Shattered Horizon Review (PC)
Itís not often a multiplayer only game inspires us to not only go out and buy it, but for the developers to go back to the drawing board and think about making a campaign to go along with it. Thatís what Futuremark did with their first game, Shattered Horizon, a multiplayer only space-shooter where hurling bullets in zero gravity can make all the difference to the way you think about shooters.
Shattered Horizon is actually a very simple game: thereís one standard weapon, a bunch of maps, three grenade types and two factions. Players all start with the same weapon and the same number of grenades (guns shoot out either a fragmentation, ice or EMP grenade). Once you find a server, start the killing or complete the given objective.
|Staring out into the world may feel like a good idea, until you get shot. Not in the back, but in the head. From above.||Most maps take place in some sort of asteroid base or derelict space station. It's not creepy or cozy, but it is inviting.|
In fact, Shattered Horizon is extremely rudimentary, to the point that hardcore players may initially (and much later) scoff at it for being so simple. There is no weapon selection because thereís only one gun. Aiming is damn near impossible when looking through the sights. And thereís so much maneuvering room around all of the maps that not only can you have trouble finding other players, but youíll probably be shot in the back more often than not.
Yet thereís a perfectly good explanation for this: Shattered Horizon requires players to think in three dimensions. This isnít like most shooters, where everyoneís on the same relative level or a floor above/below. Gunfire can come from not only anywhere around you, but anywhere above and below you.†
The most amusing fact isnít even that getting used to fighting in such an environment is hard, but rather that adjusting to shooting enemies who donít stand upright is hard. Weíre taught in most shooters to aim for the head or chest. Here, enemies can come at you upside down, so you canít just keep your sights at head level or youíll shoot them in the feet. This alone makes players confused, giving you a clear shot until they can, in their heads, realign themselves and aim properly.
This entire idea of playing in a zero gravity, completely 3D environment with full access to every area of the map isnít only new and disorienting; itís inspiring a new type of thinking. Like Enderís Game where the children had to learn to navigate a no-gravity zone, players must learn, and learn quickly, that standard shooter strategies donít work. You canít just run into a room guns blazing, because for all you know, the enemy might be sitting above the door waiting in ambush.
|Levels are huge, and there are literally hundreds of different ways to go about playing each game.||This is an image of civilized space combat. Expect to never see it.|
Every new round I played, the thoughts that came to mind were mind bending. Like when you realize something new you can do in Portal, or when you control time by movement in Braid. This concept of gameplay is so simple, so elementaryÖand yet getting a grasp around it really takes serious time and effort. Practice is the only way you can truly understand how to function properly in this environment. There are dedicated training servers available, which are great for understanding movement, creating battle plans, or even just taking a good look at the lovely view.
Thatís a gap that a campaign should fill, though as a multiplayer-only title, Shattered Horizon leaves that space empty for gamers to fill on their own. Itís a difficult hole to fill, especially for newcomers who find themselves picked off easily by veteran gamers whoíve been on it since release, or even the beta. There is no training, no thought provoking dialog from the developers, nothing. If you need help, good luck and good night, because you arenít getting it.
However, for $20 on Steam, itís a hard deal to beat. I could recommend holding off for the campaign, because even if by some low probability it turns out poorly, at least it will teach you game mechanics and give you a start, jumping off the bridge is the fastest way to learn how to fly. Or, in this case, float around a giant map trying to maneuver properly. Itís a great, difficult game that may piss you off, but you wonít think in two dimensions after playing for a few hours. For that alone, this game is worthwhile. Itís rare that a first person shooter offers such thought-provoking gameplay Ė Shattered Horizon does it just with game mechanics. Futuremark knows what theyíre doing, and theyíre doing it damned well.