Few FPS developers can fail to be affected in some way by the release of Half-Life 2, so dazzling and unrivalled is Valve's achievement. Fewer still, however, can claim to be wholeheartedly thrilled by the game's ascendancy, but one such group is Canadian powerhouse Digital Extremes. For these FPS veterans, Half-Life 2 doesn't set an impossible precedent, it simply paves the way for the company to follow.
"We're pleased to see Half-Life 2 taking the next step in gaming," says DE founder James Schmalz. Our goal is the same for Pariah: to evolve the genre by immersing you in a well-presented story with interesting characters."
James, like Valve, recognises that evolving the action genre isn't just about having bigger guns and better shadows. Pure action and old-school twitch gaming simply doesn't cut it with today's gamers, and high-fidelity graphics demand an equally convincing experience across other areas. For Digital Extremes, the only way forward is, well, back - by returning to age-old values of storyline, character and dialogue.
Despite these common ideas, Pariah takes a slightly different approach from Valve when it comes to execution. While Half-Life 2 thrusts you into a world of great depth and atmosphere, it keeps traditional narrative elements relatively sparse. And true to FPS convention, the character of Gordon Freeman is silent and one-dimensional, leaving a space for you to occupy as hero.
Pariah, on the other hand, attempts a more cinematic approach, usually reserved for third-person games. Rather than the taciturn ass-kicker, you enter the piece as Dr Jack Mason, a washed-up and disgraced medical scientist who's been sacked from his research project for insubordination. Demoted to the hazards of the Biological Threat Assessment Unit, he's pondering suicide until he's jolted into action by crashlanding on the prison planet called Earth.
Inevitably, some evil conspiracies emerge, but at its core, Pariah is the story of Jack Mason himself (however cheesy that might sound on paper). As you play the game. Jack gradually redeems himself through heroic action, as well as finding a reason to live in the form of Karina, the mysterious female virus-carrier he's been sent to evacuate. And, because this is a sci-fi action game and not a romantic tragedy, he also eventually gains superhuman powers and becomes a one-man killing machine. It's your classic hero's journey.
In any good story the protagonist changes and grows in some crucial way, explains James. I don't think any FPS has done that before - really have that critical element where the lead character goes through some emotional change through the telling of the story in some really obvious way."
Whatever the result, it's great to see an FPS developer thinking in these terms. Digital Extremes is attempting to imbue action games with a bit more substance and depth, which is exactly what the medium needs right now. And if it ends up being the first FPS to elicit a tear from the team, so much the better.
As for the rest of Pariah - the gameplay that's actually going to keep you playing long enough to discover the story - you should have few concerns. After all, this is the team that brought you Unreal and Unreal Tournament, and when it comes to explosive action, these guys definitely know their stuff.
Rip It Up
In this case, the gameplay seems to be built on an idea of spectacular variety. Like Half-Life 2, the action shifts tempo and style continually, never giving you a chance to grow jaded or frustrated. Already, we've seen some of the game's impressive set-pieces. One involves leaping from ship to ship as two giant hover-ships skim across a desert plain, crashing through dunes and throwing up mountains of sand as they go. Others see you piloting vehicles through canyons and forests or manning rocket launchers as Karina takes the wheel.
All of us are big FPS fans," says James. We wanted to see the genre have more variety in the gameplay than the tried and true run-and-gun style we've all got used to. All along, we've been working on making sure Pariah had variety in both its approach to gameplay and its mechanics, and I'd say this is the coolest thing about the game." There's no shortage of diversity in the environments either. We re told there's an 80/20 split between outdoor and indoor environments, with everything from rocky plains and dense forests to high-security prison facilities. There's evidence of a talented art team here too, the game displaying a dark and distinctive visual style throughout. Even the enemies, with their hooded faces and menacing eyes, have a subtle appeal to them.
Certainly we're not trying to suggest that Pariah is a done deal. Half-Life 2 has just raised the bar for story-driven action to Himalayan heights, and any game that launches in the next few months is going to have to contend with that This team, however, unlike so many others who must be wringing their hands in despair right now, remains extremely confident. Look out for a full playtest next month.
