Extreme Digital shooter...
When you mention the name: Digital Extremes you should also mention Unreal Tournament in the same breath. That's right, these are the fabled developers that ushered in a new era of blasting action and have been in the biz for ten years.
They're back with a new addition to the First Person Shooter genre, and what's important is that they've created a new game for the Xbox and PC known as Pariah. Pariah has had my interest for a while now and I have been lucky enough to play the game quite extensively both in single-player and multi-player.
This review will focus on the Xbox version however.
It's the future, earth has been transformed into a giant prison planet and there is something wrong: a disease or mutation has everyone in a panic and you play Dr. Jack Mason, a court marshalled medical man who works for the Transgenic Control Commission (T.C.C.) Jack has a problem with authority and his once excellent career is in tatters as he now does routine prisoner/patient milk-runs for the numerous military controlled prisons around our solar system.
But even though things are down, they're about to get much worse as Jack is soon stranded far behind enemy lines and left to fend for himself.
The story in Pariah is a typical science-fiction tale of crossing and double-crossing with a twist that explains why your latest prisoner is so dangerous. Now Jack is on the run from everyone and with only his wits to save him, can he uncover the secrets or will they bury him in an early grave?
That's a big yes, Pariah is fully LIVE enabled and allows users to share new maps.
It's a console shooter that's been developed along strict shooter lines; the controls are simple and easy to use. The control method is customisable and various options can be adjusted, movement sensitivity, invert look and so on. It takes only a few minutes to get to grips with the gameplay and those wanting a quick blast should find that they're satisfied when the action kicks off.
I'm not going to mention Halo, Halo 2, Far Cry or Half Life 2 in the same breath as Pariah since they are obviously different games, storylines and pitched at different audiences. Pariah is its own game and it doesn't try to be a 'killer' title, it's not pitched as the next best thing since the previous shooters and attempts to pull no punches when it comes to action.
Pariah is a game that offers a straight shooter experience, the levels are somewhat linear in nature (You are trundled quite nicely along the story) but the freedom you have to move around these large chunks of game world is what gives it the flavour of something more than just another bang-bang festival.
There are plenty of places for you to take cover and use ambush tactics to thin out large groups of enemies. There's no real stealth gameplay in Pariah, apart from where you have to avoid setting off an alarm, but since you can turn the pesky things off you don't have to worry about playing it softly-softly - it's refreshing to be able to wade in blasting and not to be too concerned about who hears you.
That said, if you do wade in blasting be prepared to suffer a good few hits unless you're taking cover, dodging behind rocks and peppering the opposition with enough lead to make a thousand pencil factories weep. There are some nice touches in Pariah in regards to the environment, some of the walls and concrete columns will fragment if enough fire's pumped into them or they are hit by a sufficiently large explosion.
What Pariah adds in terms of gameplay isn't a new idea but it offers you a further tactical choice in terms of weapons, each weapon can be upgraded with a WEC (Weapon Energy Core). These cores allow you to customise your arsenal by upping the rate of fire, altering the accuracy or adding a new effect to the weapon in question - fragmenting rounds and so on.
The WECs are scattered around the levels and encourage you to explore where you normally would just charge past, some of these are tricky to find and will test your playing skills to get the upgrades you want.
Applying a WEC is as simple as pressing a button and making a choice.
So are there any downsides to the gameplay at all?
The downsides with Pariah are pretty much the downsides with any FPS (Barring Far Cry) except that I found Pariah kept my interest more than most console shooters.
• Hordes and hordes of enemies coming out of the woodwork.
• Open door, find keys gameplay.
• Lack of imagination when it comes to the players' arsenal.
• Linear style story and levels, without much room for freedom.
If you're looking for a cerebral shooter (If there's such a thing) then Pariah might not be for you, it's certainly a little more gung-ho in terms of throwing out enemies and combat situations when you least expect them. There's the usual find-key open door kind of gameplay which began with Wolfenstein and Doom but that's what makes a successful FPS according to a lot of gamers.
Plus there are many ways to create the find-key open door kind of puzzle, without having it as a key. Pariah has many of these moments but they're seamlessly integrated into the game so you don't actually notice until you've thrown the switch and realised - wait a moment, I just did the equivalent of finding a key card for this area!
Some people might find the hordes of enemies repetitious but I wasn't one of them, I do enjoy a good lead-filled slugfest now and then and having more enemies than I can deal with at times encourages me to think on my feet. Find new tactics and keep moving, this really made Pariah enjoyable for me.
