Reviewed: August 20, 2006
Released: July 18, 2006
Last summer Digital Extremes released a relatively unknown FPS game called Pariah. This covert title slipped under most gamers’ radar, which is a shame because it was a really good action title with some great ideas, both old and new.
One of the more interesting elements of Pariah was the ingenious level designer built right into the game. Typically, console gamers aren’t afforded the luxury of designing their own maps (TimeSplitters 2 being one of the few exceptions), so when I heard that there was a new game coming out from both the publisher and developer of Pariah, a game with a heavy focus on multiplayer, I naturally assumed that they had just collected a bunch of fan-generated maps and cobbled together a quick release.
WarPath is thankfully much more than just a “map pack”, but only barely so. With bare minimum production value, little to no story (all text), repetitive map designs, and somewhat flawed AI, it’s hard to categorize WarPath as anything beyond a budget title for those starving for yet another FPS game.
WarPath follows three alien species; the Ohm, the Kovos, and the Coalition, all fighting for control over a single planet, Kaladi. All three factions have their own unique agendas and you get to pick the faction you want to fight for. As you attempt to claim this world for your race, laying waste to your enemies as you strive to attain dominance on a futuristic battlefield.
While the focus of WarPath is obviously on the multiplayer aspects, at the time I was reviewing this game I simply could not find anyone online who was actually playing it. I even waited a few extra weeks, delaying this review in hopes of finding some online competition. I did manage to eventually find a few random players and get in some smaller multiplayer sessions, but nothing beyond six players, a far cry from the supported 16.
While I waited for online competition to materialize I had plenty of opportunity to explore the single player elements of WarPath, which were surprising inventive. You still play the same four variations of the game against computer-controlled bots, but the way these levels are presented is actually quite clever.
You start off with a triangular shaped grid of sectors that make up the map of the planet. Each faction starts off in their own corner and you move about the map, almost like a strategy board game. When you move to an enemy occupied sector you must fight for control.
Each sector represents a different game mode variation as well as possibly unlocking a new weapon that you can use in future battles. When you start the game you only have two of the six possible weapons for your race, and by winning battles across the grid you can unlock the other four.
The four battle modes are pretty standard, even the new Frontline Assault, my personal favorite, has already been done better in Unreal Tournament. In this mode, you are required to capture a linear series of waypoints. As you capture each node you gain ground until you reach the generator at the main base. Destroy that to win. The trick is to capture and hold each node by defending it against the opposing faction until the timer counts down.
The AI in WarPath is questionable on all but the hardest difficulty setting. Obviously, the focus is on multiplayer and human interaction, but that doesn’t excuse the shoddy tactics and pathfinding I witnessed on just about every game played at anything less than the “Flatlined” setting. Only on the highest setting does the game get remotely challenging and the bots start to act and react with some battle-ready intelligence.
I’m assuming that the longer this title is out there and the sooner the price drops to a more reasonable $20 that more gamers are likely to pick it up, but Groove Games definitely needs to step-up their marketing. As of this review (4 weeks after release) I have yet to see a single copy of this game (Xbox or PC) in any software or retail store, and most people I talk to have never even heard of it.
Online multiplayer is currently limited by a lack of available opponents, so many of your online battles will be padded with bots. The Xbox limits the multiplayer to 8 and the PC goes up to 16, but if you choose to run a dedicated server you can double those numbers. There are also additional limits based on the game mode with more people being allowed to play in DM and Team DM modes than CTF or Frontline Assault.
Frontline Assault also adds vehicles to the mix, but given that even the largest level in WarPath is an exercise in claustrophobia, it makes no sense to even bother with them unless you just like to roll over the opposition. The mounted weapons are not nearly as accurate as handheld firearms and the driving mechanics are questionable at best. The two-seater Razorback is a far cry from the functionality of Halo’s Warthog.
Probably one of the only interesting things about the game is the CAM system brought over from Pariah. This allows you to pick up modules on the battlefield and upgrade your weapons (or med kit) in a variety of ways. This concept certainly allows for a lot of flexibility in the gameplay and players can tailor their experience on the fly, but some upgrades seem almost too powerful leading to some balancing issues in the overall game. Just ask anyone who has been sliced and diced by the Vibro Blade.
The Xbox seems to have a difficult time maintaining fluid framerates, odd since Pariah looked and played so good, and even more odd since the levels in WarPath are a fraction in size to some of the massive outdoor venues of last year’s FPS. Level design is pretty basic with simple architecture and repeating textures and landscape. Many levels look nearly identical with only a slight shift in the color pallet or some texture replacements.
The single-player game seems to manage a bit better, but there can still be some jerky moments in especially tight quarters with lots of AI enemies and flashy effects. It only gets worse when you go online and introduce the complications of network code and potentially laggy opponents. It can make driving vehicles troublesome and aiming downright impossible at times.
To its credit, WarPath does offer some creative weapons designs and stunning visual effects including some of the best explosions of recent memory. Lighting and shadow effects are in full use as well as some cool distortion effects and alternate vision modes. There are some excellent textures for some of the body armor if you can get close enough to see it.
The presentation is minimal with text screens to tell the background story and a hex-like map to plot your world domination. The in-game HUD is a direct knockoff of Pariah right down to the directional CAM menu.
There isn’t much to talk about with the sound presentation. The music is atypical techno and rock tracks that have become the norm for these types of games. I suppose it is intense and repetitive enough to keep the adrenaline flowing for a few hours before it starts to wear you down.
The sound effects are certainly more impressive and varied with some great sounds for each of the weapons and some thunderous explosions. It all comes together in an immersive 3D Dolby Digital mix that puts you in the battle.
At $30, the Xbox version is a hard recommendation. There just isn’t enough here to hold your interest and what is offered is average at best. WarPath does have some great moments but those are too few and far between to justify anything more than a rental or at best, a $20 purchase.
Incidentally, the PC version is already at $20 and offers much better graphics, smoother framerates, and better online gameplay, although nobody seems to be playing this game on the PC either. I had even a harder time finding competition on the PC than I did the Xbox.
WarPath definitely has the look and feel of an expansion pack, and if it had been marketed as such it probably would have gone over a lot better. The game definitely has its moments, but you’ll have to play a lot longer than you probably want to if you want to experience half of them.
In the end, this game will slip away into the same obscurity as Pariah, but whereas Pariah died because of no marketing campaign, WarPath will die because of no marketing campaign, no availability, no online competition, and the simple fact that it just doesn’t do anything to further the genre.