The best thing about tilt-shift photography is that it can make the massive look minuscule, lending it the feel of being a meticulously created, but tiny model. Tokyo 42 doesn’t feature the same particular techniques as tilt-shift, relying instead on humdrum depth of field, but to the layman’s eye it isn’t going to be far off.
It’s a great visual hook, but it’s also a big part of how the game plays. You control just one of the tiny little people in this strange rooftop city that pokes out above the clouds, and you can see so much of the world at one time. Wandering around and heading to your first objective, you can spin the camera around you, and there’s subtle hints of Fez as you get to shift the isometric projection as you see fit, and potentially uncovering something that’s tucked just around the corner. It feels like a fully 3D world, as a consequence, where everything is playfully made with clean, sharp squares and rectangles.
This early area is full of interesting visual highlights, though. The buildings might be regular and predictably blocky, but there’s little parks that tilt 90º to plunge down the side of a wall and viaducts that send water tumbling into the clouds below. There’s large maneki-neko statues, flickering billboards, advertising blimps, people relaxing or doing yoga… It’s going to be fascinating to see this kind of detail and charm spread across a whole game, whether it’s large sandbox levels or fully open world.
But why are you here? What do you do? What is this game actually about? It’s simple, really. You’ve been framed for murder and have had to go on the run. Tapping up a friend in the city, he confidently states that this was clearly the work of the guild of assassins. The only way to get back at them? To become an assassin yourself.
This is a world that has been ravaged by some kind of cataclysmic event – no surprises there – with the last of mankind amassing in Tokyo and trying to build a life there. When popular media so often focusses on Asian culture blending in and merging with that of the West, it brought a smile to my face to see that the first target on my path to becoming an assassin was named Seamus, the head of the mini golf gang.
No, this obviously isn’t a game that takes itself too seriously, as it takes clear inspiration from the likes of Syndicate and the early, top down Grand Theft Auto games, and heading off in a direction with far fewer limits on what you can do. You have a nice and floaty jump, for example, which lets you leap down from high up areas and land without breaking any limbs, and this opens the game up to indulging in minor points of platforming to get around, as you scale the side of a building by leaping from one stairwell to the next. Get to a key location or rooftop once and you’re currently rewarded with unlocking a spawn point that you can teleport to whenever you feel like it.
That can save you a little time when there’s absolute havoc to wreak. Looking for revenge for killing their leader, the mini golf gang came after me. It was a good thing that I was armed to the hilt, but I insisted on trying to go at them with a katana. Sure, that worked well against their own goons rushing at me with swords, but for those wielding assault rifles and SMGs? There’s a reason why your mum told you never to bring a knife to a gun fight.
Switching to a gun, it’s nice and simple on mouse and keyboard. You basically just move the cursor to where you want to shoot and let rip. There are plans to bring this to console though, and I’m a little apprehensive of how it makes that leap from mouse control to the lower precision of an analogue stick. One moment had me sniping a guy from across the map, which was tricky enough to pinpoint without having to try and shift an analogue stick by 0.5º to hit. Of course there will be auto-aim and the developers did reassure me that they already have controller support up and running, but even so…
What I really want, though, is for SMAC games to make a looping gif of someone dodging bullets like Neo out in The Matrix. Coat flapping, bullets slowly sailing past the character’s head, all while the camera spins around him with this game’s distant pseudo tilt-shift perspective. There’s plenty of time for them to fulfil my wishes, with the game not planned for release until some time in 2017.