With Pariah the developers have tried to offer a better weapon assortment, by giving the choice of upgrades and putting that choice firmly into the player's hands. You choose what WECs you apply to what weapon and how many you put in, if you want a sniper rifle with all the bells and whistles - it's going to cost you in WECs.
The shortlist of weapons and equipment in the game is as follows:
• Bonesaw: A standard tool for the field surgeon of the future, a high powered oscillating blade can cause some serious damage.
• WECS (Weapon Energy Cores) - use these to upgrade your arsenal and add that personal touch to your death dealing antics.
• Healing Tool: The first of the upgradeable items, the healing tool is a molecular healing device that repairs damage quickly and painlessly.
1) Quick Injector - faster healing.
2) Health Booster - increases Jack's max health to five.
3) Adrenal Increase - increase Jack's max health to six.
Note: If you use this device overly much, it will impair your vision.
• Assault Rifle: The assault rifle is nicknamed the Bulldog and is the standard weapon of all combat situations. It has a high rate of fire and burns ammo like firewood.
1) Fire Accelerator: Burn more ammo faster!
2) Recoil Stabiliser: Allows for more accurate fire.
3) Armour Piercing: As advertised, high impact, more damage.
• Grenade Launcher: For the high-explosive big-bang lovers amongst us, this weapon can really turn the tide in the conflict.
1) Remote Detonator: One of my favourites and useful for setting up a nice surprise or just showing how flashy you can be.
2) Fragment Attractor: I pity anyone that gets in the way of these extra damage fragments this baby pulls from the surrounding area.
3) Target Leech: Mr. Grenade loves you and will never let go until detonation occurs, that's right, it's a sticky bomb.
• Frag Rifle: This has to be the shotgun of the game; it packs a hefty punch and quite a wallop from close range. The further away you are, you might as well be using a pea shooter.
1) Servo Reloader: Faster reloading, more carnage!
2) Magneto Concentrator: It increases the accuracy of the weapon by pulling in stray rounds to the concentrator slug.
3) Titanium Contractor: They can go through several targets and cause massive carnage and damage.
• Plasma Rifle: A high energy heavy damage, rapid fire weapon that can be charged to cause a secondary effect.
1) Arc Sphere: An electro sphere that causes electrical damage to nearby targets.
2) Defence Sphere: An augmentation to the Arc effect lasting longer, damaging nearby enemies.
3) Explosive Sphere: The final level of Sphere, this causes a massive explosion when the Sphere burns out.
• Sniper Rifle: Long range killing weapon that is the cream of the cream, if you want to remain undetected and dominate the battlefield, use one of these.
1) Enhanced Vision: A thermal view mode that picks out heat sources allowing you to pick the enemy off at your leisure, even in the dark of the night.
2) Expanded Clip: Enhances the limited clip of the rifle and allows for more deadly shots.
3) Armour Piercing: Increases the stopping power of the rifle and penetrates hard armour, allowing you to headshot body-armoured foes.
• Rocket Launcher: Heavy duty, anti-personnel, anti-vehicle rocket launcher designed to obliterate enemies with extreme prejudice
1) Heat Seeking: Don't leave home without it; rockets can now track human and vehicle signatures.
2) Dual Warhead: Two Warheads are unleashed for the next step in explosive killing mayhem.
3) Quad Warhead: A favourite of mine, four rockets for the ultimate in OTT human or vehicle destruction.
There are vehicles in Pariah and some of the levels see you either driving or operating the guns. There's the Dart which is a kind of single one man hover bike armed with dual mounted pulse cannons. The Wasp which is a single man, 3 wheeled trike with a mounted gatling gun. The Bogie, a two man ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) armed with front mounted machine guns and a rocket launcher and finally, the Dozer which is a large tank-like vehicle capable of holding a number of passengers.
These vehicles appear in the singleplayer game as well as in multiplayer.
A great addition that needs to be in virtually all games these days, Co-op MP allows you and a friend to team up and play the SP levels together, manning vehicles and covering each other - a good thing to see and certainly increases the score for this game from me.
Especially since the Xbox Co-op is drop-in/drop-out gameplay and you can have a friend drop by for a few hours, leave and you can continue playing the game. Fantastic stuff.
Pariah allows you several options when it comes to connecting with others, System Link, LIVE and Splitscreen play are all on offer.
