[IMGW]http://www.1up.com/media?id=3260222[/IMGW] By Matt Leone 04/18/2007 ART: Click on the image above to check out a "poster" of Heist's main character, Johnny.
When a game mentions "crowd control" as a selling point... okay, it probably hasn't happened before, but if it did, it would likely be sarcastic, meaning "shoot the crowd to control it." After all, "corralling people" isn't the kind of back-of-the-box bullet point that sells games. But when you look at this as one of many elements that go into robbing a bank, as developer inXile is doing with Heist, the idea becomes a lot more interesting.
Technically, Heist is about bank robbing, but it's really about tension and power. While playing, you'll have to balance everything from how violent you want to be when you enter a bank to how scared you make people in the room. As much as the screenshots and open world/car-hijacking gameplay encourage Grand Theft Auto comparisons, the focus here isn't on killing; it's on sourcing information and then using that to rob banks (and ultimately, the San Francisco Mint).
Obviously -- unless you're going for a yet-to-be-confirmed achievement -- you will kill a few people along the way, but you'll spend your time keeping your squad (consisting of a safe cracker, the muscle, etc.) in line, avoiding security cameras, trying to crack the safe in time to escape, and controlling the emotions of the employees and bystanders.
SCREENS: Crumb and Kid are two members of your squad -- you don't control them directly, but as Johnny it's up to you to make sure they stay on task. [Click the image above to check out all Heist screens.]
The open world aspects come in when you aren't in the middle of a bank robbery -- you hunt down information, hone your squad's talents, and perform sub missions, all in the name of preparation. "Maybe you got something on the manager, so now the manager is helping you out," says inXile creative director Maxx Kaufman. "Maybe there are cameras in the bank and you have to take out the guards that are in the camera room so that the alarms don't go off, so you go in the back door. There's just a lot of planning that goes into what you're doing in that bank and how you do it in a timely manner."
One of the inherent challenges in making a game about robbing banks is finding a way to avoid the trial and error feeling that has plagued games like Splinter Cell. Your planning should play a role in overcoming this, but the developers are giving you plenty of decisions to make on the fly as well. At a recent press event, we saw one scene where the player got spotted by security cameras, which caused giant metal gates to drop in front of the vault. But this didn't result in "you failed" text popping-up -- instead, the player went to a backup plan and placed dynamite on the gates to blow them open. It took longer than normal (and the longer you take, the more likely the police will show up), but it was effective.
SCREENS: Heist will feature multiplayer modes such as "Snatch 'n' Grab" (not pictured), where two teams attempt to rob a single bank vault, but the developers are keeping quiet on the full roster of multiplayer features. [Click the image above to check out all Heist screens.]
After a robbery, you'll need to escape, because the police in Heist are not people you want to take on head-to-head. "The cops you almost have to think of like the agents in The Matrix -- the cops are hardcore," says Kaufman. "You don't want to fight the cops. If you see the cops, that's part of the anxiety and the tension I think, because when you hear those sirens coming you're like, 'I gotta get outta here.'"
Escaping involves the other form of Heist's gameplay: driving. Though the game features an open world structure, after you pull off a robbery it's all about avoiding the police and making it to your hideout, which will involve plenty of road trickery and planning, similar to the robberies themselves. For example, you may plan out a scene where an ally creates traffic behind you so you can sneak by and trap police cars. "I would say there's 50 percent car, 50 percent on foot, but what we're really trying to do is concentrate and focus on the interior stuff, the on foot stuff," says Kaufman.