We've always hated going to the doctors. Whether it was for a minor childhood ailment that at the time seemed like we were at death's door, or more recently to the 'personal health' unit of the hospital where the nurse asks you lots of embarrassing questions. And no, thanks, we don't want a lollipop to make it all better. Pariah, the latest shooter from Unreal creator Digital Extremes however, puts a decidedly more enjoyable spin on medical matters,
We could harp on about how FPSs are ten a penny on Xbox at the moment, and how a game has to be pretty special to stand out from the crowd. But Pariah is genuinely different from other Xbox shooters, playing and looking more like a PC title than a console one. We couldn't help but think of, dare we whisper it, Half-Life 2 whilst playing it. 'Blasphemers' the PC crowd may cry, yet here we are, enjoying a stunning-looking blaster that features astounding physics, right in the here and now. And this developer has done its body-flinging best to give Valve a run for its money.
Right from the opening cutscene, Pariah's excellent script draws us into a murky futuristic world of mankind-ending viruses and conspiracy theories. Needless to say, the absorbing plot features more twists than a dancing worm high on ecstasy, so we don't want to spoil the surprises. All you need to know is that you - Dr Mason - wake up, dazed and confused from a crash in hostile lands with a killer virus on the loose. And from the get go, it all goes absolutely bloody mental. Because it's an archetypal doomsday scenario, you won't be surprised to find out flower-collecting kids skipping through sun-drenched meadows are absent from this game world. Instead, desolate wastelands are punctuated with intricately designed, impressively epic industrial complexes. Intelligent level design ensures there's always an elevated position on hand to take a breather and put your sniper rifle to use, whilst the developer has provided just the right amount of cover to ensure a fine balance between tactical gameplay and frenetic all-out blasting.
But it's not all Mad Max meets Blade Runner. The speeding train level, and the episode where you battle an attacking command ship before boarding it, are refreshingly different and will really get your bloodlust flowing. The indoor settings boast great-looking textures and nice lighting, though this attention to detail is somewhat lost in the bigger, blander expansive levels.
The plus side of these environments are the vehicles. Although fun, they're something of a wasted opportunity. Vehicular combat is limited, as is the overall use of the vehicles themselves - it seems they're only present to get from A to B that little bit quicker. The Bogie, for example, is similar to Halo's Warthog to drive. However, Pariah's people carrier is nowhere near as user-friendly to drive as MC's ride, and handles nowhere near as well. It's a laugh to hop behind the beefy rocket launcher and let friendly AI tear around in the jeep (as long as you can stomach the sometimes erratic camera). Yet with you behind the wheel, the Bogie frequently gets stuck on even the smallest of rocks. You'll scream in frustration as it flounders around like a giant turtle atop a poacher's spear. Not the best example of an All-Terrain Vehicle.
Countless games tout the virtues of the Havok engine, though few put it into practice as well as Pariah. It's this fantastic, real-life physics engine that is literally the driving force behind the game's appeal. There's a huge amount of interaction with the environment throughout the game, including a wealth of destructible scenery to demolish (see Faulty Towers, far right). Explosive barrels are an age-old cliché in first-person shooters, yet the stunning physics add a further dimension to this. A wave of enemies advancing worryingly fast up that slope? No problem. Simply give those barrels a couple of shots to tip them down the incline, then either let the bouncing bombs crush your hapless foes or give them an extra blast to detonate in precisely the right place. Enemies also have the same idea; it's truly terrifying to try to push up a staircase with toxic barrels raining down on you. The resulting explosions hammer home the genius of