There's Practise Mode, you and a friend if you wish, can play VS bots on the same system.
System Link supports two players per Xbox.
The following gametypes are supported:
Deathmatch: The standard fare for mostly every FPS.
Team Deathmatch: As above but you play in teams.
Siege: One team attacks an objective and the other defends it, then they swap.
Frontline Assault: Destroy the opposition's base by the use of manpower and vehicles.
The MP in Pariah might seem to be a bit simplistic but since it's not trying to be anything special in this area, we can forgive it. What you do have is fun and pretty frenetic, the bots provide a good challenge for you or you and a friend and against human players the game becomes a whole new kettle of fish.
The WECs also appear in the MP segment of the game and can be used to upgrade your weapons.
The M.A.P. editor
The addition of the M.A.P. editor really does add more than just the stock maps that come with the game, allowing you to create your own levels and share them with a friend via memory card or put them up on LIVE for download. It's a simple tool to use and works on the concept of pre-generated objects and offers tools to create hills and valleys change the topography of your map and place various bridges/buildings where you want them.
It is simple, quick, effective and capable of making fairly complex maps if you take the time to learn the ins and outs of it
Ok. Compared to the likes of the other market leaders out there in FPS land Pariah doesn't shine as graphically as it should. But the graphics are nice, they're competently done and they do their job well enough to keep a good frame rate when the action hots up and provide a decent level of texture, design, quality.
They are some of the best graphics on an Xbox shooter to date, they don't suffer from the same 'issues' as Halo 2 does in certain scenes - textures loading in before your eyes is very disconcerting and Pariah has a stable and effective graphics engine, using the same engine for the cut-scenes rather than defaulting to CGI.
The sense of atmosphere and lighting effects, I would put on a par with shooters like: Chronicles of Riddick which is a great compliment in my book, since I really do love the game. The developers have done a great job in bringing the prison planet of earth to life in the future and everything looks so grungy and run down, pock-marked walls and broken masonry make up the dilapidated foundations of the war-torn structures.
The special effects, particle systems and other eye-candy features are suitably effective and the game gets good marks from me in that respect. The haze when a particular kind of explosive goes off accompanied with a flash is pretty effective and adds to the immersion in the game world.
To supplement the graphics the level design in Pariah is top-notch, the open feeling you get from most of the levels is contrasted by the claustrophobic derelict interiors of the outposts and prison bunkers dotted around the landscape. The actual outdoor areas feel more open than most other shooters and have been designed with the same artistic flair as the interiors.
The landscape at night or during daytime levels looks great when combined with Pariah's lighting/shadow and effects engine. Their engine also supports a good level of environmental destruction, while not quite in the league as Red Faction was Pariah has some environmental objects that can be blown to bits, concrete columns shatter under a barrage of fire and so forth.
I would compare Pariah's level design favourably with certain elements of Half Life 2, Riddick, Far Cry and some of the best PC shooters. I can't grumble about their object placement or their atmospheric design.
This is a science fiction shooter, not a real world tactics squad simulator so I'd have bitten the ass of the developers if they'd have included a shoddy physics system. I want to blow things up, I want people to fly in a Hollywood fashion across the screen - I got all of that and more, when of course I encountered the explosive effect grenades have on people and certain parts of the scenery - in short, was I satisfied? Yes I was.
No grumbles here, things explode, people fly around in hilarious and amusing manners, often falling to their deaths into the dark below.
I am a sucker for sci-fi. Give me a good sci-fi gun any day or something that looks out of the ordinary and I am happy. It's nice to see that DE have a capable and competent modelling team that can craft some very nice, functional looking weapons, vehicle designs, other salient features and of course good solid realistic looking characters. Jack Mason looks good, he's got the whole, mean exterior feel to him and appears as a hard-bitten man might when his life has been put through the blender.
The female protagonist I might note is reasonably proportioned and dressed appropriately, not showing her assets to the world. Which is a nice change to see when it comes to female roles in games; she's also pretty hard as nails and has a few tricks of her own.
Enemies are likewise given the same amount of detail graphically as their hero counterparts, and look suitably mean and moody. From the escaped prisoners to the prison guards themselves.
I was a bit let down when I saw the developers didn't bother to animate Jack climbing the ladders in split-screen mode. I would have thought by now DE could have at least bothered adding something like this to keep the game immersion up, it does tend to drag you back laughing and giggling into the real world when your mate goes swimming up a ladder, kicking his legs - ah memories - but it's a minor niggle and I have not really penalised a game for it yet.
