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Sun, 06 Jun 2010

Game review: Shattered Horizon

Shattered Horizon

I've played computer games forever, and first-person-shooters since Quake came out. I'm a big fan of this genre, but I'll be the first to admit that innovation is not exactly business as usual for these games. Fancier graphics, yes, new features...not so much.

Occasionally a shooter comes along that pushes the boundaries - Shattered Horizon is one of those. Set in space as a battle between suited astronauts armed with machine guns, this game's point of difference is the third axis of movement. In most (all) other FPS's you move around in a flat plane - the ground might have some bumps or buildings, and there might be some verticality to the action with helicopters or whatever, but generally the game takes place over a single fixed plane.

Shattered Horizon takes place in zero-gravity, and the only plane of reference is your own. Opponents can be in front, above, below, wherever. This is a little disorienting at first, but you soon get used to it. Zoom around in free flight with a jet pack, the controls allow you to elegantly loop and skate thorugh the maps. You have realistic momentum and kinetic energy, and you can actually move the smaller bits of scenery if you hit them. Alternatively you can affix yourself to any largish piece of scenery, run around, kick off and fly to the next surface. This is a really novel, truly 3D method of movement in a shooter, and it sets this one apart.

In a regular multiplayer FPS, you can generally predict where attacks will come from - front, back or sides. In this they might be above or below too. The HUD contains a radar that tracks friends and foes, and this becomes essential for orienting yourself (especially when you violently reorient yourself by "snapping" to the scenery). Given the relative blackness of space (though there are many ambient light sources), the ability to spot enemies becomes important. I quickly found myself crouched in a shadow, watching for the telltale glow of manuevouring jets or tracer fire. The ability to hide using shadows and cover, and to spot (or blind) enemies using flares or EMP grenades is important to successful play.

Another cool touch is the sound; obviously there is none in the vacuum of space. The gimmick here is that sound is "simulated" inside your helmet; along with the radio chatter of your teammates, you hear directional queues like gunfire and explosions. I like the fact that you can also go into "silent running" where you turn off most suit functions, including sounds. While running silently you become quite vunerable, losing your HUD, radar, gunsight and the ability to latch onto surfaces. However, you won't show up on enemy radar and you can still shoot, providing an opportunity for sneaky stealth kills. Going silent has an odd dreamlike feel: the lack of sound and HUD clutter make a strange contrast to the usual manic FPS environment.

Overall this is a very playable, enjoyable game. There are a relatively small amount of maps and weapons compared to other FPS games, but the novelty of 3D movement and relatively low price more than makes up for this. Recommended.

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