Scheduled release date:

Through an odd turn of events, some of my time during E3 was spent in Southpeak's hotel suite at The Standard, getting a hands-on preview of Monster Madness, a game that's currently in the works for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

There's no easy way to describe what Monster Madness is. It's a top-down action game. It's a four-player party game. It's sort of like the classic, Zombies Ate My Neighbors , but with a bit of Smash TV and Neo Contra mixed-in. By the end of this write-up, you'll understand what Monster Madness is, but you probably won't be able to express your understanding in words.

The whole idea behind the game is that multiple players (as many as 4) get together to unleash massive firepower. In the story mode, you're working with your friends to cleanse the neighborhood of a monster infestation that has suddenly occured. You'll move from one area to the next, blasting those undead freaks back to their graves, while avoiding some nasty environmental surprises in the meantime. Watch out for that oncoming car, seriously. In the multiplayer mode, you and your friends fight one another in smaller arena-style locations, which also happen to have a few environmental hazards of their own. Just a tip, don't touch those dangling power lines.

During the play session, I got a chance to participate in a few multiplayer games and a brief story game with a pair of other editors, along with the game's lead developer, Jeremy Stieglitz. My impressions of the gameplay are that they're gearing this game toward people who want to be able to pick up the controls and start blowing stuff up right away. The left analog stick moves the character, the right analog focuses the targeting cursor, and the buttons are used to change weapons and to fire the active weapon. We had a lot of fun killing one another dozens of times in deathmatches, and then finished up with a jaunt through one of the story areas.

Each area adheres to a unique design style. There's suburbia, which has streets, homes, and car traffic. Or, there's the graveyard, which has headstones and acid pools. Other areas include a mall, the local high school, and a castle. Along with the overall style, different camera lenses are used to give each setting a unique look. Suburbia is Sepia toned, the graveyard is foggy, and so on. Five areas may not seem like many, but the single player levels consist of multiple segments, broken up by cutscenes, such that you'll travel through many streets and shortcuts before you reach the boss at the end of the level.

For the most part, gameplay is simple: kill everything that moves. In the deathmatch and capture the flag modes, that means your friends. A few timely shots will separate their arms from the body, and their head, and their legs, and a few pints of blood. In the story mode, you'll be killing the undead. Groups of zombies appear as you move through each lane and alley-way, which you and your buddies need to slay. Weapon selection makes doing so quite a blast. Each character has a unique base weapon, such as a sword or golf clubs, but can also carry multiple projectile weapons. The range of weapons already in the game is obscene. There are pistols, machine guns, missile launchers, a flame thrower… all the usual suspects… as well as gatling guns, a razor CD launcher, bombs, and on and on. Combo attacks and finishers are also possible using each character's melee weapon. Apparently, in the final version of the game, you'll be able to put together weapons by collecting things like nails, tape, and springs. Also, every weapon will have multiple upgrade levels, further enhancing the on-screen firepower.

Firepower is only the tip of the iceberg. The graphics are off the chain, specifically with regard to how much is going on in each area. While we were slaughtering one another in the suburbia arena, I noticed dangling electrical wires, street traffic, meandering shoppers, and wild animals (in addition to all of the bullets, flames, explosions, and flying debris). When you spray gunfire or set off an explosion near glass, such as on a bus stop or store window, the glass also explodes and goes flying. None of these effects are a shock, considering Unreal Engine 3 is the game's graphics engine, but it's still quite strange to see an engine normally used for first-person shooters employed to make a top-view action game. Not that anyone will be complaining.

Since everything in the game is on the tiny end of the spectrum, the graphics lack the initial "wow power" that most next-gen games deliver. Seeing the game in motion though, I understand where that next-gen power went… into all of those bloody gibs, shrapnel-like debris, and quirky environmental features that give the game its charm.

According to Stieglitz, the game should ship for the PC later this year, and then a few months afterward for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Both console versions of the game will be roughly identical, although they may implement sexier cloth and reflection effects into the PS3 version if there's time to do so.

Personally, I envision some people falling in love with this game and other people not figuring out what the hooplah is about. It's an all-out gun-fest done party style. There's nothing groundbreaking about that, except that we haven't seen this sort of game since Super Smash Bros., and that one's "merely" a fighting game. Also, I can totally picture Xbox 360 and PS3 owners eating this game up, because it's shaping up to have that "dive in, dive out" quality that successful online-enabled games have.

Time will tell, of course.

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