In January of 2008 Futuremark—a studio previously known only for their benchmarking applications—decided to enter the gaming industry proper by founding their own development studio. In August 2008 the newly established outfit officially announced their debut project, a multiplayer-only first person shooter named “Shattered Horizon.”

The plot is set 40 years in the future where a disastrous explosion has created a massive crater on the Moon, sending debris flying into space.  The explosion itself rocked the MMC (Moon Mining Cooperative) colony that was conducting the operation and the wave of space junk sent flying left the near-by International Space Station and the ISA (International Space Agency) crew aboard in bad shape.

After causing such a cataclysmic event the MMC finds itself facing serious consequences for their negligence. With the MMC seeing the ISA as a threat to their existence and both sides being cut off from earth and in desperate need of supplies, fighting begins to break out. You jump into the spacesuit of a member of one of the two sides and fight for your survival.

The concept and proposed gameplay mechanics immediately attracted me, but seeing as how creating pretty cinematics that gauge a video cards performance and designing a playable game are two entirely different things I naturally kept my enthusiasm subdued. Luckily, after having played the retail release I’m happy to report that aside from some resolvable issues their first effort has turned out to be a solid one.

The games most touted and most unique feature is the Zero-gravity combat. While not new in terms of concept or execution, it isn’t done very often so it still feels like a fresh mechanic relative to all of the standard shooters released every year. A setting such as this allows for levels where all concepts of direction are relative to the player’s current orientation and makes for interesting opportunities to kill and be killed.

That’s not to say that all of the action takes place off of the ground; you also have the option to anchor yourself surfaces, allowing you to turn anything you want into the floor. Anchoring steadies your aim so you can effectively use the sniper scope and also allows you to be mobile without using your thrusters which make you show up on player’s radars. It will also allow you to defend capture points from any angle provided to you by the environment, giving you the opportunity to get the drop on players who aren’t regularly checking every direction when they enter a new area.

Also at your disposal is the ability to go into “Silent Running Mode,” which disables all of your suits functions save for life support and low-level thrusting. The advantage of using this mode is that you will not show up on players’ radars and you will not be outlined on their HUD while in their line of sight. However, those same advantages can also be disadvantages as your teams mates will be affected the same way, leaving you open to potential accidental team kills.

There are three game modes in SH: Skirmish, Battle and Assault. The former being standard Team Deathmatch and the latter two being centered around capturing key points on the map. In battle mode either team can cap the points on the map and may do so in any order, the objective is to take control of all of the points to end the match. Assault mode differs by consisting of two rounds in which one team defends and the other assaults. In order to win a team needs to have two victories, meaning that if you start on the assaulting team you have to successfully capture all of the points in the first round and then successfully defend the points you just captured in the subsequent round. If you win the first but lose the second the game ends in a draw.

During Skirmish mode gameplay generally involves a lot of skulking about looking for people to pick off from a distance or sneak up on, with the occasional firefight where multiple people happen to converge on the same location. Conversely, the capture modes are almost entirely made up of firefights concentrated around the various capture points. When playing in a server with balanced teams these firefights are often tense tug of wars in which each team trades off on having the upper hand until the point is eventually capped or the match timer expires.

Shattered Horizon contains one gun which has three functions: Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle, and Grenade Launcher—none of which offer any surprises. The gun itself holds 60 rounds of ammunition and while in sniper mode each shot uses 10 rounds, limiting you to 60 assault shots or 6 sniper shots per clip. However, the game gives you an infinite supply of clips. Futuremark probably couldn’t figure out a sensible way to implement an ammo resupply system that fit within the constraints of the game, assuming they even tried to do so. This could have made needing to reload at all seem pointless, but it does still serve as something to keep in mind during fights. It forces you to be conservative with your shots so that you aren’t caught defenseless because you need to change clips in the middle of a heated battle.

The Grenade Launcher, on the other hand, does have limited ammo. When you spawn you are given four universal grenade payloads which only refill upon respawning. EMP grenades do what you’d expect, while MPR grenades create a concussive blast that doesn’t cause much damage, if any at all, and serves to send enemies flying away from the center of the explosion. The final type of grenade is an Ice grenade which essentially serves as space smoke, visually concealing you from enemies’ screens and masking your heat signature from their radar. Grenade types can be switched between at will and don’t have individual limits, allowing you to use all of your allotted grenades as one type or mix and match.

