Way of the Warrior: a preview by David R. Liu!

Text by David R. Liu <davidliu@case.ai.mit.edu>

The "next generation" 3DO platform, barely half a year old, has enjoyed success in several areas of video gaming. The release of Crash 'n Burn (Crystal Dynamics), packaged with the Panasonic 3DO, has very nicely filled the area of racing games; Megarace (The Software Toolworks) should add to the 3DO's attempt to push driving games where they have never gone before. Likewise, the first-person-perspective shooter area has been elevated to new heights with Total Eclipse (Crystal Dynamics), with Super Wing Commander and Shockwave (Electronic Arts) to follow. Sports fans will undoubtedly be pleased with the March release of John Madden Football (Electronic Arts), and strategy game fans with The Horde (Crystal Dynamics), also slated for early March release.

Yet two large holes remain unfilled in the 3DO's growing repertoire of software: a platform action game (such as Sega's Sonic series) and a strategic fighting game (such as Street Fighter II (Capcom) or Mortal Kombat (Akklaim)). Fortunately for fighting game fans, Way of the Warriors (Naughty Dog Software) is nearing completion and I have recently had the pleasure of previewing this amazing product.

It has been the philosophy of Naughty Dog Software to use the 3DO's power to drive the most complete and consuming fighting game ever produced: an ambitious goal given the sheer quantity and variety of fighting games such as Mortal Kombat II and Virtua Fighters crrently in the arcades. One of the major design goals of Way of the Warrior, therefore was to ensure that Way was near or at the top of each of the categories of attributes important to the fighting game. The resulting product, even simply from a statistical point of view, is quite impressive:

These simple statistics and facts, however, fail to convey the feel of Way of the Warriors. Once the diagonal control sensitivity is restored to the controller (see my controller fix in the FAQ), the gameplay is silky smooth and takes complete advantage of the 30 fps frame rate. Although the strategy and mechanics of the fighting engine were not yet complete as of the time of my preview, these aspects of the game are well on their way to perfection; I will likely have a chance to make suggestions to the two-man Naughty Dog Software team regarding the fighting engine, balance, the removal of cheap moves, etc., and I am optimistic that the finished product will have a fighting engine as well conceived as the Street Fighter II series, graphics superior to any fighter currently available, adjustable CD-quality music and sound effects which best those of current fighting games, and (most impressive in my opinion) the sheer variety of moves and strategic considerations. As an example of this variety, on character has a "steroid injection" move in which he grows to 130% of his size; other moves include invisibility, fire-breathing, and much much more.

The fighting engine, even if incomplete, already stands out in several respects. Whereas the characters in Mortal Kombat are all roughly the same size (with Scorpion, Sub Zero, and Reptile actually the SAME character dressed in diferent colors), the characters in Way of the Warrior are truly varied not only in techniques but also in size. The fighting engine takes into account the exact size and shape of the characters; thus a jumping kick to a very large character may actually fly over a shorter character, introducing deep layers of strategic and the necessity of knowing each opponent's strengths and weaknesses. The artificial intelligence behind the computer opponent (should you find yourself without a human victim to play with) is quite good even now; Andy Gavin (head programmer) told me "It beats me ALL the time." The controls resemble those of Mortal Kombat in that the five buttons are used for weak/strong kick, weak/strong punch, and block. The advantage of having a block button is that it allows the player to move backwards when his opponent is attacking; in Street Fighter II-style games in which block is away on the directional pad this is not possible.

The story behind the Warriors as well as the FMV introduction are equally impressive. Way of the Warrior is set in the mountain fortress of the obscure Kthundra monks. This bizarre group, decedents of the great mythical dragons of lore, are the keepers of the mystic Book of Warriors, which instructs the monks to hold a championship once every century in which they bring the world's greatest warriors to their citadel to fight for inclusion in the book. The background scenes are connected based on this setting and take place in and around a citadel, courtyard, and connecting bridge.

Way of the Warrior brings together the best features from a long tradition of fighting games, adds many unique new capabilities, and then takes many of these aspects to an entirely new level of realism and gameplay. It a truly interactive fighting game experience that makes the player really feel like he has entered the world of the warriors. Way of the Warrior, in short, is the most outstanding fighting game this reviewer has ever seen or played (I've played 'em all), and as long as fighting engine of the game proves to be as excellent as the rest of the package, it will stand alone.

Prepare to find the Way this summer...

David R. Liu