Upgradeable Weapons Add Appeal To Pariah's Inventory
One of the key game mechanics in Pariah is the concept of upgradeable weapons. During the course of the game, enemies drop things called Weapon Energy Cores or WECs, which give you the option of doing various upgrades. You can upgrade your weapon, increase your sprint stamina, add to your health or add to your shield. The intention is to let people play the game as they choose, kind of like an extremely pared-down version of a Deus Ex implant system.
So, if you want to be a heavy weapons expert, you can focus on upgrading the rocket launcher. The first upgrade simply makes it more powerful, while the final upgrade gives you multiple spinning, heat-seeking rockets.
You could say it's DE's attempt to add a similar level of interest to weapons as it once did with alt-fire modes in UT. The difference is, you have to work for these upgrades - and the better you play, the more options you have to play with.
If You've had your head (crabs) buried in Half-Life 2's City 17 over the past few months, you may have missed our coverage of a certain little-known first-person shooter called Pariah. If that's the case, I'm here to slap you upside the head - the latest game from the co-developer of the Unreal series, Digital Extremes, has to be given the respect it deserves. Having just spent the good part of a day plasmascorching ruthless troops, launching grenades at vicious gangs of bandits and racing across gorgeous wide-open landscapes in futuristic vehicles, I have to conclude that Pariah really does have the potential to be one of the great shooters of 2005.
Due for release in May, Pariah is a single and multiplayer blaster that aims to provide not only a visceral action-packed experience, but also fully-rounded characters, believable dialogue, and an unpredictable storyline to rival the best that Hollywood can churn out.
You play through the game as Dr Jack Mason, a medical scientist sacked from his research post for insubordination, then demoted to the life-threatening Biological Threat Assessment Unit. It's on one of these assignments, when he's helping to transport a mysterious virus-infected female security risk called Karina, that his ship is shot down and he crash-lands on a prison planet called Earth.
To avoid plot-spoilers, all I'll reveal at this point is that something happens that eventually transforms Jack from a depressed medic into a walking weapon of mass destruction by the end of the game, and it's up to you to make sure he doesn't end up as just one of the year 2520's numerous premature death statistics.
Right, let's play. I'm first thrown into the level after the transport vehicle crash on Earth, an impressively-large outdoor countryside environment, with the good doctor beginning his adventure by mending his broken body with a quickfix from the default healing tool. Rather like the system employed in Halo (or The Chronicles Of Riddick for that matter), your health is displayed with rechargeable coloured bars in the top left-hand corner of the screen.
Protecting the injured Karina, I pick up a hefty fast-firing gun, team up with a fellow computer-controlled male colleague and together we unleash a round of bullets into an oncoming horde of scavengers: escaped prisoners who hunt and kill stray humans to steal weapons and valuable items to survive. The ragdoll physics are immediately evident, as a scavenger takes a stream of hot lead in his bloodied upper torso, screams, slumps to the floor and slides ungraciously down the hill towards our holding position. Other members of his clan duck behind rocks and trees, avoiding our crossfire in another convincing demonstration of the game's Al, before my unfortunate compadre is ambushed and killed.
If you're frustrated by Half-Life 2's antiquated drop-down weapons menu, you'll lap up Parish's system - one tap of the mouse wheel brings up a radial menu with all weapons available to you in the blinking of an electronic eye. This is also where you have three slots for each of the weapons, dash time, healing tool and shield to upgrade using Weapon Energy Cores (WECs) that you discover along the way.
So, for example, the grenade launcher can add Duke Nukem-style remote detonation, a sniper rifle can upgrade to heat-sensing sights and the healing tool can eventually bring teammates back to life. This offers you a choice of specialising as a medic, sniper, heavy weapons expert and so on, without the cumbersome use of character classes.
As an hour of hands-on action ticks by in what seems like a millisecond, I find myself getting seriously drawn into Pariah's visceral universe. Another level and I'm moving between expansive scenery to gleaming man-made structures (an approximate split of 80/20 in favour of outdoor locations according to Digital Extremes), causing a bout of particularly satisfying devastation as I bring down a tall destructible tower with a well-placed grenade. I then get my quaking hands on a plasma gun. which has a very cool visor effect to protect my eyes from the powerful blasts of green energy, and I aim towards a battalion of startled Mercenanes.
