In Space You Hear a lot of screams. But they're really samples inserted by a simulated audio environment. This was one of Shattered Horizon's more ingenious ideas. Essentially, space is a quiet place, so if you set an FPS there you're going to need sounds, otherwise people will feel as though you've amputated part of them. So Futuremark simulated them. Along with thrusters, conserved momentum, and a liberal definition of 'up' and 'down', Shattered Horizon had the makings of a novel shooter.
The only problem was all these little things that made the game so brilliant to play were completely outweighed by its lack of content and a somewhat narrow vision when it came to how much people would be willing to pay for such a niche game. That it was DirectX 10-only couldn't have helped.
Coming from a company that made its name off benchmarking software, it's understandable that Shattered Horizon was technically demanding, but it proved that if there's an audience for zero-G shooters, it isn't formed by those who buy, what were then, the latest in graphics cards.
So instead of giving up their game as a failed experiment, Futuremark worked on it. They addressed the main problems people had with the game, namely a lack of maps, and the lack of variety in them, and the limits of the game's single gun.
Three months after release, they presented players with the free update -Moonrise - that addressed the first of these issues. Coming with four startlingly unique maps, Moonrise doubled the content present at launch, and more importantly presented players with environments that were truly recognisable, rather than dull asteroids and mining facilities. Now there was a giant mass accelerator, aptly named Slingshot, playing the role of the galaxy's largest male compensator: a huge, long tube of absurd technology used to fire objects into space. The Ten Stars Hotel, iconic if only because the whole thing is covered in radiation shields to keep its visitors in the utmost of comfort. Of course, now it's run down and has become another half-destroyed battleground. But it's pretty, and more importantly, interesting.
Then there was Flipside, what would seem to be a giant radar dish shattered by some devastating impact, each piece of detritus floating in mid-air only a few dozen feet from the impact zone. It's a frozen explosion. They're not all aces, with Searchlight being the slightly more subtle mining monolith/asteroid field of the original maps. But even this one had a great environment for combat, with enough open spaces and cover to make each encounter memorable. And that was the first of the major complaints dealt with. Wasting no time, Futuremark headed towards the second: the game's single gun.
Barely three months after Moonrise, they released Firepower, an update that not only replaced the characters' one gun with five, but doubled the number of grenade types, and added sidearms. Suddenly, you were able to apply a little personality into how you play, picking a shotgun if you want to invade your opponent's personal space, or taking the hefty railgun if you've got a penchant for planting yourself on the edge of a map, perhaps on a small asteroid, and picking off your enemies from afar.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Firepower update was to do with the changes it made under the hood. Gone was the hit scan-based system that the previous gun had relied on, and in was the far more weighty projectile-based system, requiring you to lead targets before squeezing off shots, and making distance a real factor. Close-range weapons require you to be really close to be any good. But by the same token you can snipe someone with a shotgun. It just might take a while for the slug to reach its target.
What all this has resulted in is a game that's truly come to deserve its price tag while making sure not to split its community with extra fees. If the past six months is an indicator, Shattered Horizon has a bright future.
Following in Valve's shoes, Futuremark have turned a slightly disappointing release into a full, expansive multiplayer game, all at no cost to their player base.
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- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Regardless of any problems that might afflict Shattered Horizon, there's one thing that'll always remain cool: the sight of dead bodies tumbling about in the empty void. It's less cool when it's your own, but it's still funky to see it spinning off into space.
Sadly, you'll be seeing this a lot if you do decide to purchase Horizon, as it's crushingly unforgiving to new players. I'm not that good at FPS games, but I think I'm a little bit better than the Kill/Death Ratio of 0.28 suggests.
This is a major issue because so few people are actually playing the game, a fact made more stark by the way the server list actually lies about how many people are on certain servers, if you can believe that. Trying to join a game where 20 people are playing leads to a match with only four. Likewise, an alleged five-man server was completely empty. If there were more players, the K/D ratio would undoubtedly be higher, but newbies are less likely to be able to ease themselves into things when the only people on the server are a bunch of crazed veterans.
There's a plot in here somewhere about the moon exploding and creating a bunch of omni-directional deathmatch arenas, but it's totally irrelevant. All you really need to know is that you're an astronaut-of-sorts and you get to fly about capturing or defending flags.
If you ever played Descent, you'll be familiar with the disorientating nature of the 360 movement. You can rotate on the Z-axis while flying about and it's very easy to get confused as to where you're going or, indeed, being shot from. It's definitely a game where camping works, but only to an extent.
Thankfully, most places people hide on or near can be accessed in a myriad number of ways, due to the 360° nature of movement. This is both a blessing and a curse, because it means you can't take solace in a hiding place for a little while, because there's always the chance some git will just boost around behind you and take you out. This makes the experience incredibly guick when the action's kicking in and unbearably slow-paced when it's not.
Shattered Horizon is ultimately too difficult for new players though, and there aren't enough populated servers out there to make it certain you'll get a game going on anything approaching a regular basis. There's some potential for improvement if new weapons and modes are added, but as it stands, Shattered Horizon the definition of solid, but unspectacular.