Genre : FPS
Publisher: Groove Games
Developer: Digital Extremes
Release Date: May 3, 2005
Whether you get your money’s worth out of Pariah is going to depend entirely on its fans. It’s got a decent map editor, which could lead to some great, homebrewed battlefields if the right people get ahold of it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game is like a third-generation photocopy of Unreal Tournament 2004, with a little Halo for spice. Pariah isn’t bad, exactly, but it has a weird feel to it, like it’s the shooter of the year for 2002, or a half-complete tech demo.
Its physics are , the singleplayer game feels like it’s missing a few crucial hours, the AI is idiotic, you can barely steer the vehicles, the music’s utterly forgettable, and if you’re not using high explosives, you’re wasting your time. There are a half-dozen better FPSes than Pariah on the Xbox, both online and off, so it’s hard to recommend it.
In singleplayer, you’re Dr. Jack Mason, who’s helping to transport a cryogenically frozen captive when your aircraft’s shot down. The captive, a woman in white named Karina, is infected with some unnamed disease. In the aftermath of the crash, Mason and Karina wind up as the only survivors, and Karina accidentally infects Mason with whatever it is that she’s got.
Soon, as you shoot it out with a band of suspiciously well-equipped scavengers, Mason finds out that whatever Karina’s disease is, it’s enough to make his immediate superiors order a nuclear strike on the planet. Mason and Karina now get to race against time, destroying anyone who’s standing between them and a quick trip offworld.
At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on. Pariah lurches drunkenly from plot point to plot point, shuttling Mason down a rail through an oddly empty world, often skipping over certain crucial details like what the hell is going on. By way of an example, you’re told at point to “infiltrate” something called an Anvil, but the game never tells you what the Anvil is or why you’re infiltrating it. That kind of elegant storytelling – the “don’t think about it, just do it” school of plot design – characterizes the entirety of the game. By the end, I’m pretty sure that Mason was killing members of his own organization and that Karina is a one-woman army, but I’m not sure why.
(Pariah also goes well out of its way to let you know that it’s using the Havok engine, but doesn’t take advantage of that at all. All the levels are weirdly empty, and you can’t interact with anything other than switches or opponents.)
I am willing to give singleplayer Pariah credit for one thing: it’s not a ten-hour-long escort mission. When I first heard about the game, it sounded a lot like an FPS take on Ico, with a powerless and unarmed Karina following you around. Instead, you spend most of the game either trying to catch up to Karina, or trying to figure out where she’s gone. It’s annoying, but not as annoying as it would’ve been to watch her casually wander into enemy fire.
Singleplayer Pariah shares a lot of gameplay problems with the multiplayer mode. In its defense, the weapon powerup system is genuinely cool; you can find Weapon Power Cores hidden throughout the singleplayer campaign or on the corpses of dead players. All of your weapons have three optional powerups that can be activated by installing Power Cores, such as a remote detonator for the grenade launcher, and those powerups will stick around after you respawn.
It’s a good system, but it’s also largely worthless. In Pariah, if it doesn’t toss explosives, it’s almost not worth using. The Bulldog assault weapon usually takes half a clip to drop a single standard opponent, the frag rifle’s drastically underpowered for its anemic fire rate, and for some reason, you’ve got the only semi-auto plasma gun in the game. You can partially overcome some of these problems with weapon mods, but that’ll use up Cores that you could be installing onto the grenade launcher.
The sniper rifle’s decent, but it’s got a telltale laser sight for some reason, and Pariah loves monster closets. You’ll often find a perfect place for a bit of recreational sniper fire, but only wind up with targets once you work your way down to the ground and trigger the appearance of a fresh wave of enemies.
This would be a problem, except that most of Pariah opponents are incredibly stupid; in a given situation, they’ll either not move at all, even if you drop a grenade into their hiding place, or they’ll charge you. Pariah is the kind of game where you can completely avoid a guy with a rocket launcher by standing just outside of his direct line of fire.
In multiplayer, everyone instantly gravitates to the launchers, so any given map is a carnival of explosions; in singleplayer, you’ll wind up relying on the grenade launcher as your minute-by-minute goto weapon. You could get into a vehicle, sure, but in the dark future of Pariah, mankind’s forgotten how to make responsive steering. Getting into a vehicle just makes you a target, because you can’t turn.
Let me just say it flat-out: Pariah is frustrating. Aside from the weapon upgrade system and the map editor, it doesn’t do anything quite as well as it should. Nothing works quite right, there are glitches in the engine that result in some kind of horrible offline lag, and the singleplayer game’s plot jumps around like a cat on a stove. You’ll also be halfway through the game before you hit any memorable scenery, decent action setpieces, or enemies aside from really stupid human soldiers. If you just want to blow things up and send people flying, Pariah will suit you right down to the ground, but it’s not much more than that.
The map editor may be enough to save it, if only just. It’s not as flexible as you might like, as it forces you to start from one of four premade maps, but you can control the scenery, topography, local hazards, weather, and time of day, among other things. It’s really user-friendly, too, so with a little work, you can come up with some great multiplayer maps.
Fresh out of the box, Pariah not worth looking into. If it catches on and gamers start putting together some interesting custom maps, it may eventually mature into a decent multiplayer shooter. In the meantime, there are tons of great action games on the Xbox, and you probably haven’t played them all. Go check out one of them instead.
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