Pariah has four main enemy phases in its 18 levels, each with distinct and different behaviour, weaponry and appearance. You'll notice that scavengers will often just run straight at you. overwhelming with numbers, whereas military guards will fall back and use shields to protect themselves, generally being more methodical in their tactics.
Fortunately, as in the beginning level, you're given opportunities to fight alongside Al-controlled team-mates -especially the gorgeous but pox-ridden Karina who's handy to have around in a tight spot, being able to accurately use various guns and drive vehicles. One particularly exciting on-rails sequence aboard the Bogie - a two-passenger fully-armed jeep similar to Halo's Warthog - has Kanna racing along bumpy terrain, as you launch rockets with the left mouse button and shoot machine-gun rounds using alt-fire, sending enemy vehicles careering off the mud track and exploding in a brilliant display of DX9-powered pyrotechnics. Sophisticated, it ain't, but the trail of devastation you leave behind as the Bogie pulls off a GTA-style slo-mo jump from a bndge (an interesting image out of context) is sure to warm the cockles of even the most cynical gamer.
Barrel Of Laughs
Jack Mason has the keys to three other vehicles in the game, available in both single - and multiplayer (see Hot Wheels', above), although plans for any aerial transporters will have to wait until the planned sequel. Along the way, you'll also be able to operate powerful static gun turrets and unleash your secret weapon'. Nope, we're still not telling.
As the plot of Pariah is scripted, it's very much a linear affair. However, as you've hopefully discovered while playing Half-Life 2, this doesn't have to mean that levels are exactly the same every time you fire them up - especially when physics is involved. A great example of this are the large fuel barrels, which, as with every other FPS since Doom, explode when shot at a couple of times. However, if you carefully pop a cap in them once, a leak appears, allowing you to roll the barrel down a hill towards unsuspecting enemies, set the fuel trail alight, and watch from a safe distance as the flame rushes towards the barrel and ignites it.
Barrels can also blast apart, crushing foes with lumps of debris, and can also be used to create temporary fire barriers to prevent enemies closing in on your position. While the physics are in no way as sophisticated as Half-Life 2, with its different materials and gravity gun, it still never fails to amuse when you launch a grenade and watch those bodies fly.
Objectives appear briefly on-screen as you progress, with missions ranging from blasting into security areas and pressing a control panel to infiltrate important buildings, to destroying homing rockets while leaping from one fast-flying craft to another against a desert backdrop.
All the maps display a great level of graphical detail such as autumnal trees raining leaves down onto the ground below and rivers splashing against rocks and banks. However, there's a fine line in special effects too, including the grenade that causes a cool green shockwave and visibly distorts the air around it when it explodes. One multiplayer level known as Breakdown takes place in an underwater base, and features some of the best water effects I've ever seen, with flooded compartments showing off beautiful reflections and cool bullet splashes.
Detail on the game characters' face and clothing is suitably intricate, but the facial animation is certainly nowhere near the sophistication of the Source engine in the cut-scenes. This is disappointing, but we're hopeful that Pariah's characters will still have enough expression to fully realise the game's ambitious storyline.
Multiplayer-while not the main thrust of Pariah - is also well catered for, with 16 online maps, a full complement of bots, and various gameplay modes. However, there's also a Map Editor with eight additional custom maps that you can modify to create your own Pariah battlegrounds. Digital Extremes hasn't designed the Map Editor to be a complex tool such as Valve's Source SDK. instead making it very user-friendly, so you can quickly manipulate terrain, objects, lighting and effects in real-time and jump in to playtest your creation (see Edit the World', above).
If you can't tell already, I'm excited by the prospect of Pariah, a mature title with the accompanying strong language (one NPC comments early on that the f**g scavengers will eat us alive"), blood-spattering violence, brutal weaponry and complex emotional storyline a la Max Payne. The large, open environments, ragdoll physics, vehicles and multiplayer modes are reminiscent of the last two Unreal Tournaments, but that's not surprising considering Digital Extremes' pedigree - and the comparison is hardly unflattering. Luckily, you won't have long to find out if the talented Canadian development team has escaped to victory with its sci-fi prison Earth FPS -we'll have the exclusive review and playable demo in a few issue's time.
