Reviewed: April 16, 2003
Released: March 25, 2003
Devastation is a new team-based first-person shooter (FPS) built on a heavily modified next-generation Unreal Engine. Set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, Devastation pits teams of rebelling gang leaders, street fighters, mercenaries, and ex-military operatives together against armies of corrupt, high-tech corporate police in a battle to win control of a devastated world.
Devastation has a dynamic tactical component that allows the gamer to decide how much control to exert over non-player character teammates, from giving individual commands to giving no commands at all, game players can coordinate an 8-person attack, or go in guns blazing - itís their choice. With 36 different areas, more than 40 different weapons, numerous multiplayer game styles and over-the-top graphics, Devastation offers FPS fans a captivating experience.
The game not only uses next-generation Unreal Engine technology, but it also incorporates real-world physics, providing for realistic object movements and incredible rag-doll deaths. The environment is completely interactive, where everything can be destroyed or manipulated. Use garbage in the streets to set traps, or pick up broken bottles and slash your enemies. The use of sound in the game is dynamic as well allowing it to be manipulated or muffled to create diversions or to move around stealthily.
The advanced artificial intelligence controls enemies and teammates with micro-behaviors and heightened awareness. Teammates provide intelligent cooperation and assistance that seems almost too real. Also, bots react differently each time the game is played, lending incredible replay value. A single player game can often resemble the most frenzied multiplayer session you can imagine.
Difficulty levels notwithstanding, Devastation comes in two flavors, Arcade and Simulation. The Arcade mode is a fast and furious experience that pays tribute to the harrowing action from the golden era of Quake, Unreal Tournament and to some degree, Tribes. The AI is a bit more lax and most gamers will blast their way through the single player game in a few evenings.
The Simulation mode is where Devastation really shines. The AI becomes brutal with the computer-controlled enemies able to rip you several new orifices from hundreds of yards away. The enemy AI also works together which in turn forces you to do the same. Devastation becomes a much more strategic experience adding new obstacles that can only be overcome with patience and careful planning.
As good as the AI is in Devastation it is just that, AI, so even when you are in control of a small band of rebels going up against a small army of enemy forces you are only in direct control of one of these characters. The remaining bots will still look and act like the bots that we have all come to love from other games featuring bots. Some enemies are smarter than others and will take cover behind walls or other objects but when things get crazy you would swear you are a spectator in an online deathmatch full of bunny-hopping opponents.
The levels of interaction with your environment can boggle the mind at times. I remember taking refuge behind some crates only to have them blasted apart by enemy fire leaving me totally exposed and totally shocked. Nearly everything in the game can be broken, used, thrown, or tripped over. It may be real but it can often get annoying, as you try to cross a crowded room and find yourself tripping over chairs or repeatedly kicking them forward until you can steer around them.
The physics are quite sophisticated and there is a good attempt at giving items a weight and appropriate level of gravity. There is even an encumbrance option that will slow down your character as they collect and carry more weapons. As ambitious as the physics model is the game often bogs down under its own aspirations of realism. I remember another little game from 1998 called Trespasser that also fell victim to its own physics engine. Devastation has certainly advanced the technology but exhibits the occasionally oddity that is as amusing as it is distracting.
The levels are designed to accommodate the story yet they manage to offer some expansive environments, both indoors and out. Early in the game the levels are more traditional and linear. You have a set objective or waypoint with one way to get there and several obstacles to overcome along that path.
Later in the game the levels morph into something more suitable to multiplayer deathmatch arenas. This is about the time the number of enemies takes a significant leap turning the game into a multiplayer deathmatch Ė only with one player and a lot of bots. By this time you will have acquired the cloning technology, which is just a built-in excuse in the story to allow you to infinitely spawn dead characters turning the single player game into nothing more than a bot-match with objectives.
Controlling your teammate is just as easy as it was in the Unreal Tournament games. You bring up the command menu and select various commands for either the entire group or single members of your team. The AI does an admirable job of following your orders while exhibiting enough independent ďthoughtĒ to stay alive while doing so.
