Long before Left 4 Dead, High Voltage did four-player survival horror with the Hunter: The Reckoning series, and now they're doing it again with The Grinder.
High Voltage Software's art director Matt Corso introduced me to their new Wii title The Grinder today by asking me if I remembered Hunter: The Reckoning. I did. Corso worked on the White Wolf roleplaying game based title, and in many ways The Grinder is its spiritual successor. The difference here is that The Grinder is a grindhouse-inspired first-person shooter instead of an isometric third-person affair. It could very well end up being the Nintendo Wii's answer to Left 4 Dead.
Unlike Valve's PC and Xbox 360 survival horror shooter, The Grinder does have a story. It takes place in an alternate reality version of the Southwest United States, where monsters infest the world like insects. Since the government's response to monster outbreaks is saturation bombing, small towns pool their money to hire monster hunters who take care of things in a much more personal manner.
For such an early build, the game certainly looks striking. It uses a modified version of The Conduit's engine, tweaked, polished and overlaid with grindhouse film artifacts. As Matt started playing I immediately noticed the film crackle on the screen, and he promised even more effects would be included later, such as film burning and stuttering, all in the name of giving the game that 70's horror film flair that worked so well in House of the Dead: Overkill. The comparison ends there, however. This game is much prettier than Overkill, running smoothly with hordes of enemies on the screen at once.
Corso's character was armed with a pair of pistols as he approached a dusty Western town rife with rickety buildings. Kicking open a door revealed stylized vampires feasting on the recently dead...yellowish, naked creatures with twisted features reminiscent of the classic movie Nosferatu. Bullets flew, and soon the floor ran with the blood of the undead. He ran upstairs, opened the door, and an NPC stepped out for a conversation.
That's another feature of The Grinder that sets it apart from other co-operative survival horror shooters out today. There is a full story, with colorful NPCs guiding your team as you wade through horror after horror to get the job done.
About that team...as Matt plays, I hear voices. Placeholder voices for teammates that weren't implemented in the demo I watched. They are with you all the time in The Grinder, played by bots in single-player mode or populated by other players in drop-in, drop-out multiplayer. Rather than just four characters with guns, the game promises a variety of different playable characters, including a Japanese female hunter who primarily uses melee attacks, enhanced courtesy of the game's full support for the Wii Motion Plus.
The enemies grow progressively harder as Matt progresses through the level, with hordes of vampires giving way to huge werewolves. One particularly fearsome creature was a large, humanoid stalker character that simply walks slowly towards you, soaking up bullets as if they were water. Your character is much faster than he is, but true to horror film conventions he teleports, so that just when you think you've lost him you turn around and there he is. You don't see him teleport - he's just there.
According to Corso, High Voltage has managed to get 65 creatures on screen at one time with no slowdown, but was still tweaking the balance for multiplayer to make sure players have the smoothest experience possible.
The Grinder is shaping up to be a worthy successor to Hunter: The Reckoning and the answer to Wii owners who want a little Left 4 Dead in their lives. I just hope there are enough of those to make the game worthwhile for High Voltage.
Image Courtesy of IGN, as hotel internet cannot download a 220 meg press kit this week.