Edit The World
Create Your Own Multiplayer Levels With Pariah's Map Maker
Our hands-on this month revealed the latest addition to Pariah - a comprehensive Map Maker mode. Basically, you get access to eight custom maps that you can manipulate in real-time 3D using on-screen edit tools. Terrain enables you to inflate or deflate land on-the-fly to create hills and valleys; FX adds rain, snow, fog and wind effects; Lighting adds, ahem, lighting; Place Object gives you access to barrels, buildings and other cool stuff. When you've fiddled with your world, you can jump straight in and test it immediately and when you're happy, save it as a very small file you can swap with friends online.
New Online Thrills Guaranteed With Pariah's Multiplayer Modes
Pariah's multiplayer component should complement the story-driven single-player action nicely, providing 16 maps (plus Map Maker levels), four vehicles, Al bots and more readily-available Weapon Energy Cores for fast upgradeable weapons. In addition to the usual Deathmatch and Capture The Flag games, Digital Extremes is introducing two new modes - Front Line Assault and Siege.
Front Line Assault mimics a front line in war, so once your team controls a point on the battlefield, the front line point moves closer to your enemy's base. When you finally push the point to the enemy base, you can destroy it and score. Siege is simply a mode where you and your team-mates have to defend a base against an onslaught of Al opponents.
Level highlights include the stunning open countryside of Mist Gully, complete with rolling hills and trees to hide behind, and the underwater base of Breakdown, with impressive reflective water effects and Captain Nemo-style views of the sea.
I've Enjoyed Pariah, I honestly have. But. I've completed it and I'm unsatisfied. Me and lead female character Karina had some good times and killed many people in exciting ways, but I've got some severe issues that aren't going away in a hurry. So, if you'll excuse the deviation from the expected Good stuff. Bad stuff. Score' game review template, here are my niggles. Or, more accurately, here's my main gigantic niggle.
Pariah has been selling itself on the basis of its story. Digital Extremes has bigged-up its Hollywood scriptwriters, told us how painstaking the casting of voice-actors was, told us how it's researched story-telling techniques to death... But I'm sorry to say that the story doesn't work.
You play as Dr Jack Mason, crash-landed in hostile territory with the aforementioned Karina, a woman infected with a virus that many men with guns want to get their hands on. Now all the right stuff is here for a damn good yarn, don't get me wrong: a balding and mysterious hero, twists and turns in the plot, occasional events and sightings that won't make sense until several levels later, a world living in the shadow of an often referenced but never fully explained war against an enemy known as the Shroud and an attractive (if contagious) lady for the good doctor to protect. All the ingredients are here. But it just doesn't work.
It's clear that the idea is to keep you in the dark, but whereas a good story would put you in as much darkness as, say, sitting at the bottom of a deep well, Pariah is content to sink you several levels of strata into the Earth's core. You just don't know what's going on: enemy characters appear from nowhere, the aims and origins of rival factions of enemy are never explained, information and back-story that should be underlined in red felt-tip and hammered home to you are daintily skipped around - pretending to be enticing, coy and mysterious, but ending up being simply bemusing. It's like filling in a dot-to-dot puzzle of a lovely bunny rabbit, but only being given five dots to play with. It's called exposition, but Pariah has none of it.
Where's It At?
Now, you may argue that Half-Life 2 does this too, relying, as it does, on a slow-drip feed of environmental and atmospheric detail to fill you in on what's been going on in your train-bound absence. What Valve succeeds in doing, though, is at least giving you the right information, whereas Diqital Extremes is quite happy to feed you on random scraps. What's more, in Half-Life 2 (or Deus Ex, or Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, or Far Cry, or System Shock 2), the lead character knows diddly-squat about the world around him - he experiences and learns simultaneously with you, the gamer.
In Pariah, this doesn't happen. The guy you play knows everything - he knows more than you ever suspect he does - and as such there's an impenetrable distance between you. Furthermore, this means that you can never really connect with Karina either - although this is made pretty difficult anyway because the script is peppered with lazy ways to disinvolve her from the single-player action. Christ, she runs away more than the Littlest friggin' Hobo.
