The first public viewing of Star Wars: 1313 isn't in a room full of press waiting to see what's next for LucasArts. It's just me...and the team. A collaborative effort from the teams at LucasArts, Lucasfilm Animation, Industrial Light and Magic, and Skywalker Sound, 1313 is the first internally developed Star Wars project since The Force Unleashed 2. With producers, creative directors, PR
and more from the project standing around me as the lights raise after the 1313 E3 demo, I found myself looking into the anxious faces of people awaiting judgment. And judge them I did -- as a gamer, as a critic and as a hardcore Star Wars fan.
Star Wars: 1313 has all the potential to be the best video game the franchise has seen in years.
LucasArts isn't revealing much at this point, but we do know the basics on 1313's setting. It takes place between the trilogies, and is set on level 1313 of the Imperial capital, Coruscant. Coruscant has over 5,000 levels, and 1313 is a part of the planet's underworld, a seedy place full of criminals and lawlessness. The setting itself has never been delved into all that deeply in the girth of Star Wars novels, but LucasArts hopes that this will provide an appropriate stage to tell a mature Star Wars narrative.
While LucasArts wouldn't rule out a "Mature" rating for 1313, the team is definitely not trying to toss in gratuitous gore to make sure you're shocked into paying attention, either. No one was ever dismembered or disemboweled during the short demo, and the lead character never tossed out swear words as he reloaded or beat down an enemy. This isn't the black and white portrayal of Star Wars set up by the films or cartoons, but a complicated world where the "good" and "bad" people tend to be harder to discern. LucasArts wants 1313's maturity to come across in its themes, in the way it tackles heavy moments, and presents a darker side of the Star Wars universe -- expect more Mos Eisley cantina, less Ewok village.
You play as a yet unnamed bounty hunter (Lucas is again being cagey with his details because they have plans about "how" to reveal the story -- maybe alongside that long-rumored live-action TV show?), who apparently gets wrapped up in a criminal conspiracy during his time on Coruscant. The core of the game revolves around a combination of cover-based shooting and platforming, all of which apparently ties back into your hunter's arsenal. It's a bit too early for them to showcase much, but the demo did have our hunter wielding a very Han Solo-esque blaster that could fire normal shots as well as concussion blasts that knocked opponents out from behind cover. Other gadgets have yet to be disclosed, but it'd be awesome to see jetpacks, flamethrowers, darts -- basically anything and everything I've ever read about being a part of famed hunter Boba Fett's Mandalorian beskar armor.
Much of the level design in Star Wars: 1313 will revolve around giving you opportunities to make use of your various gadgets, as well as making sure to maintain a sense of verticality. Your hunter is a lithe, lethal professional, and the aim is to have levels that reflect that. For instance if you're fighting a group of five enemies, you wouldn't find yourself in a Gears of War like stop-and-pop situation, but examine the environment and the tools you have and plan out a lethal assault. You're not a super hero a la The Force Unleashed (in fact, I'm told the Force doesn't make an appearance at all), but a somewhat vulnerable human who has to make the most out of his skills and gear.
The shooting and platforming mechanics look great, and in large part because they seem heavily inspired by Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. Your hunter rapidly moves between cover, popping up and shooting enemies, taking them down with lightning-fast melee attacks over cover and quickly jumping between clearly laid out handholds (they're even marked in red in the demo, just like Uncharted). This combo of platforming and shooting helps break up the pacing, rapidly pushing you from blaster-heavy shootouts and epically framed moments where your hunter holds on for his life.
Each moment of the demo seemed to ramp up the visual spectacle, with two starships crashing into one another and the hunter having to climb between flaming shards of metal while the whole wreck tumbles down a gigantic Coruscanti tunnel. The goal is to blend the in-game cut-scenes together with gameplay so smoothly that you don't really notice, while taking care to make sure you get to actually play the most exciting parts. Hence you won't find any quick time events in Star Wars: 1313, only an artful blend of cut-scenes that briefly take away control so the shot can be framed a certain way, or so the designers make sure you see the set up for the next instance of gameplay.
The character's performances are also excellent, and show off just how good the collaboration between LucasArts, LucasFilm and ILM has worked. Using full performance capture suits, including special headgear that tracks multiple facial muscles and eye movements, the team has managed to create characters that feel strikingly human. Combining this new capture with the already beautiful vistas and attention to detail in the environments, the actors really pop in the scenes, helping 1313 really nail the Star Wars vibe its going for. Star Wars, no matter the medium, is about its characters, and the tech implemented by LucasArts looks like it will help make 1313's cast some of the franchises more compelling video game personas.
It's still very early in development, but Star Wars: 1313 already has my vote of confidence. The type of story the team wants to tell sounds like a great departure from the typical Star Wars fare, and the mechanics it so obviously borrows look like they'll work great for providing a framework for some of the most visually dazzling Star Wars scenes ever. They've nailed the look and gameplay so far, so now they just need to deliver on the narrative. Call me foolish, but a few minutes with 1313 has me more excited for a LucasArts title than I have been in years. With a new internal studio backed by the rest of Lucas' many-armed company, Star Wars: 1313 might just be a new hope.