At this Septembers EGN show in London we got a behind closed doors look at Digital Extremes upcoming Sci-Fi themed First person shooter, being published by Hip Interactive on PC, Xbox and Playstation 2 in March 2005. We were given a presentation by the founder of Digital Extremes James Schmalz, who demonstrated both the Single and Multiplayer portions of the game.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the demo was the demonstration of the multiplayer map editor. Rather excitingly, all versions of the game will ship with a map editor so users can create their own multiplayer masterpieces and share them with their friends online. This is common place amongst PC games, but sharing custom made content amongst console users is certainly a new experience. Playstation 2 owners worried about the lack of storage space on their consoles need not worry. The developers are looking into using the optional hard disk add-on for the console, but this may not even be necessary. The map files themselves are incredible small, coming in at less than 64k. This wont hurt your memory cards too much and there was even talk of loading the game into the consoles memory directly from the user hosting the new map. The small file size means that there are many possibilities, but the exact method is yet to be finalised.
The editor itself looked remarkably simple to use. The Xbox version was the only one on display, but there is no reason to think that the Playstation 2 version will be considerably different. The interface was clean and uncluttered and should be fairly easy to pick up. Terrain can be deformed, painted with surface textures, objects can be placed and environmental effects can be added. The user is given clear visual indicators to show where objects can or can't be placed and player spawn points can be dragged and dropped onto the map. The editor itself takes care of certain things itself, so lowered land will fill with water should it realistically be there and buildings will sit comfortably, looking as if they really should be there. Further demonstrating the ease of use, the presentation instantly switched from the editor view to in-game action. This is particularly impressive and will help map makers no end. Testing out changes to a map on the fly takes out much of the tedium involved in traditional map making. The PC version will ship with a more advanced editor, but it is the console versions that should make a splash, offering something that will be new to a lot of gamers.
Multiplayer action looks to offer a slight change on the typical FPS formula. Mr Schmalz emphasised how players can customise their character during play, rather than choosing a set character class prior to playing. This is done by collecting weapon energy cores (WECs). These can be used to not only upgrade weapons, but also other abilities, such as running speed and healing abilities. This gives the player the ability to create a custom class that is most needed at the time. Some players may become massively powerful gunners, while others could enhance their medic abilities.
The developers are eager to use as many of the new Xbox Live features that they can and are hoping to create a thriving community around the game. The maximum number of players is still to be determined, but they are hoping for a high number, especially as Microsoft is now allowing them to set up their own servers. The PC version will obviously include all the usual online modes, but the Playstation 2 version is still having the online modes finalised.
The single player game centres on Jack Mason, a doctor who seems to have an unhealthy drug addiction. He is given the job of transporting a prisoner, Karina J. Karina is wanted by the powers that be due to her involvement in secret experiments. We weren't told what these were, but expect the story to reveal all the juicy details. The story is something that the developers were keen to talk about. A Team of professional writers are working on it, while another team work on adapting that story for the game. At the moment they are on their fifth draft and are looking to go beyond that of a traditional videogame story telling.
The first level we saw took place on a fairly baron looking desert like landscape. The level was a predominantly on rails affair, with Karina driving the Bogey, a two seated buggy, while Dr Mason fended off prisoners using the Bogeys machine gun. A later level saw the Dr on board a drop ship, attempting to board a close flying ship. To do this he had to take out the shield generators, before boarding the ship and taking out the guards trying to stop him from taking control. These two levels show the mixture of gameplay styles digital extremes are striving for. The third level we saw was a more typical affair, seeing the Dr entering a tower and taking out enemies from afar, using a pretty tricked out sniper rifle. Switching the rifles mode revealed a heat vision mode, making distant enemies easy pickings. The WEC's from multiplayer are also in the single player game, being dropped by enemies, allowing you to upgrade your weapons and abilities. We also got to see the Dr's drug habit in action. Rather usefully, he can heal himself by pumping drugs into himself, but there is a fairly major drawback. Take too many at once and your vision will blur, making aiming a rather tricky task.
Visually, the game looks pretty stunning, especially on the Xbox. The environments stretch far into the distance and are filled with beautiful scenery and effects. The water is worth a special mention, looking simply awesome. Vehicles are modelled excellently, both technically and artistically. The PC version obviously looks better, with a smoother frame-rate and crisper look. It should also be noted that due to engine optimisations, the game will require a lower minimum spec than the last game to use the engine, Unreal Tournament 2004. While the Playstation 2 version wasn't on display, it is said to be looking very good and should not disappoint.
Overall, we were very impressed with what we saw. There is certainly a very interesting story to be discovered and technically the game is looking excellent. With both a varied single player experience and a potentially unheard of console multiplayer sharing community, Pariah is a game that everyone should be keeping an eye on. We will have more on the game leading up to its release in March 2005.