Having completed the game, I'm aware that there is some clever stuff at work in the plot, but none of it is of any help when you're playing the game through for the first time. It just feels like Digital Extremes has been playing around with so many higher' narrative devices that it's clean forgotten to ground you in the most basic of details. Stuff like 'this man is called x, he works for y, he is nice/nasty (delete as applicable), he is chasing after you for reasons №1 through to reason №4. Although there may well be further reasons. Reason №5 for example'. The plot the developer was aiming for is a very good one, and highly dramatic at its close, but its attempt to package a novel's worth of cleverness into two-minute post-level cut-scenes renders it almost unfathomable.
Pariah is still a good game. If we ignore the narrative messiness, there's a lot to enjoy here. Take the first level, for example, the one that's partially included on this month's shiny cover discs.
For a start, it's beautiful - and 'artistic beautiful' rather than Far Cry realistic beautiful' to boot. Stylised lighting streams down through leafy boughs, trickling streams trickle, screaming men run at you with flamethrowers before running around on fire and exploding themselves - it's an idyllic scene. What's more, everything feels satisfying, chunky and interactive. Shoot a pipe and it spurts out steam; knock too many bullets into a decayed concrete look-out point and it tumbles - these are the sorts of things that Pariah does really well.
Unsurprisingly (seeing as the game comes from Unreal Tournament co-creator Digital Extremes and uses Unreal technology to the hilt), it has the same satisfying feel as the Unreal Tournament series.
The game follows Jack and Karina in a tale that involves a lot of crash-landing and flyingvehicle explosions (the main result of which being an intriguing lycra rip just above Karina's right breast). Plus, as I've mentioned, there's also a lot of Karina either running away or being captured. The tale mostly unravels in outdoor settings that veer from the expansive and tranquil to the expansive and heavily industrial. Think of a wider network of Halo valleys rather than the free-roaming of Far Cry or Tribes: Vengeance. The action, meanwhile, is big, loud and some of the most bodyhurling intensive I've seen in ages.
The holy trinity of Pariah's greatest assets, y'see, are all intrinsically linked. These run as follows: a) the weapons b) the explosions caused by the weapons and c) the kinetic ways in which villains react to the explosions caused by the weapons. We will study these in the applicable order.
The variety of Pariah's arsenal isn't ground-breaking - they all have sci-fi tags but essentially it runs machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, plasma gun, grenade launcher, rocket launcher, super-mega-last-level-look-at-it-go!-intenso-cannon. Plus a neat melee weapon in the form of a futuristic doctor's trusty laser bone-saw.
So far, so routine, but each one is a wonderfully meaty creation that out-strips the offerings of so many recent games that have been accused of weapon-floatiness. What's more, a nifty radial menu is present that can not only be summoned for ease of boomstick access, but also for weapon upgrades. As you explore levels you come across weapon parts that allow you to modify your favoured guns with stuff like shielding, larger clips and armour piercing capabilities. This not only encourages you to explore levels with a bit of vigour, but also means you can tailor your armoury to your own playing style. It's a basic, yet clever system - and some upgrades are just peachy. The introduction of a Duke Nukem-style trigger to the grenade launcher (enabling you to let an explosive emission fly over barren landscape and ignite it with a mere tap of the mouse) means that, with no hint of hyperbole, Pariah has the best bomb-chucker in the business. I'd go as far as putting that in caps and placing some 1s after it as well. And I will: BEST GRENADE LAUNCHER EVA! 1!11! A well-timed grenade triggered upon the approach of an enemy on a wasp hover-bike, or indeed on any enemy, is immensely satisfying. Which leads us neatly onto the second and third things that Pariah does best.
For years, explosions have been fairly consistent shades of yellow and orange, so it must have been an especially creative day at Digital Extremes gaff when someone suggested that their grenade flash should be green-tinged and shimmery. It works though, and builds on Pariah's stylistic look and feel. Rut what's a green, shimmery explosion without something for it to throw around? Eccentric physics and ragdolling on your enemies means that firefights are always spectacular and often chuckleworthy. The surrounding screenshots of mid-air hoodlums more than testify to that, while the inclusion of shields, helmets and other henchman flying around on-screen also adds to the chaotic mix.
