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A disappointing storyline and overall presentation cannot harm the strong gameplay and foundations laid by Pariah...
Having toiled away on the multiplayer delights of the Unreal Tournament franchise for the last few years, Digital Extremes decided it was time for a change, an opportunity to introduce a new concept and the chance to focus on a strong story-driven title.
The result is Pariah; a gritty, futuristic shooter placing players in the role of Dr. Jack Mason, whoâ??s tasked with escorting a cryogenically frozen subject named Karina from the prison planet of Earth. Things donâ??t entirely go to plan however and after being shot down, Mason finds himself in a desperate attempt to survive and save the infected Karina...
Although itâ??s fair to say that Pariah contains its fair share of plot twists and double-crosses to keep the player guessing, the sad fact is that the overall storyline and presentation leaves lot to the imagination and often baffles simply because the plot isnâ??t entirely watertight. Itâ??s also a fault that the player doesnâ??t bond with the various characters and as such thereâ??s a distinct feeling of apathy within the overall game.
Thankfully however the game impresses, initially coming across as worryingly similar to Halo 2 thanks to the overall look and vehicles, but actually feeling and playing closer to DEâ??s Unreal Tournament series. A theme of â??survival/evolutionâ? runs throughout the entire game, bringing an interesting take on the conventional â??run-and-gunâ? experience.
This is largely because of two unique features found within the game, namely Weapon Modifications and a rewarding Adrenaline/Health system. One initial concern that comes across when first playing Pariah is the relatively weedy nature of the weapons, along with the slightly stodgy nature of the controls. Although thereâ??s little beyond messing around with sensitivity options for the overall controls, the various weapons within the game soon begin to evolve into unstoppable war-machines thanks to the various Modifications.
Hidden throughout the environment are â??Weapon Energy Coresâ? (WEC) which when collected allow the player to modify the various weapons with some deadly combinations. Simply holding onto the Y button at any stage of the game displays a circular interface of the various weapons held; highlight the weapon of choice and press the left shoulder button to apply the upgrade. Itâ??s a wonderfully intuitive implementation that ensures you can keep up despite the frantic action occurring on-screen; more importantly the actual modifications themselves evolve the weapons significantly. Each weapon can be modified up to three times, with each subsequent upgrade requiring one more WEC then the last; such examples include the deadly precision offered by the infra-red first upgrade to the Sniper Rifle. The various modifications actually present the impression of weapons evolving, as previous upgrades are still manifested within the gun; another example being the â??Remote Detonationâ? granted to the Grenade Launcher with the first upgrade, which is still evident upon the second â??Fragment Attractorâ? upgrade, essentially turning the grenade launder into a devastating nail-bomb!
Another major innovation that Pariah throws into the mix, and one that injects the sense of â??survivalâ? throughout the whole proceedings, is the Healing Tool and Adrenaline Boosts. Essentially a portable medikit, each charge stored within the device allows Mason to replenish one of the segments of health. Thereâ??s little doubt that the device is helpful to begin with, however as with the weapons, the medikit can be upgraded with WEC to provide faster injections and an overall boost to Masonâ??s health and adrenaline.
Adrenaline provides a short boost to your running speed and blurs the screen accordingly; however the true mastery comes in conjunction with the healing tool, granting the game a definite â??survivalâ? feel. Unlike certain other titles where a heated yet victorious gun exchange often certainly means impending death soon after, Pariah gives the player the means to get out of there and receive a timely health replenish, helping to maintain the fluidity of the game.
One particular omission â??post Haloâ? is the lack of grenades, switching the left trigger to the Docâ??s trusted Bone Saw melee weapon. Again itâ??s a little touch, but the smart implementation of this allows the player to smoothly run into a gunfight, switch to the blade and effortlessly slice down the opponent. Itâ??s a little strange that switching between weapons via the d-pad can become a little cumbersome however, leaving the player often frantically scrambling through guns just to get the right one.
Level designs throughout the game are often satisfactory although rely too heavily on â??tried-and-trustedâ? objectives, such as opening certain doors and on-rail shoot-outs. Thereâ??s usually a good sense of direction throughout despite the sprawling level sizes, although a number of little â??quirksâ? become increasingly apparent, such as being restricted from jumping a mound that you evidently can and vehicles becoming lodged at weird angles within the actual environment.
