In Space No One Can Hear You Deathmatch. (UPDATED)

By jon_hill987 & AJB123644

I was given the opportunity to play Shattered Horizon when a friend of mine on Steam sent me a guest pass so I decided to accept and see what the game is all about. I had not really seen much on this game other than I knew it was based in space and revolved around weightlessness shooting.

The First Person Shooter has not had much innovation recently, even the single player FPS has hardly changed, with a few exceptions like Mirrors Edge (which didn’t go quite far enough as it didn’t do away with combat altogether) and Portal. Apart from a few they all stick to the same formula, sure the setting is different, but the game remains the same. Half-Life 1 and Deus Ex were the last I remember to make a huge leap forward in anything other than graphics. Multiplayer games are worse, they are all the same, some a faster, some have stylised graphics, some have vehicles and some don’t… Shattered Horizon however, dares to be different.

To be fair, the idea of zero gravity six degrees of freedom movement has been used before in an FPS, Descent was released by Parallax Software in 1995 and spawned two sequels, the most recent coming out in 1999. So if this existed before why has no one else had the balls to make another game in the genre? Was Descent considered too niche to make any money from a similar game? Well Futuremark have now tried in their début into video games. You have to give them credit for this, as a company best known for their benchmarking software they are known to be capable of making shiny graphics demos that you can’t actually play. For their first game you could expect them to make the most generic on-line first person shooter, sure it would have brilliant graphics but it wouldn’t be a particularity good game. Shattered horizon takes the six degrees of freedom from descent but takes you out of the spaceship and puts you into a space suit, your jet-pack thrusters allowing you to move freely in a future earth orbit littered with derbies from a catastrophic explosion on the moon (2002 film The Time Machine anyone?). As well as the free movement with your jetpack you can also swoop down, latch on and walk on any nearby surface at the press of a button, up has no meaning and you can walk on anything. This makes Shattered Horizon very different to play from any FPS I know of, the ability to latch on and walk makes it considerable different to play than Descent and, unlike Descent, the mouse control feels like a FPS rather than a Flight Sim, meaning you no longer feel like you should be using a joystick.

I mentioned earlier that, being a company that has previously made graphics benchmarks, Futuremark could have been expected to make a graphically brilliant shooter with little else going for it. Well they certainly haven’t forgotten about the graphics, and they are definitely worthy of a paragraph or two before we talk more about the gameplay. The next two screen-shots are from the Furturemark site because I think they were almost certainly taken with every option on maximum.

You can see these and more on the Shattered Horizon site.

Futuremark have built the game using Direct X 10 so therefore it will only run on Windows Vista or 7 and it has fairly high system specs too.

Yes it is important to note is that this game is DirectX 10 only meaning there is no support for Windows XP or a graphics card lower than a NVidia 8 Series (or ATi Equivalent), not that you would be able to run it on less than an 8 Series anyway as the graphics are quite demanding, it will not run with everything switched on on my computer (which has a GTX275 and a Core i7 920). If you are playing at a lower resolution (I’m running at 1920×1080) then the minimum required specs say that an 8800GT will work. Sure this means that anyone on Windows XP or with older hardware can’t play it, but I expect that when it was released on the 4 of November 2009 more people had computers that were capable of playing Shattered Horizon than there where who could play Crysis when that was released. So what have they done with all this computing power? Is it worth it? One of the things that made me buy this game in the Steam sale was I was interested in exactly why it was DirectX 10 only.

Whilst the game does look good it doesn’t really make me feel like I am playing a Direct X 10 game.

I actually still disagree. I think the lighting is astounding, it can be used tactically as hiding in the shadows or getting between someone and the sun really work. The ice grenades which leave a volumetric cloud of ice for cover or to disorientate the enemy are impressive as well so I do believe that DirectX 10 is a necessity for this games features, not just to make it look pretty. One thing that separates good graphics from great graphics is that you shouldn’t notice great graphics, good graphics you notice the shadows, with great graphics they just look how you would expect.

So the quality of the graphics is debatable but I would go as far as saying that for once they enhance the gameplay, but what of the rest of the game? Is it worth investing any of your time in this unusual (and potentially Obscure) FPS?

Shattered Horizon has a TF2 style death-cam so you always know who killed you.

I think it is, despite the fully three dimensional environment you are traversing, any way is up, the controls are simple and easy to pick up. The system basically expands on the shooter. Instead of the 4 axis WASD + Mouse we all know and love it becomes six axis. Instead of x, y, pitch and yaw we now have x, y, z, pitch, roll and yaw. Apart from the roll this is exactly the same as swimming in most other FPS games. I didn’t like the default key setup, partly because I have a Zboard Merc keyboard (which means the key layout is somewhat different), and partly because I don’t like holding down a mouse button to toggle roll. It didn’t take me long to sort out a decent setup, getting rid of the toggle mouse roll and simply using q and e to roll.

The Ice Grenade blocks vision and radar, but is it cover or a trap?

