Take one look at Karina. Is this the face of a woman who could bring the entire galaxy to its knees? (Oh no, you can't because they won't let us internet types publish the shots - Ed ) Beauty can be deceptive though. Karina is a pariah, the unfortunate carrier of a deadly pathogen. In fact, she's so deadly that the authorities are happy to nuke Earth to stop her. Maybe she's not the kind of girl to introduce to mum and dad...
As military doctor Jack Mason, you're sworn to protect the sick and do everything in your power to save Karina. Ironically, that probably means slaughtering hordes of escaped convicts, corrupt prison wardens and insane religious fanatics. You're dealing out a prescription for total annihilation!
Pariah is the latest FPS from Digital Extremes, the developer responsible for Unreal Championship (Issue 10, 9.2) on Xbox. It has a long history of making top-class shooters, having also worked on all the Unreal Tournament games for PC. Although this is their first foray into a new franchise, Pariah maintains all the qualities that Digital Extremes is known for; exciting weapons, dramatic visuals and cutting-edge technology.
There are 18 single-player maps in total. You are just about to transport Karina from a military prison to an off-world medical station when your space pod crashes down in the wastelands. It's an inhospitable place occupied by prisoners who got out on a day pass and never went back.
"The most important thing in any FPS is the weapons system," divulges Digital Extremes' founder and creative director James Schmaltz. We tend to agree with him, especially after wielding some of the lethal little numbers in Pariah. Eight weapons sounds a little meagre, but that soon expands to more than 30 thanks to an inventive upgrade system.
"The upgrade system is almost like an action RPG where you spend experience points," says Schmaltz. "Instead of experience points though, you're trying to collect Weapon Energy Cores (WECs). While most of these can be found on the beaten path, hardcore players who want to max out every weapon will have to search high and low for the high-value WECs."
He continues, "The first upgrade for each weapon is easy to get but you need twice as many WECs for the second, and three times as many again for
the most powerful enhancement.
As you go through every couple of levels, not only do you find the WECs but also get to try them out in a new situation. It's a really cool extra thing to look for instead of just the standard type of pick-ups."
Each weapon has three lights to indicate its current level of enhancement. Tantalisingly, you won't always know what the upgrades do before you spend precious your WECs on them. It's always fun to guess just how much carnage the 'Dual Warhead' or 'Titanium Concentrators' will cause and thankfully you're rarely disappointed.
Schmaltz confesses, "We wanted to keep a lot of the favourites from Unreal Championship. We found that there's a huge demand for certain types like the shotgun, which originally we weren't going to have."
That's not to say that the weapons haven't been given a fresh twist though. Pariah's grenade launcher starts out like the flak cannon from Unreal Championship, but soon evolves into a launcher for Duke Nukem 3D-style pipe bombs that can be detonated remotely. Pariah's sniper rifle is just as cool. It can be upgraded with both thermal vision and armour-piercing rounds.
Pariah adds an extra twist by making certain weapons counter each other. Brandishing the plasma rifle gives you the added bonus of some anti-glare goggles. These protect you from the blinding flash of the plasma, which is equally helpful when others are wielding it against you.