Multiplayer is more than an add-on or afterthought when it comes to Devastation, even though you are going to need to download a 68mb patch to make it work as intended. You have your traditional offering of game modes to choose from including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF, and Territories.
The first three modes need no explanation if you have ever played another FPS game, but Territories is new and perhaps the single best feature of Devastation. This mode is rather complex and has several objectives, the first being to locate the code to your enemyís base, then infiltrate and destroy their cloning technology. Once the opposing team has lost their spawning ability you can then go hunt down every last opponent. Extermination is the only way to win.
Hosting or joining online games is extremely easy using the tools built into the game and Devastation is supported by GameSpy, so finding other players isnít difficult. There is already an IRC channel dedicated to the game and it wonít be long before there is a thriving community of players that will hopefully translate into future expansions and mods.
The visuals in Devastation range from some of the best environments ever seen in an FPS, full of dark and gritty realism, to some lackluster character design and jerky animation that is almost comical in comparison to the levels they populate. In all fairness there is a lot going on in the game as far as computer AI and CPU processing so itís easy to forgive less-than-perfect character design in favor of realistic behavior modeling.
There are some really nice effects thrown in like lighting, particle effects, and a really cool rat-cam that you get to view when you are in control of these destructive little rodents. The game world is also populated with plenty of trash, papers, bottles, etc, that can be tossed around, smashed or ignored. Everything comes together to create a lifelike, and somewhat depressing world.
The minimum and recommended requirements listed on the box (and above) are somewhat of a joke. My 1.6 GHz with 512mb RAM and Ti500 video card was brought to its knees by this game. The same system that ran Unreal 2 flawlessly at 1280x1024x32 could only manage to spit this game out at 1024x768 and even then there were lengthy and severe periods of poor performance (mainly outdoors), even with all the extra options tweaked to their medium settings. Things get a bit more manageable when you go indoors and the draw distance is limited by architecture. Youíre going to need a powerhouse of a system to play this game at settings you may already be taking for granted with other games.
Out of the box, Devastation is in need of some work. The weapon sounds are downright horrible, and the voice acting ranges from average to below average. The best part of the audio portion of this game is the wonderful ambient sounds of the city or whatever environment you happen to be in at the time. The good news is there is already a patch available that will fix the weapons sounds (and some other issues). For the purposes of this review our score reflects the un-patched game. Iíve played the patched version as well and there is a definite improvement in the overall sound presentation, so if you download the 68mb patch you can add one point to the sound score.
The music is uninspired and fails to make much of an impression, which really shocked me when I found that Tommy Tallarico was responsible for some of the tracks. Tommy is a musical genius responsible for some of the greatest soundtracks in computer gaming history. This one wonít be going on his resume.
The single player game is fairly large and will take most gamers 20-25 hours to get through on simulation mode. You can breeze through in half that time on the arcade setting. Even though the story remains the same the unpredictable nature of playing with a bunch of bots could have you playing the single player game a second time through. There are some difficulty settings you can experiment with but these donít affect the game nearly as much as the arcade/simulation setting.
The true staying power of this title lies in the multiplayer modes and those will keep you happily occupied for months to come. Right now the game is still finding its niche and the community is just getting started, but as more and more people join the ranks of Devastation this could turn into the next Unreal or Quake.
Devastation is certainly ambitious but at times suffers from its lack of focus. The single player game starts off well enough then reverts to something fairly primal and simplistic. There are plenty of bugs and oddities that you will ultimately endure if you plan to enjoy this game, some of which are fixed in the recently release patch while others mysteriously remain intact.
If you enjoy a reasonably good FPS game with some tactical nuances set in a post-apocalyptic world then you will certainly find something to keep you entertained, although you may have to work at it a bit. The multiplayer aspects may give Devastation some extended life beyond the solo adventure depending on how fast and how large a community rises up around this title. Only time will tell.