Shattered Horizon is, at the very least, unique in concept: a sci-fi multiplayer shooter where the entire game takes place in zero gravity a couple of hundred miles above the Earth among the detritus of the space program. You’re given the freedom to move in any direction, and you fight other astronauts in the remnants of the International Space Station and what remains of the moon.
It’s set in the not too distant future, so there’s an intentional clumsiness to your movement – you certainly won’t be charging around at Quake III speeds in these thick astronaut suits. The controls are well thought out, so you’ll soon get used to the fact that combat can be initiated from any angle. The combination of 3D radar and intuitive damage indicators on the HUD ensure you’re never left flailing around pumping bullets into the abyss when you’re under fire. In a pleasing twist, you can also attach yourself to a surface at any angle and switch to a scoped sniping mode on your single rifle, an option rendered useless when you’re floating around, but you pay for the increased firepower with vastly reduced movement speed.
It’s satisfying getting the drop on an enemy from an unconventional angle and watching his lifeless space suit float off into the void, but with the relatively slow pace you’re unlikely to be hooting and cackling with joy. And in space, no one can hear you cackle.
The main problem with Shattered Horizon is that beyond the basic drifting and shooting mechanic, there’s not much else to it. There are three modes: bog-standard team deathmatch (called Skirmish here), Battle, which is a Battlefield-inspired control point capture mode, and Assault, where players take turns to attack and defend control points.
Organised tactical assaults are less effective in Shattered Horizon’s disorientating environments, however, and they play like variations on a theme rather than distinct game types. Each of the four maps can accommodate all of the modes and, perhaps as a result, matches become sadly similar. The arenas are largely characterless collections of angular floating rocks and My First Space Base architecture.
The only truly arresting map is based on the International Space Station, where the station has been ripped in two by an asteroid. But even with the Earth hanging behind the conflict, it’s strangely lacking the supreme vertigo that battling in freefall over the planet should provoke. Given the relatively high system specs, and the developers’ reputation for making our PCs weep hot silicon tears with their renowned benchmarking software, 3DMark, we were expecting Shattered Horizon to be gorgeous; this rendering of outer space certainly isn’t going to be winning the Miss Universe award.
Shattered Horizon is diverting, and its zero gravity shoot-outs are not without their charm, but unfortunately, with only four maps on offer it shows its entire hand within the first couple of hours. There’s no coherency between matches, the ranking system offers no rewards, and the complete freedom of movement means the various arenas feel more like backdrops to identical action rather than uniquely challenging environments. Futuremark have promised more levels will be released later free of charge, but if they’re simply rearrangements of the existing textures and models, as three out of the four existing maps are, it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference.
Granted, Shattered Horizon is pretty cheap, but with nothing to keep people returning beyond the novelty of weightlessness, this game is likely to shed players quickly. Never has the vast expanse of outer space felt quite so limited.
Dec 3, 2009