The rest of the animations are suitably good. Pariah has no noticeable problems with the animations and they seem to fire nicely. The characters are lip synched well enough and have a range of emotions, they move nicely and the enemies have various attack patterns, going into cover and ducking when under severe fire.
The weapons are well animated, reloading actually looks and feels like reloading with a suitable chunk-noise as the Frag Rifle is primed for kicking some ass.
Pariah's AI isn't dumb at all; it's quite aggressive and doesn't seem to cheat. It will use cover and team tactics, forming small packs to try and take you down. It will also use the high ground most effectively, there were times when I was getting shot and realised one of the buggers was above me, he'd flanked and gone around a catwalk to get a better shot. Certain enemies have big metal shields they like to use either in hand to hand or just to make your life miserable when you're trying to shoot them, a good tactic here is to lob a prox grenade and pray they don't run for cover - yes enemies in Pariah react to grenades depending on if they see them or not.
So the AI does adapt to your player strategy and seems to learn how to give you a run for your money. I'd rather have a more aggressive AI than a pansy AI that sat there cuddling their gun all day and wondering if it was Ok to go out and get shot.
To compare it against other games in this respect wouldn't be fair, but if I had to. I would say the AI is a lot better than the guard AI in Riddick.
I love non-realistic sci-fi games because you can make everything up from scratch. It's like George Lucas in the beginning wanted a lightsabre sound, where on earth do you get one...there are no real weapons of that nature, you invent the sound of course. This is what Pariah has carte-blanche to do. Most of the weapons in Pariah don't exist and they don't really have real-world counterparts so, the developers managed to come up with a sound set that does them justice.
The Frag Rifle is a loud and obnoxious shotgun style weapon that has a satisfying 'bang' when fired and a nice metallic chunk when you reload. The Rocket Launcher has a nice whoosh effect and a loud report when the missiles impact the target.
The ambient sounds, spot sounds and world sounds are all nicely done and they give the Pariah earth a sense of life that needs to be present in a game of this kind, even though it is about shooting things - a lot. People would complain if there was no rushing water sound if you're knee deep in a stream next to a waterfall.
So really, there's not a lot I can say on the sounds, they're good and they're crisp - no pops or audio problems detected in the special effects like reverb and echo.
Pariah's score is a nice atmospheric one, suitably sweeping and science fiction. It has a good upbeat feel to it in action scenes, pulling your adrenaline higher and higher as you try and survive the relentless onslaught of trigger happy enemies. When you're not under fire it's almost menacing in its orchestral flow, providing a suitable counterpoint to the exploration and almost questioning the player - is there danger around the next bend?
Pariah's music is overall a good sturdy composition and certainly not annoying or jarring when the action starts, the music is diverse and I would love to get a CD of the soundtrack to accompany my writing.
Good solid performances from most of the cast of Pariah make up the voice portion of the game, there are a few ropey moments earlier on but I suspect that was the actor settling into their character. Jack Mason has a hard-bitten on-edge feel about him that is conveyed nicely by the voice artist and of course the rest of the voices are the usual mix of in-game grunts and groans, yells and various death threats that come from the enemies - I could detect no problems here and was thoroughly satisfied.
Profile, checkpoints, couldn't be simpler. No save anywhere but since the checkpoints are usually fairly regular it doesn't detract from the game at all.
If I like this, will I be a Pariah?
Every game that comes along will have its fans and its enemies, it's impossible to make anything that everyone likes. So by liking this game and comparing it, to provide an opinion and review of my findings I will probably be labelled as such by those who see it as a challenge to previous titles.
But really Pariah is a good solid game that I feel has come under a lot of harsh pressure to beat the established FPS: When it's actually about telling the story of a doomed world, a broken man and someone that has more secrets than they'd care to tell. Pariah should not be compared to the other games out there, it should be played on its own and enjoyed for the sturdy experience it is, it's not going to ever overshadow the market leaders but as long as you enjoy it, can play it and experience no show-stopping bugs from it - it's a game that deserves your attention.
I found the game dragged me into the world the script-writers and developers had created, and I wanted to find out more rather than just slogging through the enemies, for me it became a personal vendetta against the bad-guys as they were preventing me from uncovering the truth - a truth that I knew would lead to more questions.