Canadian game studio Digital Extremes has teamed up with publisher Groove Games (of "Playboy: The Mansion" infamy) to produce Pariah, a fantastical first-person shooter set in earth's distant future. Like a slew of FPS' before it, the game uses the ubiquitous and dated Unreal engine. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, and some crafty programming and artistry have breathed some new life into the aging platform.
Pariah incorporates a rich plot that weaves together the numerous levels quite seamlessly. The player assumes the role of Jack Mason, a doctor from the Transgenic Control Commission (only in sci-fi) who also happens to be quite dextrous with a rocket launcher. Very early in the game we encounter the dark-haired and lovely Karina, who is apparently harbouring a nasty transgenic virus that warranted imprisoning her in cryogenic freeze. As Mason, the player's goal is to get her off the planet - not an easy task by any stretch. In true FPS spirit, you can bet it'll involve blowing away hundreds of assorted bad guys along the way.
One of the entertaining features of Pariah that sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill FPS is the varied objectives and environments in each level. One moment, you'll find yourself traversing up a hill whilst returning fire from mercenaries; a little while later, you're riding passenger in a dune buggy and launching big rockets at anything that moves. As well, there are several exciting instances - such as being caught in a gunfight while riding a big industrial gondola across a giant chasm - that will keep the player on his or her toes.
The Unreal engine behaves predictably well in the graphics department. Still, I would have preferred to see a more modern engine that can take advantage of some of the jaw-dropping new features brought about by DirectX 9. The artwork itself is nothing to scoff at; exterior forest environments are well blended with the industrial innards of the planet's installations. As well, weapons fire is accented by smoke trails and particle effects that add a touch of realism. One aspect I didn't enjoy was the prolonged and often boring cutscenes that I still can't figure out how to skip after playing the game several times.
I was pleasantly surprised with the musical score and sound effects in this title. Rather than go the traditional Nine Inch Nails-esque acid rock route, the developers instead went with a classical repertoire that contributes toward a very immersive gaming experience at times. Sound effects were good as well and almost understated at times; unlike some other FPS titles, this one didn't leave me with a pounding headache after a few hours. One thing they could have gone a little easier on was the repetitive taunts from enemies, most of which get just plain annoying after a while.
Multiplayer was an area where this title unfortunately lacked anything new or exciting. The maps are for the most part repetitive and bland, and choice of weapons is limited. It can essentially be summed up as the single player campaign minus the interesting storyline and hot girl. A feature not always found in multiplayer titles, a practice mode, only served to alert me as to the crappiness of the maps as compared to other comparable titles in the genre.
Overall, Pariah strikes me as a game that tried a little too hard to imitate older and more sophisticated siblings like Far Cry and Halo; sadly, it doesn't quite measure up to the slick and polished appeal of those titles. Perhaps its one saving grace is an interesting storyline, which does get better as the game moves along. The underwhelming graphics (come on, this is 2005 after all) are also offset somewhat by the excellent musical score. Multiplayer is a stripped down shell of what most other titles offer, which is a disappointment for a game so highly anticipated for this very reason. I suppose the final comment on this game is that it shines in some departments and sucks in others; here's hoping the next release from Groove Games is a little less of a Pariah.