Shattered Horizon is multi-player only, there are no bots to practice against, you simply jump strait into the action using the server browser. This is as you would expect for a multiplayer game and there is none of that Games for Windows Live nonsense or peer to peer connections that seem to plague games these days. I found the server browser quite easy to use, simply sorting by ping and selecting the lowest pinging server that wasn’t password protected (a padlock shows up in the list).

It would appear that the game has an issue with letting you log onto certain servers. I know that my friend who sent me the guest pass also has these issues and there seems to be no way of fixing this or identifying which servers will let you on. It is a great shame that this has happened so early into opening up the game to play because no one really wants to play a game which only lets you on certain servers. Ease of access which really Futuremark should look into fixing.

This is not something I have come across, the only reason I can think is people are running dedicated servers on their own machines for a LAN and not pass-wording them. Maybe this is a downside to providing the dedicated server software with a game but it sure beats Modern Warfare 2’s complete lack of any dedicated server support.
[EDIT: the steam forums shed some light on this, it turns out the master server does not remove crashed servers from the list but the developers are working on a solution]

Lumps of rock make up the majority of this map

When I found a server and started playing I was rather intrigued by how it plays. Unlike standard multiplayer shooters where you generally only have to worry about four areas of getting shot at in Shattered Horizon you worry about the enemy shooting you from below and above as well as the standard areas (forward, rear and both sides of you). This makes the game play elements interesting however at times it can be rather disjointing trying to work out where you should be going and who you should be shooting at.

This is where Shattered Horizon really stands out, the game modes might be your standard team deathmatch, and two variations on point capture but the addition of an extra dimension in the maps and axis to your movement make it feel quite fresh. If you find you are disorientated it is best to latch on to a surface and start walking, this also has the benefit of steadying your aim. It is a stealth game of sorts, because you can take so little damage and there are no heath pick-ups (though your suit does regenerate some of its integrity slowly, but not back to the maximum) if an enemy spots you before you spot him you are very likely to die. Being stealthy can be done in a variety of ways, one thing that gives you away is your rocket thrusters, but with no air resistance you can fire them in short busts and glide to your destination to become less visible. walking on a surface also means you are not using your thrusters, but you are much slower. The final and most extreme method to avoiding detection is to power down your suit. Doing this will render you invisible to enemy radar but it turns off your HUD and the simulated battle sounds (it is very disorientating when you can’t hear where things are coming from) leaving you with only your assault rifle primary fire and minimal thrusters.

He thinks I haven't seen him as he is running silent

So, it is Red Vs Blue in space (well Yellow Vs Blue anyway) but what do you get to kill each other with? You get a single multifunction gun, the assault rifle has a primary automatic fire, a scoped mode which fires ten bullets in a burst and three grenade modes, EMP, MPR and ICE. The three grenade types are interesting, the EMP shuts down opponents suits rendering them almost helpless, they can still shoot back but the sluggish control they now have means that they are unlikely to be a threat unless they are already facing you. MPR creates an explosion that sends nearby astronauts flying (not quite sure how this works in a vacuum) and can be quite devastating if used correctly as if you stray too far from the map you get killed by micro-meteors in open space. ICE grenades are harder to use effectively, they can provide cover but as they leave you almost blind I think they are better used in disorientating the enemy, used in conjunction with an EMP it will leave you opponent unable too move ore see and all you will have to do is open fire into the cloud.

You have infinite ammo apart from your grenades and the other modes of fire are as you would expect, though it is worth noting that the melee attack is a one hit kill. People have complained about the lack of weapons, saying one is not enough, but in reality you have 6 different weapons, the fact that they don’t have a different gun model and you don’t have to pick them up means the tactics are no longer about finding the biggest gun like Unreal Tournament and are now about teamwork and capturing the points.

One small step for /crackle/ man. One giant leap for Online Gaming.

Overall I feel the game play is different and this is really what makes the game so fun to play but should this ever wear off and they do not increase the maps available to play and the environments in those then the game will very quickly stumble and fall. I just hope they can turn it round as it is a promising venture for Futuremark as their first game.

Agreed, it is very much up to Futuremark to decide if this game will stand the test of time. Some people are calling it the new Counter Strike, some people think that it will die. Even after the Steam sale the servers are not entirely full, maybe this is because a lot of people simply can’t run the game, maybe people are getting fed up with the four available maps (with three game-modes each). From their input on the Steam forums it would seem that the developers are still working on it. I think to keep this game from dying out they need to first fix the server issues as there is nothing that puts people off a multiplayer game more than not being able to connect 50% of the time. they also need to release more maps or even better a map making tool so the community can make their own. If they do these things fast then the community will grow and grow, if they don’t then I don’t know how long the game will last.
I really enjoy playing the game, it isn’t the most accessible FPS (try Team Fortress 2 if you want that) but it is far from as unforgiving as Counter Strike, but the one thing that makes a Multiplayer game is the people so I just hope Futuremark can keep them playing.

UPDATE: It seems Futuremark are interested in keeping this one going, they have just released 4 additional maps and are having a free weekend on Steam from 19th-21st of Feb 2010. If you have a DirectX 10 capable PC I recommend you give it a go, be sure to join a flight training server to start with though… Oh, it is also 50% off.


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