Shattered Horizon Beta Impressions
Shattered Horizon Beta Impressions
Futuremark Games Studio has been cooking up their first game, Shattered Horizon, for over two years. A closed beta over the last couple of months has polished up the game with each build and the launch is getting closer. With the NDA lifted, it is time to take a look at the game based on the beta test. Get ready for EVA!
First up, a disclaimer; Both YouGamers and Futuremark Games Studio are part of Futuremark Corporation. This preview is based on my experiences during the closed beta test of Shattered Horizon. YouGamers is not going to post a review or otherwise score Shattered Horizon due to the obvious conflict-of-interest issues, but I'm still going to give my own impressions on the game while sticking to journalistic principles - FGS guys didn't write this, I did. So, a preview, with some opinions based on close-to-final beta version of the game.
Astronaut vs. Astronaut
Shattered Horizon puts the players into space - you fight for survival either as a member of International Space Agency (ISA) or Moon Mining Cooperative (MMC). There is quite a bit of backstory for the setting but for gameplay purposes, they are the blue team and the yellow team with enough story to explain why Earth suddenly has a ring of rocks orbiting the planet and why some astronauts are shooting each other. Being a multiplayer-only game, there really is very little room for storytelling.
Both sides have identical equipment - a highly advanced rocket pack for zero-G manouvering, a multi-purpose assault rifle with a sniper scope and a grenade launcher. The unique bit is obviously the full six-degrees-of-freedom movement system which has been developed around the basic WSAD+mouse control standard. Shift pushes you down, Space moves you up and by holding the right mouse button you can roll. It feels instantly natural, yet there is a definite learning curve before you can fully wrap your brain around the concept of being able to go anywhere and adjust your orientation freely. Newbies that keep "thinking two-dimensionally" are usually easy to spot and those who have hard time adjusting would probably flunk at the NASA astronaut selection tests as well...
Realism is a key point in design, but playability has trumped over hardcore realism in that your rocket pack is a "fly by wire" system. It caps out your speed and keeps you stable, yet it doesn't require you to keep thrusting to move - inertia will carry you on and it is actually somewhat hard to stay put unless you actually land on a surface. For those quick getaways, there is a limited temporary boost that recharges over time.
The maps that were available during beta actually help you adjust to the idea gradually. Moondust is closest to a conventional FPS map with some enclosed areas inside a large asteroid - a map where you can easily start without really using all the freedoms given, but with places where unconventional approach leads to juicy kills. Flipside develops the idea further - it is a large boulder with two distinctive sides. It is possible to fight by just deciding that the side you are on is the "ground" but once you figure out the possibilities given by the map, the unique style of fighting in Shattered Horizon becomes much clearer.
The other two maps, ISS and The Arc then go all out, expecting you to be comfortable with full six degrees of freedom, ready to fight no matter which way you are pointing. flying along the "spine" of the ISS feels a bit like fighting along the sides of a tall building, yet if you cling to the "this way is ground" thinking, as soon as some real spacemen come along, you are up for a surprise or two. The Arc 21ff goes one step further and as you fight in the middle of numerous smaller rocks, there really is no "up" or "down" to speak of and it is not uncommon to get somewhat disoriented.
Up to 32 players is the currently supported and while ISS and The Arc are probably best with something like 16 or 24, both Moondust and Flipside have plenty of room for full 32 player fights.
Overall the fact that you can encounter hostiles from any angle breeds teamplay - you really can't cover every direction, so the only way to avoid nasty surprises is to work together. This also means that random teams without comms tend to work even worse than they do in most average shooters. In fact, it may end up being a huge hurdle for new players - if you just go in guns blazing, it is easy to get discouraged as you are ripped to shreds - you have both the unique zero-G environment to adjust to and you are playing with a far larger "blind area" around you than in more conventional games and you can never cover it alone - plenty of opportunities for veterans to exploit.
Each astronaut is sporting identical assault rifles. No lasers, railguns or other futuristic Sci-Fi stuff - just good old "target opponent, apply liberal dose of bullets" tech. And yes, gunpowder-based arms work just fine in a vacuum - the oxygen needed is in the gunpowder and as there is no air resistance to slow down a bullet, if anything, they'll work better than inside the atmosphere. Recoil is modeled with a slight inaccuracy over long bursts but the same rocket pack computer that keeps you from spinning out of control will counter-thrust against the recoil. As is common, "short, controlled bursts!" is a good idea. You can also zoom in with the scope for some juicy headshots but in practice sniping is feasible only when you put your feet down and anchor yourself to a surface.
The rifle also includes a bayonet for those up close & personal encounters and a multi-mode grenade launcher for some much-needed tricks. No, these grenades are not for spamming multi-kills as all three different grenade modes are non-lethal. You can control the fuse length before launching and in zero-G there is no arcing - grenades go in a straight line and bounce off any objects, allowing you to pull off some nice trick shots.
MPR grenades create a shockwave that is useful for flushing out hostiles from behind cover or (more often) bouncing them far into space which results in a death by hail of micrometeoroids.
ICE grenades spread out water that instantly freezes into a white cloud of ice particles - in practice it is the space version of a smoke grenade and can be used for cover. Handy, but the cloud is somewhat limited in size - works okay in close quarters and on smaller maps, but feels weak when fighting in more open areas.
EMP grenade is probably the most powerful offensive tool - anyone caught in the blast radius, friend or foe, finds himself "dead in space" with all suit electronics shut down. That means your thrusters are almost dead and there is no audio simulation or HUD. Pop one of these and then commence operation turkey shoot as your opponent is severely hampered until his suit systems boot up again.
And... that's it. The equipment list is decisively spartan and while this is somewhat unconventional, it is not necessarily a bad thing. First, as both sides use identical equipment, things are naturally balanced. Limited set of equipment also means that tactics and pure twitch skill play a bigger part. You cannot rely on creating uneven engagements with equipment.