Review: Pariah (XB)

Game: Pariah
Developer: Digital Extremes
Distributor: Groove Games
Genre: FPS
Release Date: 05/03/05

Well, this is my first official review, so I just want to say… Look ma! I’m on Inside Pulse! Whooooooo!

Ok, now that we have that out of the way…

For the longest time I refused to play a First Person Shooter on a console. It just seemed wrong somehow. For one thing, a controller could never properly simulate a keyboard and mouse, and for another, 95% of the reason you played an FPS was to be able to hop on line and frag the hell out of your friends. That is assuming that your computer was capable of running the game… Quake III anyone?

Of course with the invention of the dual analog controller and online connectivity (I suppose I should just say X-Box Live), FPS’s on consoles now take up a huge portion of the market. Just look at the number of sales for Halo 2 last year. Additionally, you really don’t need to worry about whether a game is going to run on your console, as it was specifically developed for that system.

Unfortunately with the flood of FPS’s on the market now, it’s very hard to find one that is worth your time. Sure, every now and then a real gem like Half-Life or Halo pop up… but for every one of those you’ve got ten others that could be considered average at best. So where does Pariah, one of the newest FPS’s to hit the X-Box fall in? Well, if you’ve read the tagline, you all ready know… but let’s find out why…

1. Story

Welcome to the future! Although when in the future is something of a mystery. You are Jack Mason, a doctor escorting a mysterious woman in a cryocasket when suddenly your transport ship is shot down somewhere over the prison planet known as Earth.

Whoa, just had a small flashback to Judge Dredd there… Moving on…

Anyway, once you’ve regained consciousness, you find that the mysterious woman is now awake, and pretty pissed off. To make matters worse, she gets shot in the shoulder, spraying her blood all over you, which just happens to contain a mysterious virus that infects you. And to top it all off, a mysterious enemy force captures the mysterious woman, and now it’s up to you to save her, find a way to cure both of you, and figure out who exactly your enemies are.

Mysterious, isn’t it?

While not a bad premise in and of itself, even if it is somewhat clichÃƑԚ©d, the story never really develops in a way that makes sense, and by the end of the game you’re more likely to be left scratching your head than feeling satisfied.

Now I will grant you that FPS’s have never really been known for their intricate storylines, but at the same time, without a decent one there isn’t much to keep you playing the single player game.

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

Considering that the game was made by the same folks that brought us Unreal, I was really hoping for more out of the graphics. On the whole, they aren’t bad. But there is nothing here that really stands out from other futuristic FPS’s either.

Character models are well done, but pretty bland on the whole. Not to mention the enemies are incredibly repetitive. The guy with the frag rifle looks just like the guy with the machine gun who in turn looks just like the guy with the grenade launcher… oh, but that fellow over there with the backpack? Yeah, he has a flame thrower, but I’m pretty sure he’s related to the other three guys as well. At least the two main characters look a little different, if uninspired.

The backgrounds and environment are all fairly well done, consisting of a mixture of wide-open outdoor spaces and claustrophobic futuristic interiors. The textures are realistic, but once again, bland. Not to mention incredibly repetitive… You’ll come across the same watchtower, the same control room, and the same steel door again and again and again… I have to say this about your enemy… they’ve got the whole uniformity thing down to a T.

Lighting and particle effects are generic, but done well. Explosions look pretty realistic, water has a nice wavy appearance to it, and smoke and fog billow and plume just like you would expect.

However, even though the graphics are all pretty tame, there are still several areas where you will experience a significant amount of lag. And as any fan of FPS’s can tell you, lag is bad, m’kay? The funny thing is you don’t even have to be in the middle of a huge firefight to get slowdown. It’s almost as if the game just says “Oh hey, it’s been 15 minutes, let’s toss in a little lag to make things more interesting!”. At best, it’s tolerable. At worst, it’s down right annoying and will seriously affect what you are doing.

So in the end, Pariah looks good despite the occasional lag issues, but there is nothing here that hasn’t been done better in numerous other games.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

I’m starting to run out of adjectives to describe how average everything is, and I’m only on Sound? Shit…

The sound is pretty much a mixed bag. Some of the effects… the machine gun, sniper rifle, etc… sound pretty good. But other effects… splashing through water, the rocket launcher… just sound poor. I’ve got a pretty nice sound setup at home, and I was expecting to give my speakers much more of a workout than they ended up getting. There just isn’t any real punch to the game. The best compliment that I can give the sound effects is “serviceable”, which is just another way of saying they are mediocre.