The similarities to Halo obviously stem from the inclusion of vehicles; whilst theyâ??re fun, fast and responsive, the overall impression is that thereâ??s not too much thought on them â?“ coming across as a mix between Halo and Mad Max. In total there are four vehicles to take control of, ranging from the Warthog inspired Bogie to the fast-moving, 3-wheeled Wasp. Featuring a control system identical to that pioneered in Halo, controlling vehicles in Pariah is thankfully smooth and responsive with vehicles such as the Wasp spinning on a six-pence. Despite their uninspired designs, the various vehicles break up the action nicely and certainly add something to the multiplayer aspects.
The AI throughout Pariah comes across as a bizarre blend, providing more then a match to the player particularly on the higher difficulty settings. Strange however is the erratic nature of it; sometimes opponents donâ??t appear to have a clue where the player is, while other times itâ??s like playing against a psychic! Thereâ??s no doubt that the AI gives the player a game but it just doesnâ??t feel entirely natural; often guards dash around and dart for cover a little too much, however thanks to the integration of Havok physics, this leads to some interesting and entertaining situations. One particular example saw a long-range shoot-out result in the guard diving for cover behind a stone pillar, chipping away at the pillar dislodged a rock which amusingly came crashing down on his head and knocked him out!
The integration of Havok throughout Pariah is a tad hit-and-miss, often amazing with touches like fully-destructible guard-posts and the aforementioned pillars to cables swaying in the wind, but bizarrely coming across as half-hearted at times with a distinct lack of affect on certain objects. One particular area that takes the physics to comical dimensions are the rag-doll physics applied to character death animations; explosions send these guys flying into the horizon and makes for some particularly satisfying multiplayer experiences.
Despite the effect on the various bodies that stack up during the short adventure, itâ??s again a strange little quirk that explosions in general lack a sense of impact. Despite featuring a neat visual effect similar to Minority Report, the sense of power is distinctly missing largely because of the muted sound effect â?“ a wet fart springs to mind!
Visually the game is somewhat of a mixed bag. The game is built upon the reliable Unreal engine and features a sufficient level of detail throughout the various environments and character models, however some woeful texture work and slightly stilted animations let down the side. DE have done a good job of creating a bleak and destitute vision of the future Earth, with desert levels similar to Frank Herbertâ??s depiction in Dune and a heavily industrialised, mechanical look running throughout.
The music as well sits in the balance, humming around in an extremely understated way in the background and refusing to build up for even the more dramatic moments; it sets the tone, but it doesnâ??t really get you in the mood. Voice acting throughout is also a subject of concern; while the Docâ??s suits the tone aptly, Karinaâ??s delivery often comes across as lines from a script and could have been a lot better.
Itâ??s a shame that there wasnâ??t time to apply the overall polish needed to the presentation, with examples such as the stylish blood-cells menu screens ruined by low compression and a pixellated image, while menu screens and the interface in general can be described as functional at best.
Although the single-player campaign can come across as slightly disappointing, the multiplayer stakes improve considerably and ensures Pariah is likely to become a firm favourite on Live. Four different game types are featured within the game, including your typical Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and team variants, along with a Star Wars: Battlefront-esque Frontline Assault.
One of the major aspects to Pariah however (particularly for the Xbox owners) is the Map Editor thatâ??s included within the game. Although PC owners have been used to this type of feature for years, itâ??s still relatively new to console owners, particularly the amount of freedom and choice provided by Pariahâ??s. Land can be easily raised or lowered, a huge number of pre-fabricated objects/buildings/markers placed on the map, textures changed and various weather effects to play around with. Maps can be easily published and distributed via Xbox Live, which should hopefully ensure that this aspect of Pariah takes off and constantly develops along with the gameâ??s popularity, building upon the basic selection presented by the game.
A good first-person-shooter needs entertaining and powerful weapons, interesting level designs and tight/solid gameplay; in many respects Pariah gets the vast majority of these spot on. Sadly however those who place story and characters over gameplay will be disappointed, as there’s very little to pull you through the game simply because of the negating storyline and the indifferent characters you’ll come across.
If you’re intrigued by the map editing features and looking for an enjoyable shooter with a handful of interesting innovations and strong multiplayer, Pariah could be just what you’re looking for – although PC owners should probably chop a point off the overall score, given the less innovative introduction of the map editor...