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During a pointed demo of Tokyo 42 with Mode 7’s Paul Kilduff-Taylor, the publishers of the upcoming action game from SMAC Games, he creeps into the menu to unlock a feature when I ask more about the game’s architecture; which, at this point, is all my eyes have been drawn too, even among the game's precise stealth or guns blazing action. With the click of a mouse, our view of Tokyo 42’s imagined isometric city zooms out to an eagle-eyed view. Our assassin anti-hero is hardly visible anymore; they’ve shrunk to be an ant on the screen. And it’s here where the game’s size becomes clearer to me. Tokyo 42 is an isometric game with scale, and a love of brutalist architecture.
If there’s any movement in architecture so tethered to the ties of cyberpunk (the genre that inspired the game), it’s brutalism. Brutalism was an architectural movement in the 1950s to the 1970s, which is clear as to why its rugged, modular structures have purveyed in cyberpunk works. Brutalism has been seen in everything from the reimagined Chiba of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, to the dim apartment balcony of Rick Deckard in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It’s an ideology of architecture that celebrates gloomy exposed concrete; efficient, obtusely large structures. Brutalism is in the office buildings, apartment buildings, universities, and other bland-looking structures we see regularly.
But Tokyo 42 doesn’t look quite like the haunting cyberpunk I’m used to seeing. SMAC Games, whom are behind the game, are a two-brother team, featuring the eye-popping art from the architecturally-inspired Maciek Strychalski and the technical expertise of Sean Wright. The non-specific city designed by the two brothers is accentuated with bright pops of color among all the brutalist structures, from the bubblegum-tinged statues in courtyards of areas, to the muted neutral greens painting the cityscape (meant to be reminiscent of Japanese apartments, according to Kilduff-Taylor).
Tokyo 42 may bare a seemingly narrowed isometric view, but it flourishes when that very vantage is shifted around to another angle. Where ledges that were seemingly out of reach, suddenly become in reach. Sometimes this is implemented as a puzzle: as the only way to navigate and progress through an environment. In other ways, it’s resigned to getting a leg-up on your opponents, and plotting your next assassination dependent on your favored playstyle (whether you're stealthy, or the opposite). At a glance, action-focus aside obviously, this reminds me of Fez, Polytron's insightful perspective-shifting platformer from 2012.
But this game may be at its most striking when it's in its quieter moments, when you aren’t focused on crouching behind a ledge and lobbing grenades at enemies or sniping foes from afar. Rather, when you’re sprinting through a grassy meadow of trees–trees where the leaves evaporate as you pass through them, for better sight–and you decide to take a leap of faith off that cubular edge, hoping to land on something beneath.
As Tokyo 42 progresses, I’m told that the architectural influences will stretch beyond the game’s brutalist-centered opening area. Later, there’s a bubblegum, cuter side of inspiration taking hold, then a game-inspired area, and even a M.C. Escher-inspired cluster of levels, where Escher's dizzying mathematical art is paid homage.
The Grand Theft Auto and Syndicate-inspired game doesn’t have a release date yet, though it’s aiming to release on the PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One “pretty soon.” In the meantime, at least those screenshots look nice.
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