Probably one of the most annoying sounds in the game is the enemy speech. Ye gods do they get repetitive! So not only are they all clones, but they all say the exact same things! Over… and over… and over… For the first 30 minutes or so of play I thought it was a nice touch, hearing them yell out maneuvers or call for help… but after a while I realized that they really only recorded maybe a half dozen or so different lines and just randomly yelled out a few. Whoop dee doo.

At least the dialogue for the main characters is pretty decent. Again, nothing inspiring, but it’s nothing that makes you want to skip the cut scenes or mute your speakers either.

Lastly is the music, which is once again generic at best. You get a little bit of action and the music kicks, only to fade out again once the fighting is over. The rest of the time is either light ambience or pure silence. Certainly nothing that is going to get stuck in your head, but nothing overly annoying either.

Sound Rating: 4/10

4. Control and Gameplay

If you’ve every played another FPS, then you know exactly what to expect here. Move and strafe with one stick, turn and aim with another, fire with the right trigger. Hey, why fix the formula if it isn’t broken?

Although in a move of pure strangeness, they assigned your melee weapon, a bonesaw, to the L trigger. Ok, odd, but not too bad right? Personally I’d rather have had something else assigned to the L trigger like maybe jump. Of course you can always change your controller configuration around in the Options menu, but the default settings work best in my opinion.

So yeah, standard FPS controls. Have fun.

Wait a minute… I almost forgot. Did you know you get to drive vehicles, too? Cool, huh? Well, in theory… but there’s a good reason I tried to forget about that aspect of the game.

Perhaps the kindest word I can give to the vehicle controls is sloppy. Actually if you were listening to me when I was playing the game you would have heard a whole string of expletives directed at the vehicle controls. Basically they tried to emulate the two stick movement that you use while running around on foot… one stick to go forwards/backwards, on stick to turn. Only the same stick for turning is also used to aim your weapons, which can cause all kinds of problems. And heaven forbid you ever try to turn around, as the controls are completely counter-intuitive in reverse.

Lastly are the controls for Pariah’s mapmaker utility. I was actually amazed at how easy it was to create a map from scratch. Need to raise a bit of land? No problem. Want to smooth out that jagged hill over there? Piece of cake. Ready to toss around a few trees, buildings, and vehicles? Easy as pie. Granted, you can’t create your own items or buildings, but as far as being able to whip together a pretty decent map in a half hour and start playing it online, things couldn’t be simpler.

So in the end, fighting on foot… no problem. Fighting in a vehicle… big problem. Using the map creation interface… pretty smooth.

Control and Gameplay Score: 6/10

5. Replayability

Well, it’s an FPS… so for the most part the replayability of the game is completely dictated by how much you enjoy multiplayer. And this is one of the few areas that the game succeeds pretty well, as the single player campaign isn’t worth running through again, assuming you even bother to finish it the first time.

Pariah offers a number of multiplayer modes that are fairly enjoyable, from your basic Deathmatch to Capture the Flag. But in a strange move, you have to choose a “character class” upon joining a game. Basically what this means is you get two weapons and that’s it. Interesting, to say the least. Unfortunately some of the classes are way more overpowered than others (one class starts off with a sniper rifle and a rocket launcher), so people will probably only ever use three or four out of the ones offered. Personally I don’t like this at all.

Adding to the replayability is the mapmaker function described above, which will allow even the novice builder a chance to create and play their maps online. I imagine that if enough people pick this game up, it will only be matter of time before X-Box Live is flooded with home made maps. I guess you could say that this is one of the few saving graces for the game.

Finally, for those of you who don’t use, or have access to, X-Box Live, Pariah does allow you to play some of the multiplayer modes against a number of bots whose difficulty level you can choose. It’s not something that I see a lot of people using, but it’s nice that they included it nonetheless.

