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Review: Shattered Horizon

In 1979, Moonraker was first shown in movie theaters. It's perhaps the dumbest premise ever for a James Bond movie: A super rich psycho with a Hitler complex decides to kill everyone on Earth via a bio-weapon in favor of his own specially picked humans. In order to kill everyone on the planet all at once he decides to build a space station to fire pods that would disperse the weapon from orbit.

The final battle takes place in and around this space station as a fleet of US Space Marines (yep, that's what they are called) head up in a space shuttle. The Marines and the villainous minions, all wearing bulky space suits, fire at each other with lasers in Earth's orbit. Again, it's really dumb for a James Bond movie but in another context, this kind of space battle had not really been seen before. In fact since Moonraker we have yet to see this kind of space combat duplicated for any other movie or TV show.
So when the premise of Shattered Horizon was first revealed by its developer, Futuremark Game Studios, a bit of nostalgia hit us. Finally we would be be able to actually play a game that's much like the Moonraker final conflict. The prospect of a full zero-g environment and guns sounded to us like a terrific premise for a game.

With Shattered Horizon now fully released, we are happy to say that in terms of the basic gameplay Futuremark has delivered on its promise of having space-suited players shoot each other in Earth orbit. However there is a sense that Futuremark wanted to get the basics of the gameplay correct without having to add a lot of content up front (more on that later).

The fictional premise of Shattered Horizon is almost as silly as Moonraker's. In the near future, mining activities on Earth's moon cause an explosion, sending massive amounts of the Moon's mass into near Earth orbit in a mini-asteroid field. There's a conflict that can't be resolved between the Moon miners and scientists and they have to battle one another in the moon's debris for . . . some reason. It doesn't really matter in the end. It's just an excuse for Futuremark to get players in space suits to shoot each other.

In terms of gameplay the controls are pretty simple to use, The typical WASD buttons move your player character back and forth and side to side but you also move the mouse button to turn and roll your character as well. Hitting the space or shift buttons moves you up or down, respectively. The learning curve is surprisingly low; after a few minutes you get the hang of the full 360 degree movement. You can also attach yourself to any surface via magnetic boots that are activated with the F key on your keyboard. And yes, that does mean you can appear to be upside down to an opponent.

Futuremark has made the actual combat simple to learn. One of the reasons is a lack of available weapons. You have an unlimited ammo-based machine gun (you have to reload every 60 rounds) that has a sniper alt-fire. Don't use the sniper mode while floating; Futuremark makes the recoil bounce back very severe. You need to attach yourself to the surface in order to effectively use it. You also have three different types of grenades; an explosive concussion version, an EMP grenade that can slow down your opponents and a "ice" grenade that the game's equivalent of a smoke grenade; it obscures vision pretty well.

There is a bit of location based shooting in Shattered Horizon; you can get a head shot or take out your enemy's oxygen tank if you have the skills. However the game is one of those "easy to learn, difficult to master" titles. You will likely find that it takes a while to learn how each of the game's currently available four maps works. There's an in-game server browser that you can use to find servers and, at least at this stage of the game's existence, it's easy to find a well populated dedicated server.

There's support for up to 32 players in the game with three gameplay modes. One is a team deathmatch mode, another has one team trying to take over control points while the other team defends and the third has both teams trying to claim control points at the same time. In playing the game we noticed little to no lag which, since this is strictly a multiplayer game, is a good thing.

Futuremark chose to have the game be a DirectX10 title which means if you still have a Windows XP-based PC, read no further; you can't play Shattered Horizon. For those of us who have Vista or Windows 7 installed and have access to a DirectX10 supported video card we get to see some pretty solid graphics. The lighting effects are well done and the game's map design show that the development team is trying to create levels that truly showcase zero-g combat. However the actual art design is somewhat stark. Futuremark decided to go "realistic" and have very basic color schemes for the visuals. It might be correct if this was a documentary but this is a game; some extra "umph" in the art design would have made the game a little more pleasing to the eye.

Futuremark has already said they plan to add more levels and content to Shattered Horizon for free so the $20 price tag will become even more of a bargain once that happens. As the game stands now in its just released state, the small amount of levels and only one firearm is offset by the uniqueness of its setting and its gameplay. Shattered Horizon is simply a lot of fun to play and if you want something different in your first person shooter than the typical corridor or military setting, and if you have the right hardware, this is the game for you.

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