Publisher: Groove Games
Developer: Digital Extremes
Release Date: May 3, 2005
When Halo launched with the Xbox in 2001, it single-handedly raised the bar of what could be expected of first-person shooters on consoles. With the Xbox's friendly dual analog setup (arguably more comfortable for FPS games than the Dual Shock 2's), it welcomed the idea of moving and looking separately, just as PC gamers had been enjoying for years with keyboard and mouse combos. While it wasn't the first to do many things, it was one of the best games at the time.
Pariah acknowledges the greatness of Halo (and its sequel) very often. In fact, it "borrows" quite a bit from that franchise to various degrees; at first, what might seem like simple allusions like quirky enemy dialog one can hear if he's shot down, to strikingly similar weaponry, or a near-replication of a certain vehicle not just in looks but also in controls. They even pay tribute to Halo's "enthralling" elevator sequences. I even noticed planned-but-canned features for Halo 2 implemented here, such as speed boosts at the cost of lowering your weapon momentarily. The developers must be very big fans.
In other words, Pariah rips off Halo in more than one way.
But is it any good? Does this culmination of proven quality elements amount to a masterpiece of a game, one that surely only blatantly copies certain things in order to accentuate its own unique, worthwhile individuality? Well, in a nutshell, nah.
Don't get me wrong, Pariah is not a horrible game. It's nothing akin to a Pulse Racer, but it's far from a Halo. For every modern Halo touch, it seems like there's a five-year-old gameplay mechanic nagging at you, or really pathetic enemy AI, or unbalanced firearms, or character animation that looks like it came from a Nintendo 64 game. There's no one fatal flaw in Pariah, just a rather large number of niggling issues that make it more bothersome than immersing when all is said and done.
The level design is extremely straightforward. While there's a wide variety of both interior and exterior locations, and each has their fair share of neat artistic touches, there's literally one path through just about every level, and it tends to be highlighted with big green buttons that let you know what door you'll be opening next. There are a couple of branching spots, but these are rather rare, and you'll be returned to the main route quite quickly; most of them feel like quick and dirty shortcuts rather than genuine alternate paths. Enemies rush out at predetermined times, oftentimes seemingly out of nowhere, and packing heat like flamethrowers or donning fast motorbikes that kill you as soon as they bump into you.
The first and probably most commonly used weapon in the game is the Bulldog, a basic automatic submachine gun. It drills off 40 rounds quite quickly, but each of the rounds is pretty measly – you have to empty about half a clip into a single enemy on the easy mode alone, so ammo must be carefully watched all of the time. Strangely, certain objects are destructible – such as bridge pillars in the first level – fall apart with fewer shots from the Bulldog than it takes to actually kill a human enemy. This is one instance of a potentially cool effect falling flat on its face. Fairly shortly, you'll find a grenade launcher, which shoots off big blinking grenades that enemies don't tend to run away from. After that, a shotgun – er, Frag Rifle – comes into your possession; unfortunately, it's woefully underpowered, and you have to be lucky for it to actually kill enemies in one shot at point-blank range, making it nearly worthless.
Among the other weapons are a plasma rifle, a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher, and a familiar looking energy blade called a Bone Saw; one that attempts to look as cool as one in a certain other franchise but feels about as advanced as the chainsaw in id's original Doom. Every weapon can be upgraded by using "Weapon Energy Cores" scattered throughout levels – a nice touch. The coolest weapon isn't even a weapon at all; rather, it's a healing tool that can be used to increase your health as long as you have ammo for it.
The health bar is actually worth noting because it's reasonably interesting. It's made up of several notches, each of which is capable of preventing some damage. If a notch isn't completely depleted, it will recharge itself after a few seconds, much like the Master Chief's shield in Halo. However, only one notch will heal, so if you've completely lost your fourth notch, say, and your third one is damaged, the third one will heal, but the fourth one will remain empty. That's where the healing tool comes in handy. Each little injection restores a notch with a cool blur effect as if the player is in some kind of quick, passing ecstasy. Pretty cool.
Pariah does feature several vehicles that can be accessed whenever you come across them. The Bogie, the game's ATV, shares an awful lot in common with a certain jeep from Halo, but nonetheless, it can take one's mind off the somewhat mediocre FPS gameplay. Where it falters is in its design – the designers attempted to make it balanced like Bungie did with Halo, but instead make it feel ridiculous. In Halo, the vehicle's machine gun turret is a real turret that is manned by someone standing in the back. The weapon on the Bogie is a fully rotatable machine gun/rocket launcher combo, but it's controlled inside of the vehicle by a passenger. Strangely, the driver can use the machine gun function while driving, but not the rocket launcher.
Additionally, since steering is controlled by looking with the mouse and not the left and right keys, you can only shoot in the direction you wish to steer. The game would have benefited greatly from a more thoughtful Half-Life 2 control scheme, where aiming the gun is dedicated completely to the mouse and all steering and gas is reserved for the regular movement keys.
There's also a motorbike, technically a three-wheeler, called the Wasp; a rather tank-like vehicle called the Dozer; and a speedy hover vehicle called the Dart. They are all controlled like the Bogie, but the blatant yet often-backfiring Halo influences are not as evident in them. That's probably a good thing, though.
Pariah features a multiplayer mode for online or LAN gaming. There are a couple of different game types, from a traditional deathmatch to slightly more interesting siege matches, where you'll work in teams to complete certain objectives. One of the coolest parts of this is that Pariah ships with a map editor, so anyone can create their own levels, complete with different terrain options, textures, lighting, and other neat effects like fog. It's actually rather fun to use, and you can easily share your maps.
Ultimately, Pariah is full of a mixture of good and bad things, but all the Halo thievery in the world can't save a game that feels like it belongs in 1998 at heart. The levels are sadly straightforward, enemies float around and glide over stairways as if they have no connection to the ground, and they're animated fairly badly. There's no fun in killing them, as not only are they dumb as bricks, but the game also lacks anything like ragdoll physics, and the weapons feel strangely unbalanced anyway.
Simple, common FPS features like some kind of peripheral indicator to guide you in the direction of what is shooting you are nonexistent. Items happen to be conveniently spinning around in happy intervals, rather than in intelligent, thoughtful locations. The vehicles, while semi-fun to use, feel clunky and have silly design flaws. Oh, and you can't skip the sometimes excruciating cut scenes, even if you've already played through once and happened to have died and need to repeat an area.
I was actually terribly excited for Pariah last year around E3 – it seemed like it was on the right track to be one of the next great first-person shooters. I hate to say it, but Pariah is basically bogged down by so many issues that no matter how neat its little quirks are, or how many things it kindly borrows from Halo, it still feels several years behind the pack. It's basically a mediocre game, and its best selling point is the nifty map editor. If you're really into level design and you happen to have some buddies that like the game, then you're in luck. Otherwise, you're better off waiting for something more noteworthy to come along.
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