Replayability Score: 7/10

6. Balance

Like any decent FPS, Pariah offers several different difficulty levels for you to choose from based on your level of skill (or the level of punishment you wish to endure). This ranges from incredibly easy to almost mind numbingly hard. I’d recommend that the average player start on the second difficulty level and move up from there accordingly.

Now I will admit that I am not very good at FPS’s. Remember how I said earlier that I refused to play an FPS on a console for the longest time? Well, it’s because I have a hard time giving up my mouse and keyboard for a controller. It is very difficult for me to aim with an analog stick, and the sensitivity is always either way too low or way too high, even after I’ve adjusted it in the options. Because of that I tend to do decently in single player, and get my ass handed to me in multiplayer.

That being said, I found the single player portion of the game to be fairly easy, and the AI for the computer to be almost laughable. When fighting, one of two things inevitably happens… either the computer will charge you or they will stay in the exact same spot and just keep ducking behind rocks or boxes until you kill them. I sometimes consider the former to be a suicide run, since it seems that the guys who like to charge are the ones with the grenade launchers which will mean death to both of you if you don’t take him out first. The later scenario is especially entertaining when you can manage to flank the enemy, as nine times out of ten they will still think you are in your previous location, allowing you to get in an easy head shot.

Of course the balance is completely thrown off when you hop into a vehicle, as it becomes nearly impossible to aim and steer at the same time. Thus you are either a sitting duck that can fire back, or a moving duck with no chance at hitting anything that isn’t directly in front of you. There were a number of times when I would just jump out of my vehicle and use it as cover simply because I was more effective that way.

On the whole the difficulty increases appropriately as you progress through the game, but what that often means is that you’ll start by fighting three guys, and then an hour later you’ll be fighting ten guys. I suppose this is standard for a FPS, but it would have been nice to see the game get a little more difficult for reasons other than being mobbed.

Balance Score: 7/10

7. Originality

Ah, back to using more adjectives for mediocre.

Pariah is a first person shooter… so it pretty much automatically gets points deducted for originality. The weapons are nothing new or exciting, the environments have all been seen elsewhere before, and the story is pretty clichÃƑԚ©d. Even the vehicles and multiplayer modes have been done to death.

Probably the only thing that is even worth mentioning as original is the mapmaker. Very few console games have included one of these, let alone one that is so easy to use. That alone keeps the score from being a 0, but in the end it’s not enough to really help the game out.

Originality Score: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

This game is probably going to end up collecting dust on your shelf within two weeks at the most just due to the fact that there are much better FPS’s out there. Granted, multiplayer mode supported by the mapmaker helps with the games replayability, but I seriously doubt anyone is going to become so absorbed in this game that they will find themselves playing it for hours at a time.

To top it all off, I literally had to fight with myself to make it through the single player mode. I would play for a half hour or so, get bored, and go find something else to do. If I didn’t have to write a review, chances are I would have played it for two hours max and then returned it to the video store.

Once again, there is nothing here that hasn’t been done better before… and because of that there is really nothing that will keep you coming back for more.

Addictiveness: 2/10

9. Appeal Factor

FPS’s seem to appeal to a large audience, especially with games like Halo gaining so much praise. And in many ways, this game will appeal to those who liked Halo… it’s the whole “blow shit up in the future and drive awesome vehicles” mentality that has cropped up. Unfortunately I think that most who pick up this game will be disappointed, but I imagine that quite a few will give it a try. Hopefully they won’t have paid the full $50 for it at the store.

So if you are at all interested in giving this game a shot, I highly suggest renting it. Cause I can almost guarantee that you won’t be getting your money’s worth otherwise.

Appeal Factor Score: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Pariah does have a few little extras that are nice. The mapmaker utility is obviously the best of them, and one of the only reasons that make this game worth picking up. In addition, there is a menu option that allows you to enter in various cheat codes. While the only ones I have seen so far are for unlocking some extra multiplayer levels, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others for unlocking unlimited ammo or god mode or any number of the other staples of the FPS genre.

Otherwise there isn’t much going for Pariah.

Miscellaneous Score: 4/10

The Scores:

Story: 3
Graphics: 5
Sound: 4
Gameplay/Control: 6
Replayability: 7
Balance: 7
Originality: 3
Addictiveness: 2
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 4
Overall: 48
Final Score: 5.0 (Average)



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