Aside from the projectile-based attacks, you also have a one-hit kill melee attack to use as a last resort or a way to get a kill without putting on a light show. Many players have become quite skilled at swooping in on unsuspecting players like a Space Eagle clutching a Bayonet in-claw.

While some may argue that the lack of variety in the games arsenal is a bad thing, I don’t entirely see it that way. Sure, variety is the spice of life, but doing it this way does have the advantage of creating a level playing field where players are separated by skill more than they are by their weapons. Any gamer should be able to relate to the frustration of running into somebody with a powerful weapon immediately after spawning, a situation that this game avoids by having fixed weaponry.

Unfortunately, the lack of maps cannot be justified so easily as the game ships with a mere four of them. The included maps are very playable, mind you, with all of them being designed to make sense with the context of the game’s setting and utilize the game mechanics. Among the environments on display are a mining facility, a research outpost, a beaten-up International Space Station and an asteroid field composed of Moon fragments which arcs around the Earth.

Regardless of what variety Zero-G combat and the utilization of volume rather than surface area in the map design do offer, it’s simply not enough to make up for the small selection. Futuremark is attempting to remedy this problem by way of a recently announced map pack dubbed “Moonrise,” which is currently in closed beta testing by people who pre-ordered the game and select people from the pre-release closed beta. The Moonrise pack will add four new maps to the list and should bring some much needed variety to the map rotation, but until then players will need to be content with what’s available. Another map pack after Moonrise is also planned, I believe, but anything beyond that is likely dependent on how well the game sells.

Shattered Horizon makes use of a modified version of the engine that powers 3DMark Vantage. As a result of this, if you want the game to run at all you’ll need a fully DirectX 10 capable graphics card and operating system, meaning Windows XP users aren’t going to be playing this game. Furthermore, In order to enjoy the game at a decent resolution and detail setting you’ll need at least a mid-range card from nVidia’s current generation (2xx) or ATi’s previous generation of cards (4xxx).  It’s possible to lower the detail to achieve playable frame rates lesser hardware, but unless you don’t care what the game looks like I wouldn’t recommend it.

That being said, the game offers up a solid graphical presentation. HDR lighting with tone mapping is made of great use here, blooming concentrated areas of harsh sunlight and diming your vision when looking into the sun. The environment, objects and players all cash well-rendered soft shadows on the environment and light filters through your visor to provide some attractive looking lens flare. Textures are mostly crisp and clear and the somewhat sterile and monochromatic color scheme fits the setting well.

Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t a few rough edges. You’ll sometimes run into geometry that’s noticeably blocky compared to other near-by geometry and at sharp angles the self-shadowing normal mapping the game uses can look a bit awkward. Lights are sometimes visible through walls, giving away the position of players when they should be hidden. Lastly, the implementation of Ambient Occlusion in the game while sufficient in adding depth, also ads a slightly distracting and noticeably blocky aura around objects and is accompanied by a hefty performance hit. The HUD is drawn in a way which suggests it’s being projected onto your visor and works well, but I can’t help but wish that they went all the way with the concept and built a Metroid Prime style helmet display to further increase immersion and visual appeal.

If you like the concept, you’ve got the hardware to run it and aren’t turned off by any of the drawbacks I’ve mentioned then I’d say it’s worth the meager $20 asking price. The lacking map selection will hopefully be not-so-lacking in the near future and as of now there is a small but active player base in which you can usually find a game when you fire it up, and the more people that give the game a chance the higher that potential player base will get.

I would recommend that anybody who decides to buy SH gives themselves time to learn the games movement. Trust me; it’s far more enjoyable after you’ve learned to navigate the game world effortlessly. It would also be wise to not be too discouraged by occasionally running into stacked teams, such situations can ruin any multiplayer game. When you do get into a balanced match the game is very tense and highly enjoyable. While not free of faults, it’s overall a very solid effort from a new studio that I’d like to see more from at some point in the future.

Advertisements