Pariah review

There comes a time when the world confronts you with deep, meaningful, searching questions, that only you can answer. Who am I? What is my life all about? Is it wrong to go five days without changing into a clean pair of underpants? (We'd have to say yes to that.)

But, perhaps most important of all: does it bother me that the game I just shelled out thirty five notes for lasts only seven hours? Seven. You could spend longer in the bath.

It's the classic tale of 'just as things were getting really quite good, the credits interrupted the fun.' Bugger. Of all the flaws we might secretly have feared the game could contain, this was the last thing we expected.

But is Pariah still worth owning? The answer would have to be, in the end, yes.

But sweet hell, it's a close call.

Do you expect a great plot from a FPS? Or is it just some lame excuse to kill things? Given the outcry about Halo 2's ending, we'd concede that maybe some of you do believe that justification for the violence is an important foundation for a quality shooter.

But let's be truthful, with all but the most exceptional of titles, you're a guy on a mission to shoot stuff, and that's all you care about.

The adrenaline rush of fighting under fire, out-thinking, out-running and out-gunning the enemy - that's what it's all about, and in that respect, Pariah - at points in its lifespan - delivers the action with more flair, style and guts than the rest of the competition combined.

Not that Pariah has a bad plot. It follows some interesting lines, there are a couple of excellent twists near the end... it's just that ever since Halo (and the even better Half-Life 2), we're becoming more and more used to seeing things happen in-game rather than just in cut-scenes.

So you won't be buying Pariah for the story, but because you like to shoot stuff; you like it to be coarse, compulsive, a pounding offensive on the senses and the trigger finger - Pariah is certainly all of these things.

Like Halo, the speed of the action comes from the wits and bullets of the baddies, not from your character leaping around like an agitated bunny on speed a la Unreal Championship.

Every single weapon is fun to use - a joyful compromise between power and precision, speed and style, danger and destructiveness.

The shotgun is better than Halo's overpowered yet seemingly lightweight offering, while the grenade launcher reminds us of the halcyon days of Quake 2 - you can bounce them off walls, into clusters of enemies - and with little touches like remote detonation, the feeling of total control amidst the mayhem is maximised.

Our personal favourite has to be the plasma rifle - whether used in burst fire mode or upgraded to launch bombs with a devastating blast radius, it's a pleasure to use - particularly given the remarkable ragdoll deaths it deals out to the enemy.

It's probably worth noting though, that with so many enemies, particle and physics effects going on, there's the occasional bit of slowdown, so you can pretty much forget about enjoying the split-screen co-op because of that.

Once the aesthetic of endlessly satisfying death-distribution has been nailed, what else does the FPS formula need?

Not vehicles; they're generally just a temporary gameplay varying experience - lightweight, not much fun to drive and pathetically armed in Pariah single-player (but thankfully don't figure for much of the game), so we'll happily overlook them.

No, it's about location. And yes, once again, Pariah treads a fine line in this department.

Without exception, every level is a rollercoaster ride - a scorched, gut-busting, brain-fracturing sprint run that is never in danger of leaving the strict rails that guide you rigidly through each environment. But then it would have to be, wouldn't it?

You're always on your own, so there's no scope for open battlefield, tactical manoeuvres. No real complaints there.

What's really controversial are the locations themselves; astounding backdrops always bring any game to life, and whilst Pariah is not short on amazing vistas, the worlds are so grim and deathly that you'll often feel smothered. Plot-wise, that was obviously the intention, but it certainly doesn't make for memorable levels.

From the Quake-style industro-punk factories to arid desert and lifeless futuristic architecture, every new level is just another place you want to get out of fast. Which if nothing else, works to create the continued sense of urgency that underpins most of the game's events.

Whilst there are breaks - the early forest areas, a murky cargo-train and a fight between two dropships high above a leafy canyon - these still stick in the head because of their formulaic gameplay rather than their attempts to do anything truly original.

And while the graphical quality is undeniably high, the inconsistency in texture detail means the game never quite escapes the clutches of a slightly too obvious rough-around-the-edges feel.

So the wider picture might not be a good one; an indecently short single-player campaign, some forgettable levels, a bit of slowdown - it's all sounding a bit like you should be popping those coins back in your wallet.

But let's not forget, Halo had identical flaws that we over-looked, especially a lack of smoothness in co-op.

So look closer - at the heart-stopping panic as enemies attack from all directions while you crouch whimpering behind minimal cover, desperately trying to heal; at the thrill of storming through a warehouse of enemies, joyfully flicking between weapons as each one clicks dry; at the frantic alarm you feel as a bullet from an unseen enemy hits, leaving you wheeling around on your last few drips of energy, trying to plug him before he drops you...

At best it's ridiculously worthy gaming and no mistake, and to top it all off, there's an absolutely storming bout of multiplayer fun to be had.

Whether split-screen, system linked or played over Live, Pariah multiplayer is outstanding. While it adheres to many of the classic rules, in terms of Xbox shooters Pariah fills the happy-hardcore blasting niche we've been missing.

For starters, there's no radar - Pariah bravely chucks you into the fray without any assistance. A smart move we say; because the maps are so intuitive, the action so directed, that after a minute's orientation you'll have forgotten you ever needed a radar and be going at it on that supreme reflex action that we know and love.

Of course, Pariah is tactical as well; the CTF maps, rather than being open, follow the classic one-main-route formula, leading to blood-for-all firefights and intense breakthroughs.

We'd even go so far as to say that the vehicles come into their own in this mode; it's hard to begrudge them their simple handling when it's all that stands between you and a flag cap.

On top of this comes the map editor, which adds an honest dimension of fun to the game. Suffice to say it's the greatest level editor ever seen in a console game, by a not inconsiderable margin. Trust us, you have to try it - it's so simple that in minutes you'll be on your way to creating your dream multiplayer arena.

The health and weapon upgrades from the single-player game translate superbly here; players can heal anywhere but only out of combat and by choice (in your face Halo!), while the weapon upgrades mean an early kill and the consecutive upgrade it awards can lead to interesting early lead scenarios.

We'll dissect it all fully in our Live review next month (XBW 27), but it's worth mentioning that, again, there's a feeling that a couple of things aren't quite right here.

The deathmatch maps are all just a tiny bit too big for those playing split-screen with three mates, and there's only four of them! Then again, there are some generally excellent AI bots to make up the numbers and a slew of astonishingly high quality CTF maps that more than make up for this.

So - once you've played Pariah - you'll be convinced that despite the shortcomings, it was all worth it. Yet still that niggle remains - from such talented coders, why not that one last coat of polish?

We wouldn't dare suggest Digital Extremes wanted to get this project out of the way so they can all move on to more important, next-gen work, but sometimes it feels like it.

However, with the endless possibilities for creating and downloading maps, and DE's track record for giving away new content, there's not too much scope for complaint, unless you don't have Xbox Live. In which case, you've only yourself to blame - it's essential these days.

Pariah is out now for Xbox and PC and will be released for PS2 this summer

Once you get around the surface misgivings you'll find a punchy, one-time thrill ride of a game. With multiplayer added it's indispensable

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox, PC


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