Sunday, 8 November 2009

Review for Game-Debate: Shattered Horizon

Shattered Horizon truly revolutionises the First Person Shooter. This is rather appropriate given players who master it will find themselves revolving rather often. Confused? Lets explain.

So Futuremark have produced a multiplayer only FPS. So far so un-revolutionary right? WRONG! Shattered Horizon is played entirely in outer space - well, between Earth and a half exploded moon - and therefore the whole experience takes place in zero gravity and this significantly changes many elements of the game play. And not just by adding jet packs...

In order to understand why Shattered Horizon is set in a zero gravity environment, or space if you like your definitions simple, it seems apt to divulge the games background story. 40 years in the future man mining the moon and making large wads of cash. All was going well until the largest mining accident in history. It almost ripped the moon apart throwing billions of tonnes of moon rock into the earths orbit. This was called ‘The Arc’ because...well it’s shape basically. Two factions emerged: The International Space Agency (ISA) – the scientists and astronauts on the International Space Agency given the task of apprehending those responsible for the blast – the Moon Mining Corporative (MMC) who see ISA as a threat to their existence. Thus the two sides are drawn into combat amongst the debris high amongst the earth.

There are three basic game modes which are fairly similar to other FPS titles. There's 'Battle' in which two teams attempt to capture every control point on the map while holding onto their own. 'Assault' involves two rounds where the opposing sides must take turns attacking and defending control points - it's similar to Battle except once a point has been taken by the enemy it can't be recaptured. Meanwhile, 'Skirmish' is the standard Team Deathmatch mode. Well...as far as Shattered Horizon is standard shooter anyway. (Here’s a hint: It isn’t a standard shooter)

The zero gravity combat adds a whole new dimension to the genre. In every other multiplayer shooter most of the action will take place on a single level plain. Sure there are hills, walls and buildings to be climbed upon but if the player is familiar with the game they'll expect opposing players to use them. However, zero gravity (and the rocket packs used to move) means you can be attacked from anywhere at any time - including directly above or below. So threats truly do come from every angle and you have to be very, very aware as you move yourself around the maps. Thankfully the HUD indentifies opposing players with brackets once you've spotted them. That is if you spot them... it's all too easy to get ambushed from above or below on the four maps.

Yes, Shattered Horizon only has four different maps and the various space debris like rocks, bits of space station, containers and other ‘scenery’ can leave the levels feeling rather generic. This is somewhat surprising given the high end system specs required to run the game. On the plus side, the backgrounds are stunning. It’s all too easy for to get distracted by the beauty of the Earth, Moon and Sun....then get shot. The 360 degree nature the of the combat means you’re always on your toes and won’t get bored of the four maps (That’s four for now by the way, Futuremark say more will be added in the future and at no extra cost) Currently there’s only one type of gun – and a three types of grenade – but given the effects of zero gravity it’s a wise move. The game is tough enough to play without having to worry about being ambushed by a foe with a rocket launcher and blown to smithereens.

Yes, Shattered Horizon is certainly a tough cookie. The controls take awhile to get familiarised with and the general learning curve is very steep. Not only does the player have to move forward, back and side to side, they have to master moving vertically, rolling and latching onto surfaces. It's a lot to take in. However, after some practice the player will be jumping from cover to cover with ease. The F key usefully allows the player to latch onto any surface on the map. Yeah, that’s right anything at all. It just adds to the need for the player to be extremely aware because who knows what's hiding in the shadows around the corner. Or the other side of that moon debris.

The addition of zero gravity marks Shattered Horizon as a radical departure from every other FPS.* It may be tough to master but £14.99 is an excellent price for what is truly a revolutionary experience. This may not be for everyone – casual shooter fans may not enjoy how difficult it is to learn – but Shattered Horizon has considered a must buy for any FPS veteran who wants to experience something truly ground-breaking.

*The Xen levels of Half Life don’t count. They are low level gravity, not zero level!

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

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