Sunday, November 15, 2009

Shattered Horizon Review

Shattered Horizon, developed and published by Futuremark Games Studio.
The Good: Excellent use of a zero gravity environment, some tactically interesting elements, multiple game modes, persistent stats, cheap
The Not So Good: Limited content with only one weapon and four maps, no single player content including AI bots, three-axis movement learning curve, high-end system requirements
What say you? A unique setting makes this budget online shooter distinctive: 6/8

It's only a matter of time before we blow up the Moon. I mean, have you seen the way it looks at us at night, thinking it's better than us? It needs a serious dose of reality, along the lines of a gigantic rocket. Take that, giant rock that used to be part of the Earth! In Shattered Horizon, humans have taken this next logical step and accidentally blown up a large swath of the Moon; residents of the Moon and the International Space Station have taken it upon themselves to subsequently shoot each other. Sounds plausible enough to me! Shattered Horizon takes advantage of its unique setting to allow for full 3-D movement: a unique perspective to be sure. The budget-level shooter keeps its feet on the ground while reaching for the stars: does it make it, or end up near Uranus?

As you might expect from a game published by a company famous for their graphics benchmarking software, Shattered Horizon looks pretty good. The game has crafted a plausible space environment, complete with near-futuristic mining stations and lots of rocks (I do like the rocks). The textures are quite detailed across the board, and the models for the combatants are animated well and move plausibly through the weightless environment. The game does suffer from a lot of repetition thanks to its setting: all of the levels feature the same metallic stations and same rocky rocks, but at least you have a very nice Earth to look at in the background. The HUD also has some nice sci-fi realism touches, acting like a real computer system with boot-ups after being on the receiving end of an EMP grenade. Shattered Horizon requires DirectX 10, so you must have either Windows 7 or the Operating System That Shall Not Be Named. The game does have some steep-ish system requirements, and the game lacks support for my native screen resolution of 1280x1024. The sound design fits the game well, with an appropriate soundtrack and an in-suit sound simulation to substitute for the lack of air molecules to propagate sound waves in space. Overall, I was quite pleased with the graphics and the sound in Shattered Horizon, but make sure you have the operating system and hardware required to run it at an acceptable frame rate.

So mining workers accidentally blew up the Moon. Oopsy! The resulting fight for control between the workers themselves and the astronauts charged with apprehending those responsible is the crux of Shattered Horizon, a first person shooter that takes place in amongst the debris and wreckage. This is an exclusively online title, as there are no AI bots for single player action of filling up a less-than-capacity server. Shattered Horizon has three game modes borrowed (stolen) from other shooters: skirmish (team deathmatch), battle for control points, and assault (a one-way battle with attackers and defenders). One would hope that the unique setting for Shattered Horizon would result in at least one innovative game mode, but this is not the case. The game takes place across four maps, all of which are chaotic messes of rocks, metallic mining station parts, and more rocks. Persistent stat tracking records your performance in the game and new ranks can be earned, although they do not unlock any new abilities. For only $20, you get decent value, and the developers mention that future, free downloadable content will have more stuff.

Shattered Horizon takes great use of the weightless environment and allows you to tackle any situation using all three axes. This requires some learning of the control scheme: in addition to using WASD for the usual movement directions, you will also use space for moving up and left shift for down. You can also attach to a surface (for more accurate firing and less movement confusion) and jump to a nearby platform. The right mouse button is also used to roll, much like in a flight simulator. The game is initially very disorienting, but I suppose that’s some of the appeal: there’s nothing quite like it, where you are free to roam in any direction and ambush enemies from unexpected angles. Assisting your subterfuge is the ability to disable your rockets in order to make it more difficult to be spotted by the enemy; like in Section 8, spotted enemy units are shared by everyone.

Disappointingly, Shattered Horizon only has one gun. Shoot, Wolfenstein 3D had three, for goodness sakes. This makes everyone balanced, but it sure decreases the tactical interest of the game. Your weapon has unlimited ammunition, and using it while scoped will send out ten bullets in one pull of the trigger (as a substitute for a snipe rifle, I suppose). The damage of Shattered Horizon is like Counter-Strike-like, where a couple of hits means death. You can hit someone’s tank for an instant kill, which makes surprising someone from behind is a great tactic. You can also rip someone’s suit open in the melee attack for another instant kill. Accuracy is improved if you attach to a surface first, and the additional advantages of cover make this an important part of the game. You are given some options with the grenades: ice is used for cover, EMPs are used to disable enemy radar and movement, and MPRs are explosive (though non-lethal). None of these are innovative, as they are just futuristic stand-ins for smoke, stun, and incendiary grenades. Ho-hum. Still, the fully 3-D movement makes combat quick, deadly, and intriguing. Shattered Horizon is certainly a distinctive shooter, and despite its limitations, does deliver some unique thrills.

The gimmick of Shattered Horizon works pretty well. Allowing for full three dimensional movement produces some unique strategies for approaching enemy units from all directions, elevating the suspense and surprise. While the game does give you three different grenade types to enhance your tactical options, they aren’t terribly innovative, basically just being futuristic versions of contemporary explosives. You only get one weapon: while this does make the game fairly balanced, it also makes it much less interesting overall. You are also allowed to run silent to sneak up on opponents; the relatively small amount of damage your character can sustain really places an emphasis on sneaky sneakiness. There is an initial learning curve as you become accustomed to the control scheme and expecting enemy units to come at you from all sides. Shattered Horizon features three game modes (none original) and stat tracking, but limited other features: there are no AI bots to fight against and only four maps on which to do battle. The graphics are quite nice, but do require a hefty system and DirectX 10. For the features you get, Shattered Horizon is priced correctly. For those looking for a shooter that offers a different perspective, Shattered Horizon certainly delivers an interesting setting.