Reviewed: September 18, 2002
Released: June 6, 2002
Without a doubt, the FPS (first-person shooter) genre is my favorite. Ever since the days of the original Wolfenstein 3D I have been hooked on these games like some kind of drooling junkie wandering the aisles of my local software store looking for my next fix. I guarantee that if you name an FPS game I’ve played it, and most likely finished it.
So when GORE: Ultimate Soldier crossed my desk it mysteriously found its way into my private review queue. Now after several sleepless nights I am here to tell you about this excellent game that offers an interesting twist on a genre that I thought had been explored from every possible angle.
GORE follows the same progressive design style as Unreal Tournament, being first and foremost a multiplayer game with a solo campaign tossed on, almost as an afterthought. This quickly becomes apparent when you realize there are only 10 unique character models to choose from. It took me several hours to get used to the concept of gunning down hundreds of enemies that all looked and acted the same.
Previous games that have used bots relied on non-descript characters, but the characters in GORE are actually very unique in their appearance, their abilities, and their tactics. This uniqueness is one of the features that sets GORE apart from its peers.
The entire underlying concept of GORE is quite innovative drawing on sci-fi, virtual reality elements such as those found in the Matrix. The story is short and sweet and told with a few screens of text before the blood starts spraying. In the mid-21st century crime is rampant. Criminals have all but taken over and when the government tries to eliminate them over 70% of all civilization is destroyed. To better train their soldiers, the UMC (the good guys) creates a VR training sim called the Meat Machine. The UMC quickly gets a tactical advantage over the MOB (the bad guys). In a desperate attempt, the MOB launches an assault on the Meat Machine infecting it with a virus that traps over a thousand soldiers hooked into the training sim at the time. It’s now up to you to fight the MOB and rid the Meat Machine of the deadly virus.
You will quickly forget any pretense of a plot once the killing begins. This game is fast and furious, totally geared to action on a scale somewhere between Unreal Tournament and Serious Sam. Whether you are playing a huge multi-player frag-fest or blazing your way through the solo campaign, you are guaranteed to have some serious finger-twitching fun.
GORE exhibits numerous features (and limitations) that clearly indicate this is a multiplayer game. While many will play it offline and by themselves, the experience will probably not be as grand as when played with human teammates and opponents. The maps are relatively small and circular in design, geared for defensive positioning, sniping locations, and backtracking. As such, each of the missions are also fairly short.
Since the game is designed for team vs. team with respawning characters, you will be fighting the same spiky-haired punk-rock chick or beer guzzling biker around every corner, even in the linear story mode. No explanation is given for these thousands of replicants, either in or out of the Meat Machine, but oddly enough I stopped caring after a few minutes and so will you.
Single-player gameplay is straightforward and simple. You run, jump, collect weapons, armor, bullets, and kill everything that moves (except for your AI controlled UMC guys – they die quickly enough on their own). You are given one or two objectives in the pre-mission briefing that are as simple as the gameplay; usually something like “kill this guy” or “blow up this item”, something you probably would have done anyway without being told.
Levels are simple and more arena or maze-like than anything else. Nothing is interactive in GORE aside from the occasional crate or cardboard box that can be destroyed for a random pick-up. Doors may as well be painted on the walls because none of them open. Computers and switches and other devices that “look” like they could be used are purely eye candy. Ultimately, this keeps exploration at a minimum and killing at a maximum – again, a feature of multiplayer arena combat.
You are allowed to pick from several skill levels, which affect a variety of gameplay components but mainly the AI of the enemy. On the lower levels you will often see enemies who just stand there with their back turned toward you waiting to get killed. Others might face you but not respond until you are right in their face. On the medium and difficult levels the game becomes a nightmare in frenzied action and frequent death. You are sure to find a difficulty level perfect to your skill or desired challenge level.
There are ten characters to choose from (5 on each team), and each has their own traits and unique abilities such as the ability to carry larger weapons, their speed, and their ability to replenish their stamina. Yes, this game has stamina, something I first remember being used in LucasArts, Outlaws; another fine FPS game (told you I played them all). Stamina slowly depletes as you run, jump, breath toxic gas, etc. When it’s gone you can’t do those things anymore and you can even get dizzy complete with wacky screen tilts and distortions.
Stamina doesn’t play a major part in the solo campaign but it does create a much welcomed check system for multiplayer combat, virtually eliminating the “bunny-hop” or “non-stop running” warfare tactics. It also allows characters just spawning into a game a fighting chance against possible “campers” who may be in a weaker state. I can’t recall ever running out of stamina in the single player missions, but I was able to take it away from my enemies with gas grenades or other tactics. It’s a great addition and offers some unique and challenging possibilities.
Weapons are plentiful and unique, and some of the 30 weapons border on insanely original. You have your staples like the chain-gun (that sounds an awful lot like a blender set to puree), pistol, riot gun, sniper rifle, and even a kick-ass flamethrower, but you also have a funky shotgun with green glowing plasma energy and a built-in shield generator, a quad-barrel shotgun (when two just isn’t enough), and a meat-saw (think chainsaw with long rusty barbs).
All weapons have secondary functions that are as fun as they are deadly. Perhaps my most favorite weapon and the most dangerous to use is the flamethrower that sprays out some funky looking fire that envelopes and burns your victims to a toasty crisp as they scream in agony. Speaking of fire, wall-mounted fire extinguishers are scattered about most levels and can be shot resulting in a satisfactory explosion taking out nearby enemies.
Additionally, any weapons or even health kits left lying around can also be shot for a nice explosion. This is a fun (and demoralizing) tactic in multiplayer when an injured or weaponless opponent is going for a pick-up and you blast it from afar, most likely killing him or at best depriving him of the item.
Armor is another feature that has been given special attention in GORE. Sure, other games have body armor or vests that your character can use, but in GORE this has been broken down even further into specific body armor gear such as leg armor, body armor, helmets, etc. Adding to the realism is the visual depiction of this armor as you slowly blast it off with well-aimed shots. This adds a significant strategic element when you have the burly biker lumbering toward you fully armored. A few shots to the head and his helmet blows off – a few more shots and his head follows.
Even without armor, there is excellent use of location-sensitive damage. Headshots will take down a foe quickly and a shotgun blast at pointblank range will results in a red stain on the wall and a few chunks of enemy in various corners of the room.
Control is pretty standard FPS fare. My only complaints were the touchy ladders that were hard to connect with (especially when going down) and the ultra-fast movement that made it hard to stand on boxes or stick to narrow ledges without falling off (even using the walk mode). Also, GORE didn’t recognize my thumb-button on my mouse forcing me to use the wheel as my secondary fire – sorry, I haven’t mutated that extra finger between my index and middle finger yet!
Whether you are going online for some frenzied fragging, or just taking a casual romp through the solo missions to satisfy your bloodlust, GORE has plenty to offer in the gameplay department.
Graphics in GORE are interesting and very unique. By design, this game will work on some of the older systems and video cards out there, but there is also support for the new and more powerful hardware. What this means is that everyone can play, some better than others. On my 1.4ghz Athalon with 512mb RAM and a GeForce 3 Ti500 card I was able to play this game at 1600x1200x32 with blindingly smooth frame rates.
The textures and overall design of GORE are rich with color, almost to a comic book or animated feature level. In some aspects it takes a bite out of the gritty violence being unleashed on your screen, and it may even lend itself to the VR premise of the Meat Machine, although real-life levels looked no different than the VR simulations.
The characters are all uniquely designed to be fun and threatening at the same time. You will laugh as you see the giant biker staggering toward you with beer in hand. You can easily outrun him and even shoot his beer to really piss him off, but if he catches you and connects with a punch you will regret it. Later on the characters all start to evolve. They will start wearing armor and carrying weapons giving them a totally new look and threat level.
Special effects are amazing including some powerful lighting effects and shadows. Fire is one of my favorite effects in GORE. It is not realistic fire in terms of what I’ve seen other games do, but more closely resembles a surreal animated fire effect like something out of an anime or even CGI rendered movie. Subtle effects are abundant like blowing apart an enemy with a rocket launcher and seeing individual body parts flying around the room, each on fire.
GORE features a totally new and original look that can’t really be compared to anything else out there now or in the past. That alone sets this game apart from its peers in both originality and visual quality.
The music in GORE is forgettable. No, seriously, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve logged more than 20 hours playing GORE on and offline and when I started writing this sentence I had to go load the game and listen to the music. It can best be described as atmospheric, much like the synth-tunes found in the Quake games. The opening theme has a military tone to it, but after than it all blends into the background.
Sound effects are excellent. Every weapon has a unique sound, and explosions and ricochets all sound lifelike and are scaled and positioned within the scene. There isn’t a lot of ambient noise in any of the levels, either real or in VR, but the sounds of non-stop fighting would preclude such noises anyway.
The speech and vocal taunts of the various characters is hilarious with my favorite being the big biker yelling at me to “Watch my beer!” when I’m filling him with lead. Each character has a good selection of phrases, but they will undoubtedly repeat after a few levels. Oddly enough, it didn’t bother me anymore than seeing the same five characters over and over again.
With 20 levels you can expect to blast your way through the solo game in 8-15 hours on a medium skill setting. These same levels double as your multiplayer arenas when you take the fighting online. Here you will find the meat of the game and literally countless hours of violently fun content.
Like most popular online games, GORE has a thriving online community already established. Finding a server or running your own is super-easy and GORE also uses GameSpy to make things even easier.
For even more added value, the designers have recently released a BONUS PACK that not only gives you three new levels, and a level editor, but also allows you to cooperatively play through the single player mode. This update also adds over 30 new improvements and features, which I won’t reprint here. You can read them yourself while you’re downloading the 32mb add-on.
Take it from someone who has played every FPS game released to date (even the bad ones); GORE is great fun, by yourself or better yet, online with a dozen friends or strangers who will soon be your friends. The game is bloody and violent and rightly deserves the M rating it got, but if you can handle the gore (sorry - I just had to work that in there) then you can expect months of lively entertainment.
It offers a unique premise and some truly original art design that sets it apart from anything else in the genre. Gameplay and level design is simple yet manages to remaining challenging for beginners and FPS veterans alike. While no single element of GORE stands out as a landmark achievement, the sum of all the parts is one of the most fun FPS titles you will play on your PC this year.