Although the gameplay and story of The Council seem dreamy, the visuals are more of a nightmare says Gaming's Zak HughesWritten by Zak Hughes on 17th July 2018
EGX Rezzed | Preview: No Trace
Top-down puzzle gameplay meets assassination simulator in No Trace, one of the most promising alpha builds on display at EGX Rezzed.
Stealth games tend, more often than not, to be individualised affairs. The majority of classic AAA stealth titles make you the agent of control over a powerful avatar: Agent 47, Sam Fisher, Corvo Attano, Garret, Solid Snake… the list goes on and on. Tension comes from the balance of power, and the loss of your advantage if you’re discovered when outgunned. The stunning growth of indie games into a meaty chunk of the industry has allowed conventions such as this to be avoided, and with the alpha build of No Trace, I am excited to see a stealth game that takes tactical planning as its chief mechanic over a crouching Adonis with a big gun and a health bar.
This isn’t to say that the individual has no control over their character, or that you can’t engage with your character – you can go in all guns blazing if you want – but in No Trace you can get so meticulous with your planning that it seems a shame to waste the opportunity. Inspection Mode allows you to pan the entire level for points of interest: potential hazards, targets, items of interest, and all individuals across the level. Once a plan has been hatched, the player can gun for the target directly, or use environmental or circumstantial opportunities to take out their intended target.
In the EGX Rezzed demo, the player is tasked with taking out a wealthy photographer, and the demonstration staff guided me through rigging his camera to explode. Every level has more than one option though; the Hitman veteran in me spotted the classic ‘open barbecue/lighter fluid’ combination in the back garden, and there were tools strewn across the level for cutting power and other such distractions, should I wish to remove the guards and then club him across the head. Combined with the access to the level that the player is given at the start, it’s clear to see that freedom of choice is among the top priorities for Square Mountain – and as they’re not a triple A studio, there’s no pressure to shoehorn the player into on-rail sequences that even Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid have been guilty of in the past.
There’s also a randomised aspect to the level generation, creating further ambiguity to the paths one may take. Scrolling over people in the level will show you their profile – randomly generated every time, including their appearance – that can give you insights into how to complete the level. Egotistical guards, for example, will follow you without calling for backup and can be exploited as such, whilst a Gunslinger will be one to avoid in direct combat. If you really want to leave no trace, these randomised factors could be key.
Despite it being early days in the title’s development – the Square Mountain blog only announcing an alpha build of the EGX demo in February – there was a polished feel to aspects of the game. The soft-blurred and pixelated aesthetic of individuals gives them an organic look, and lighting pouring in through windows and absent in other areas is a strong contributor to a real sense of depth in the environment. Combat is efficient and quick, as I discovered when a few bullets to the back took me down in seconds. If the rest of the game can stand up to the Mansion level offered, there is real potential for this to be a superb investment.
In short, despite the early build on display, No Trace came across as a polished and intelligent title. Signing up for the beta is available through the Square Mountain site, and Redbrick Gaming will be back for more when it is released.