Rise Of Incarnates
When the end of the world arrives, what better way to pass the time than with a brawl on civilisation’s embers? In Rise Of Incarnates, the first free-to-play Steam release from a team of designers drawn from the Tekken and Soul-Calibur talent pool, humanity’s ruined capital cities certainly provide a dramatic backdrop. The London Eye tilts disapprovingly at the fracas unfolding on the far side of a collapsed Westminster Bridge, while the disembodied head of the Statue Of Liberty glares at the air battles brought to New York by this cast of anime-styled invaders. As with Gundam Vs – Bandai Namco’s two-on-two, arena-based fighting game, which remains highly popular in Japanese arcades – this idiosyncratic brawler lacks the precision of Street Fighter and makes fewer physical demands of its players. But matches are bold and memorable, and there’s no shortage of mind games to be found within.
Most begin in much the same way: each team member (which can be a bot or a human) picks a target, locks on and streaks towards them over the rubble and overturned cars. The two simultaneous fights find their own space in the arena, until someone defeats their opponent and is freed up to jump into their partner’s scuffle. When fighting alongside one another, characters are able to execute powerful tag combos that can devastate a fighter. Teams also share a pool of ‘stocks’ – six in total – which are depleted each time a competitor is knocked out and respawns. This means a weak partner can prove unusually destructive to a team’s chances, even when paired with a competent player, since their losses will quickly drain the shared resource.
The camera always targets one of your enemies, and you can switch the view between them quickly with a tap of a button (the environment itself has little bearing on the action; you can’t, for example, send fallen masonry flying at your foes). A double-tap of the jump button also sends your character into a distance-closing dash, the length of which can be extended by holding the button down, a manoeuvre that reduces the amount of time spent trudging across sizeable arenas. As such, each match has a rapid-fire pace. You must remain constantly aware of your position in relation to your teammate and opponents to ensure you’re not flanked, causing the action to swirl around the arena.
Regardless of which of the 12 launch characters you choose, or their particular balance of speed and health, their movesets share a common structure: a mixture of ranged attacks, which deal a low amount of damage but are useful for applying pressure or links into combos, and bread-and-butter melee strikes. The button configuration is streamlined and simple, but not, on the whole, at the expense of flexibility or nuance. Directional inputs on an analogue stick act as modifiers to close-quarters moves, turning basic attacks into guard breaks and evasive manoeuvres, which can be combined to create rich and varied strings of attacks.
To avoid turning each match into a frantic, button-mashing tussle, there’s an action gauge that depletes each time you perform an aerial dash or attack. If this is emptied, you will be left temporarily vulnerable. To add further imposition, ranged attacks and your special moves – which depend on your character but include wide shots, stuns and the ability to become invisible – have separate ‘ammo’ gauges. Once depleted, you must wait for these to refill over time before you can perform the corresponding attack again.
Many of the game’s combatants are able to transform during battle into more powerful mythical forms, known as Daimones. Close-quarters brawler Jedrek Tyler can become Mephistopheles, a flaming horned demon that wields a magical sword. Brad Burrell, a heavy archer, transforms into Fenrir, a white wolf adorned with glowing chains. ‘Awakened’ forms offer various buffs and upgrades, such as quicker and more powerful attacks as well as other supplementary abilities. The transformation is temporary and there is a significant cooldown on the ability, so choosing the right moment in the flow of battle to use it is crucial.
The studio clearly hopes the game will be adopted as a competitive eSport. While fights are far scrappier and more riotous than most of the fighting games you’ll see at an EVO tournament, the game does accommodate higher-level play techniques such as dodge attacks, dash cancels and those tag combos. Likewise, its monetisation model focuses on character access and customisation, rather than balance-spoiling upgrades. The first character is free forever and, as in League Of Legends, each week two additional characters are made available for everyone to try out in a free rotation.
As the free-to-play style guide dictates, the game uses two currencies, one accrued through play and the other bought with real-world money. It’s possible to buy access to new characters with either type, although the cost of each successive purchase is cranked up dramatically if you stick to the in-game currency. Elsewhere, Bandai Namco is clearly hoping that the game will inspire players to customise their characters, with a heaving assortment of costume items such as jewellery, hats, bandages, alternate colour schemes and accessories offered up for purchase via hard cash.
Rise Of Incarnates has already drawn a sizeable crowd of players, some no doubt intrigued by the novelty. But, for many of them, connection issues and crashes have characterised the game’s early weeks. Such issues may prove calamitous for a title that, when you do manage to connect, offers breezy and straightforward, if slightly unrefined and chaotic, brawling. It is its maker’s most successful free-to-play endeavour to date, even if that is to damn it with faint praise.
Fights are far scrappier and more riotous than most of the fighting games you’ll see at an EVO tournament