between death and action to benefit a gameplay that is as brutally difficult as navigating the world can at times be.
Tokyo 42’s gameplay is quite simplistic and straight forward. You get a bunch of firearms capable of filling the screen with bullets with a cursor based targeting system that’s working well with the isometric camera if buildings don’t block the view. Bullets follow the path set with the cursor and any interruptions are marked accordingly in an informative way to set the aim straight. The shooting can be demanding and the starting arsenal has to be maintained and even expanded with even deadlier weapons by completing missions for much needed credits. There’s also a katana for those interested in the finesse of sneaking around and cutting the enemies into pieces from behind.
The isometric perspective allows for all kind of navigation and combat tricks meant to help with the lethal combat. Because make no mistake, the gameplay might be simplistic but the difficulty ain’t a joke. The enemies might not get triggered by the bodies of friendly units but when spotting something they sure get overzealous at finding and killing that something. In sheer numbers the enemies are capable of unleashing a coordinated and colorful bullet hell while showering the target area with grenades like a constantly firing mortar. But this almost hysterical behavior with a total disregard for any other living being isn’t the AI’s only tactic. The enemies are capable of flanking maneuvers, taking cover and even using vantage points just to get that one hit that can kill you.
Battles sometimes feel like they were taken from Quake 3 Arena and placed in a much larger environment and filled with more threats. Dodging, jumping, shooting and taking cover as bullets come from all directions take quite a lot skill which sometimes make stealth the easier approach. Despite my efforts I couldn’t get a multiplayer match going in the preview build and I can only imagine how well this frenetic gameplay could work out against other players
Tokyo 42’s technical parts reflect the status of a small budget indie game. The graphics are sharp and artistic having just a few oversights in the resolution of textures but staying on point with what they try to present. The audio is limited to ambient and up tempo music matching the action on the screen overlapping with the digital sounds of firearms but without any voice acting. The performance I experienced with the preview build was good without any hiccups, artefacts or other problems that could directly impact my experience. The only inconvenience was the long loading screens which didn’t hinder me much due to the game’s open world.
Tokyo 42 is one of those neat and quirky indie titles using a gameplay combo with plenty of options meant to provide entertainment in an artistically unique environment, unless bothered by the problematic controls. It’s not something for everyone but it’s surely going to trigger some melancholia purchases from some of the older gamers out there and for good reasons.
The game isn’t available for pre-order and it’s coming out May 31st on Steam.
(This article is based on a preview copy of the game provided by the developer.)