Blood spills to the floor in Star Wars 1313.
It's the first thing that strikes as unusual in the gameplay of the next upcoming Star Wars game demonstrated to the press at E3 2012. In the films, laser blasts cause burn wounds rather than abrasions. Even when Darth Vader severs Luke Skywalker's hand from his body, there's not a drop of blood to speak of. But in Star Wars 1313 - which takes place in between the two film trilogies – blood spills to the floor, be it by laser or anything else likely to cause injurious harm.
It's not gratuitous, and it's far from the focal point of the game, but it speaks to the direction in which LucasArts plans to take 1313. This is unapologetically a darker, grittier, mature addition to Star Wars, and it's a welcome departure from the babying of the franchise's games in the past.
In the words of LucasArts executive producer Gio Corsi, 1313 "lets you play as a bounty hunter in the most dangerous place in the Star Wars galaxy – the ruthless criminal underworld of Coruscant's level 1313." Thousands of levels below the surface of Coruscant, the setting of 1313 is an important detail that colours the very mood of the entire game.
"You can expect to see more sinister characters, a darker story treatment and a world presented in shades of grey rather than the black and white we're usually used to," explains Corsi.
In aid of keeping story elements a secret for the time being, the bounty hunter shown to the press was a placeholder and not the final protagonist. But the central character will indeed remain a bounty hunter, and that means one important thing - no Force powers. Not only is the player unable to manipulate the famous Star Wars metaphysical energy, but they'll not encounter enemies able to do so either.
"Our two core mechanics are a mix of agile cover combat and death-defying platforming," explains Corsi. "And these two things help ground our world and make it a little bit more relatable, because there are no Jedi down here."
This renders 1313, on the surface, as a third-person shooter. The protagonist can stick up against chest-high cover, commando roll between cover, pull enemies from behind cover – all the staples. But what the bounty hunter lacks in supernatural abilities, he reportedly makes up for it with a proliferation of gadgets.
In a brief, pre-production set piece shown to the press, the stand-in protagonist – one of two bounty hunters aboard a cargo ship – makes his descent into the depths of Coruscant. When one of cargo crates opens unexpectedly, it transpires that the pair appears to be smuggling illicit cargo in the guise of live, unidentified creatures. "So you've brought me along just to do your dirty work?" asks one bounty hunter. "If you think this is the dirty work, you better get ready for a wake-up call," responds the other. "It gets a lot dirtier where we're headed."
Soon, the ship is boarded by a droid that looks not entirely unlike General Grievous, which paves the way for a full mercenary invasion. The two bounty hunters swing into typical third-person shooter action in a bid to repel the attack. Once the invaders are defeated, a cinematic sees a bounty hunter dispatch one poor merc in a cruel and gruesome fashion: throwing him into the cargo ship's lone remaining escape pod, he lobs a cooked grenade in along with him. The pod jettisons directly into the invaders' ship, the resulting explosion sending both ships plummeting into the depths of Coruscant.
In the final part of the demo, the protagonist climbs his ship's deteriorating exterior in a scene not unlike the climbing sections of Uncharted. It's a gripping and heart-pumping section that deftly showcases the cinematic quality on display.
Speaking of Uncharted, one of the most impressive things that 1313 brings to the table is A-grade production values. In fact, even this pre-production demonstration with placeholder characters suggests that LucasArts might just give Naughty Dog a major run for its money. Using advanced motion-capture technology that films everything all at once – from walking to the lip movements and eye glances that characters make while they're walking – the facial expressions in 1313 leave those from the likes of LA Noire for dead. In the pursuit of cinematic excellence, LucasArts has placed a premium on capturing, in the words of the CG supervisor from Industrial Light & Magic "micro-expressions that last a fraction of a frame".
With a blend of two current-favourite styles, the gameplay of 1313 style may be more than familiar. But this early taste hints that LucasArts could take a proven gaming formula to unparalleled heights of cinematic quality. At the same time, it could spearhead the movement of an enduring IP into a bold new direction.