FPS fans sure are a lucky bunch. Every month the Xbox receives at least one highly polished first-person shooter. In such a crowded genre, a game has to separate itself from the pack by having a solid core of gameplay while still offering a myriad of options. For shooters on Xbox this means the inclusion of a dramatic storyline, a fleet of vehicles, and online play. While Pariah
tries to be a jack-of-all-trades, it doesn't quite succeed in every area.
The plot of Pariah kicks off in a promising fashion. Dr. Jack Mason is scheduled to escort a patient over hostile territory. When Mason's armed escort disappears due to a scheduling error, the only logical place for the story to go is an immediate crash landing. Mason, a co-worker, and the infected woman survive the wreck. In a botched attempt to keep the lovely Karina from escaping, Mason is splattered with her blood and a deadly virus enters his blood stream. Players are now faced with finding the woman, a deadly disease, and a hoard of criminals who descend on the crash. Frequent cinemas advance the plot, which has all the makings of a decent story but ultimately lacks the back-story to tie things together. The game also suffers from an awkward use of adult language that tries to pound the game's mature rating into people's heads.
Immediately, players are given a melee weapon called the bone saw. When equipped, this item takes the place of a gun, which means there is an extra step involved in close quarters combat. The saw is available at the push of a button, but it takes extra time to go from shooting to slashing, and back to shooting again. The other item left in the wreckage of the crash is the healing tool. Mason starts with four health bars indicating his health. Unless a bar is completely depleted, it will refill after taking damage. The only way to regain a bar is to equip the healing tool and inject the device into Mason's wrist. This procedure makes players vulnerable to incoming attacks, and blurs the screen with each injection. In this way, regaining health becomes a strategic decision in the middle of a firefight. It is a cool feature that adds another layer to the combat.
Mason has all the normal abilities of an able bodied FPS protagonist. He can crouch, jump, and zoom in slightly with any weapon. There is also a sprint button that enables players to tuck their gun and run for a short distance. This feature is mainly used for evasion when gamers bite off more than they can chew. Jumping feels a bit floaty, but this is necessary for tackling rocky terrain. Most of the game takes place in large environments like gullies, riverbeds, and canyons. There are few indoor levels, but they feel mediocre compared to the expansive outdoor setups.
The guns in Pariah pack some serious punch. Each weapon resembles a large block of steel and is designed to kill people as quickly as possible. It says a lot about the balancing that a pistol isn't even included in the assortment. Mason's first tool of death is an automatic weapon called the bulldog that chews up ammo and enemies at a high rate. This is followed by a grenade launcher, shotgun, sniper rifle, and other weapons found in a run of the mill FPS. The grenade launcher easily takes the position of the dominant weapon in the game. One explosion is enough to send multiple enemies flying through the air. It has the power, ammo capacity, and upgrades to make it the weapon of choice up until the final stage. Because this item appears fairly early in the game, it throws off the normal pacing of presenting players with increasingly powerful tools.
Pariah is all about one hit kills. The characters in this game are either at full health or dead, but rarely at any place in between. This style of combat can still be fun, but it becomes tiresome when long-range kills are so prevalent that they prevent any close quarters battles.
The weapon set would feel trite if not for the upgrade system. In Pariah exploration rewards players with weapon cores that are used to upgrade each item three times. This can result in more damage, enhanced vision modes, or even a protective shield when firing off some rounds. Players are also forced to decide which weapons to improve as the game progresses, although as I already stated the grenade launcher is the smart choice. The enemy AI exhibits flashes of intelligence and can be very aggressive but also suffers from a few flaws. One level takes place aboard a moving train, and I witnessed numerous instances of enemies jumping off a platform to their death. I was also able to remain undetected by enemies aboard vehicles by hiding behind some small objects. These issues were infrequent, but stood out.
Pariah tries to mix up the gameplay with a few rail shooting segments and vehicular combat. The vehicles feel slow and are easily destroyed by explosive weapons, while the rail shooting scenes are dull and often only present one target at a time. Overall, these sections of the game fall flat, and I would have rather dealt with repetitive ground confrontations.
The online component of Pariah includes all the common game types like optimatch, quickmatch, statistics and friends lists. The same holds true for the game types with deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, siege, and assault. The options for setting up a game are a bit more extensive than the standard online fragfest. There is the option to use a dedicated server or host your own match and the game types change according to whether players use normal, or custom maps. For each type of game there are map lists that can be rearranged or shortened. This means that you can set up consecutive capture the flag games on a specific set of environments. When playing on a dedicated server, up to 12 players can join in the fun, and without one the max drops to 6.
Many FPS fans will be happy to know that bots can be added to online play with scalable difficulty. Before jumping into a match, players can also choose the weapon set they want to load out with. This is a godsend to those who don't like being forced to begin with the same items after every death. Multiplayer is fun, but like the single player experience the confrontation in deathmatches revolve around a couple weapons that instantly blow people to shreds. Fans of quick twitch killing will enjoy the experience, but others will notice a lack of depth when compared to Halo 2 or Unreal Championship 2.
One of the largest assets of Pariah's online play is the map editor. This enables players to create their own outdoor arenas and modify everything from vehicle placement to spawn points. It isn't as satisfying as the excellent map creator included with Timesplitters, but with the ability to upload and share maps on Xbox Live, it gives gamers a huge amount of extra content. You can check out the finer details of this feature from out previous coverage here.
Sparkle and Fade
Pariah is a visually impressive game. The character models are well rounded and weighty. The Havok physics engine is used brilliantly with exploding canisters that send enemies and debris flying. There are also space warping explosions that make the grenade launcher that much more enjoyable. Visual details like falling leaves and shattering glass complete the experience.
The outdoors environments feel are very sharp looking, with normal mapping that make otherwise ordinary rocky outcropping look impressive. Even with these elements, the world of Pariah often feels barren and lonely. There are also random areas where the frame rate really starts to chug, and gamers will be forced to take a breather while the game catches up.
The voice acting and music in the game are decent, but there are often long silences when traversing the large levels. Rocket blasts and gunshots have a kick that really adds to the pleasure of taking down your foes.
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