Al is pretty competent as well. Pariah mixes up chasey-chasey-round-a-big-rock styled gunplay with the occasional surge of apparently overwhelming numbers of enemies (a la Halo). Because of this, it understands stuff like finding cover, picking up discarded weapons and the like. Nothing special, but there's nothing particularly broken either. Cracks do start to show when the script calls for them to do something autonomously though, as is shown by some remarkably stilted battles between NPCs. At one stage (although, for reasons that have become apparent, at the time I didn't quite grasp what was going on), you find yourself meandering through a battle between two opposing factions - a trick that shooters have been pulling off successfully ever since Half-Life. Here though, it's scripted to hell and back and as such is thoroughly flaccid and lifeless. It's like watching the bit in the Naked Gun where Leslie Nielsen is endlessly hiding behind a crate and failing to shoot a man hiding behind another crate that's 3ft away from him. One positive note on your enemies, however, is that every now and then one will say something that raises a smile. My favourite is the genuinely bizarre Doh-Re-Mi-Fa-So... Long sucker!' So singing lessons are obviously still popular in the 26th century.
There's no doubt that the outdoor sections that make up a far greater proportion of the game with their swaying trees and tumbling leaves are markedly better than the interiors on offer - although mainly due to repetition. Pariah certainly suffers from the 'Halo Effect' (patent pending) that maintains that it's perfectly fine to have four rooms in a row that are fundamentally identical in everything bar the placement of enemy delinquents. Unfortunately, post Half-Life 2 and post Far Cry, you can't get away with this. You can't get away with autosave points that punish you with having to sit through long, arduous gun emplacement stages again and again either - another crime Pariah knocks up on its permanent record.
There's Still Hope...
It's important that I get across the fact that Pariah isn't a bad game, it's just that its potential was vast and its pedigree wonderful. It could have been marvellous, but instead it's simply highly competent. I feel a lot like the way I did when as a child I was told about the existence of Spider Monkeys and I assumed that they were some sort of amazing amalgam of spider and monkey. Clearly they f weren't, so I was disappointed - but monkeys they remained, and monkeys are ace no matter which way you look at them. You can never be disappointed for long. With Pariah, I was expecting to go on a journey that was deep, visceral and narratively-bold, but I was disappointed. My disappointment was tempered though, by the fact the nuts and bolts of a good shooter remained, and good shooters (like monkeys) will always remain high in my estimation. Pariah is a good, solid game that could have been so much more - although it was in deep, dark danger of having its score slashed due to its brevity (I clocked in at around the ten-hour mark). Thankfully though, the enjoyable multiplayer and (quite ingenious) level design program keep its head above water. There were clearly some fundamentally good ideas being thrown about during the development of Pariah, but unfortunately a fair number of them have been lost in transit - not least the stuff they were aiming for with the story. The game can and will entertain, but both myself and its creator were clearly expecting better, brighter and more narratively-coherent things.
What's A Shooter Without A Garage Forecourt Of Death?
Pariah's vehicles fall short of the Halo model that the game so consciously tries to ape - control is iffy and weight and power is lacking. The levels they're showcased in are pretty short and rudimentary as well. That said, the vehicles do genuinely work well away from the solo campaign in multiplayer. In addition, fighting against enemies riding Wasp hover-bikes when you're hitting the dusty single-player trail is probably the best experience that Pariah has on offer...
Pariah Impresses With Multiplayer Modes, Bots And A Level Creator From Heaven
Pariah's neat weapon upgrade system shines most brightly in deathmatch, where the wonderful green weapon parts fall out of the bodies of the recently fragged. On some remarkably wide vistas and environments there's plenty of dm, tdm and ctf fun to be had - and although it falls short of UT2004, it has much the same feeling and chaotic atmosphere. A full regiment of bots is included too, along with a game mode called Frontline that has the action ebbing and flowing through a variety of bases between two massive opposing strongholds.
It's all good stuff, and is backed up by a hugely impressive level design tool. Pissing all over TrackMania's already impressive example, Pariah enables you to raise and lower land and place buildings, vehicles and obstacles in your new deathmatch map in a fashion that's fairly reminiscent of Populous. Albeit too simple for some, this is a brilliant feature for those (such as myself) whose previous sorties into level design have resulted in little more than a rectangular room and a monster stuck in a wall. You can jump into your creation at any time and run around a bit (or scoot around in a vehicle) and it's all really rather clever. You won't be creating a new de_dust, but you will have fun...
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode