Reviewed: June 1, 2005
Released: May 3, 2005
It only took me two hours of playing Pariah before I realized I was having much more fun than I ever did playing either of the Halo games. This revelation was enlightening and disturbing at the same time. Pariah mirrors a lot of the gameplay elements found in Halo, improving on most of them, and really only fails at delivering the same quality narrative as Bungieís space opus.
Going down the checklist we have a futuristic FPS game with some outstanding levels. Gone are the maze-like repetitive corridors that all blend together, and instead we get some breathtaking vistas and complex multi-level structures. We have vehicles including an armored buggy that rivals and controls nearly identical to the Warthog. We have a respectable arsenal of weapons and grenades and even the sectioned health meter that replenishes partially depleted blocks is taken right from Halo.
Pariah puts you in the role of Jack Mason, a doctor who is surprisingly adept with a gun and killing massive amounts of bad guys. On a routine patient transfer mission your shuttle is shot down by hostile forces and you crash on a planet. As you stumble around the wreckage your cargo Ė Karina, the patient, has broken out of her stasis tube and gets the drop on you. Another survivor shoots her from behind and the resulting blood splatter hits your face, immediately infecting you with the same virus of the patient you were escorting.
The rest of the game is basically a big race across the hostile planet in search of Karina and a cure for the virus, but there are plenty of bad guys who are also after the same thing. The setup for the plot is handled nicely and there are intermittent cutscenes throughout the rest of the game, but they arenít as frequent as weíve come to expect from other action titles.
I supposed this is a good thing for those of you who would rather play a game than watch it, but in the end Pariah feels a bit light in purpose. But what the game lacks in compelling story content, it more than makes up for in some of the best FPS gameplay you can find on the Xbox.
Jack gets a variety of weapons throughout the game, starting with the bone saw, a melee weapon for close-quarters combat, and a machine gun. Youíll collect other weapons as you progress through the levels along with weapon cores, green icons scattered about the levels that you can use to upgrade your weapons.
Each weapon can be upgraded numerous times, each upgrade costing an increasing amount of cores. The first upgrade costs one core, the second upgrade two, etc. There arenít enough cores in the game to upgrade everything so you have to make some important decisions early on. You can decrease your reload time on the shotgun or add a remote trigger to your grenade launcher. Some of the best upgrades are some of the simplest like decreasing the recoil factor of your machine gun making you much more accurate and able to fire for sustained bursts.
The grenade launcher is deceptively attractive as a primary weapon until you realize that many of the enemies are already hiding near explosive containers. You can often shoot these and take out one or more of these enemies. But donít think for a minute that the AI is lacking. The soldiers in this game are deadly serious about stopping you and they pull off some tactics that will have you thinking you are playing a multiplayer game.
Soldiers will always take cover and they will always work together to distract and flank your position. I was hiding behind a rock waiting for one guy to come by and instead, he came around the rock the other way, obviously having spotted me, and got me from behind. Guys with flamethrowers will try to force you into enemy fire or in once case, drove me back into a minefield. BOOM!
The health and healing system is quite unique. You have a multi-segmented health bar and as you take damage each block slowly depletes. If a bar has any white left in it and you can stay behind cover it will fill back up after a few seconds. Otherwise you will need to go for the health device, a small injector with refillable cartridges good for four blocks of health each.
Healing become a strategic element to the gameplay since you have to put away your weapon and equip the health device (done with a tap of the white button) then hold the fire trigger down for as long as you want to heal. This can take several seconds, during which you are totally vulnerable to attack.
Pariah auto-saves and checkpoints frequently, so you never have to worry about repeating too much of a level if you die. These save points are always placed just before a major conflict or just after a major accomplishment. Well done.
The interface and controls are really slick. The left trigger toggles between the bone saw and whatever other weapon you currently have equipped. You press the Y button to bring up a circular weapon menu then move the analog stick to quick-select a weapon or you can cycle weapons with the D-pad. The white button toggles the health injector and the right trigger fires. Everything else like crouching and jumping are right out of the FPS designerís handbook.
There are a few vehicles that you get to drive and in some cases ride along in a rail-like shooting sequence. The vehicles try to mirror those in Halo and they succeed from a control standpoint, but they are too easily damaged and destroyed, more often by careless driving than enemy fire.
Pariah is a visual masterpiece that, technically speaking, puts Halo to shame. The landscapes are breathtaking; the trees are gorgeous with their complex leaves that sway in the breeze. Textures are vibrant and pop off the screen with bump mapping and shadows. Even the load screens have a stylish monochromatic blue tint.
Lighting is fantastic and you get the obligatory lens flares as well as streaming rays that beam through the forest canopy with little bits of pollen floating and reflecting in their brilliance. Water isnít as overdone as it normally is in games, but it still looks very real and you see ripples and splashes when you walk through it or shoot into it.
Character models are very nice with detailed clothing and facial textures and there is even some care put into the lip-synching since the game graphics are used for the cutscenes. The various animations for the enemy as they scramble around seeking cover are realistic and well done.
Some of the levels are so complex I cannot even fathom the wireframe construction used to create them. One such level as you riding a moving platform through this massive steel construction of girders with connecting ramps, ladders, control rooms, and elevators.
Special effects are fully realized with some of the best being reserved for the weapons. One feature of the grenade launcher sucks up all surrounding debris and uses it for extra shrapnel in the blast. This effect is stunning. There is also an interesting blurring effect when you heal that actually impairs your ability to play the game for a few moments. Perhaps the best effect in the game is the fire, especially when itís being shot at you from a big guy with a fuel tank strapped to his back. This is easily some of the best fire I have seen in a video game to date.
The entire package is given the full HDTV treatment with progressive scan support, and unlike Halo, I didnít have to wait for a patch to fit the HUD on my widescreen TV.
The dramatic musical score give Pariah a movie-like ambience. Music composer Tim Larkin, whose previous work includes such games as Uru: Ages Beyond Myst and the original Prince of Persia, created the stirring themes, and each piece of music fits the environments and the gameplay perfectly. There are some sections of the game where there is no music. This not only enhances those areas where there is music, it also allows you to appreciate the rest of the aural package.
Sound effects are solid with powerful effects for the weapons, thunderous explosions that really kick my sub-woofer, and plenty of surround sound goodness thanks to the Dolby Digital mix. Vehicles have a hearty hum and the larger weapons and turrets sound most formidable.
Voice acting is excellent despite the writers' attempt to interject us with incessant profanity. I can understand the need for cursing in certain types of games, but I would expect a bit more sophistication from a technologically advanced civilization. If you can master space travel hopefully you can master the English language. What was probably intended to be shocking ends up becoming a forced and often humorous attempt to exploit the M-rating.
The story mode for Pariah spans 18 levels of varying length but the whole thing clocks in between 12-15 hours, not bad for an FPS these days, and there is a variable level of difficulty to tweak the gameplay to your desired skill level. Of course the true staying power in any FPS game these days is the multiplayer and Pariah doesnít disappoint.
Pariah supports online multiplayer for 12 players on a dedicated server, 6 in normal mode, and system link play for up to 16 players, half that of the PC, but still plenty for a good time. You have all of your standard modes, CTF, deathmatch, team deathmatch, siege, and assault. Digital Extremes has had plenty of practice with Unreal Tournament, so you can expect some quality gameplay and a vast amount of setup options.
If you are having trouble finding enough players you can pad out the teams with bots and even select your own set of weapons you want to use for the match. A map editor is included that allows you to create your own levels, with full control over placement of objects like vehicles, weapons, spawn points, etc. You can exchange maps over Xbox Live or just challenge others to play on yours.
Halo might have the story and those exquisite cutscenes, but when it comes to the raw gameplay and dynamic opponent AI, Iíd choose and play Pariah any day of the week. The game is full of ďwowĒ moments, both visually and during gameplay when you see the enemy perform some human-like action.
And for those of you that are in this for the multiplayer, Pariah comes fully loaded with Live and link support, numerous game modes, and more setup options than you might expect. The level editor also has the potential for keeping us in fresh content for months to come.
Pariah is a worthy contender in the FPS marketplace, and while I personally enjoyed it more than Halo Iím not delusional enough to think that it would ever replace it. But there is enough quality content and challenging gameplay to earn this title a spot on your gaming shelf.