Publisher: JoWood Productions
Developer: T7 Games
Release Date: October 27, 2006
If you've grown tired of shooting aliens and Nazis and would rather be saving the world from international terrorists, you may soon have your chance. In the upcoming first-person shooter The Mark, you will have the opportunity to play as either U.S. Marine Corps Officer Steve Fletcher or as top-rated mercenary Austin Hawke as they attempt to stop a deadly nuclear package before it reaches London. The intriguing storyline was not featured in the single level I was afforded the opportunity to preview, but I was at least able to check out how the gameplay is developing.
The two lead characters progress through the game side by side and help each other out, much like Gordon and Alex do in Half-Life 2. In the level I played, Fletcher and Hawke must fight their way through a maze of dark corridors toward the roof of the building, where Hawke's airplane is waiting. (My understanding is that you'll be able to fly the plane around Europe and the Middle East later in the game, but the preview build did not include this capability). To make the job easier, they are loaded out with the usual arsenal of weaponry: a knife, a pistol, an assault rifle, an SMG, and several grenades.
The level of detail in the weapon design is astounding. You can read "Desert Eagle" etched into the slide of the pistol. You may not appreciate the authenticity of the gun design in the heat of battle, but you'll have a moment to marvel at the beauty every time you reload. In fact, when you reload whatever weapon you happen to be holding, there's really nothing else to look at. The game utilizes a depth-of-field effect so that, when you focus your attention on your weapon to reload it, everything else in peripheral view becomes blurred.
Most of the weapons have a nice kick when you fire them. I was particularly fond of the Desert Eagle, which feels heavy in your hands and proved to be the ideal choice for one-shot kills. The guns don't sound as powerful as they do in Counter-Strike: Source, but they satisfy nonetheless.
In another nod to realism, you die quickly in The Mark. Absent are the enemy bots that need to riddle your body with at least 20 bullets before you start to worry about picking up a health pack. In this game, two or three direct hits will kill you, and while the A.I. isn't particularly brilliant, these bots know how to aim, so it's a good thing health packs are everywhere. You may scoff at their abundance at first, but soon you'll realize how much you need them. The first time I played the game (on the Normal difficulty setting), I died before I turned the first corner.
Speaking of corners, the ability to lean is something I missed. Because enemies await around nearly every corner and it's so easy to die, having the ability to peek around corners without getting shot in the face would be a welcome addition to the gameplay.
The Mark also boasts some impressive textures and lighting effects. I was reminded of F.E.A.R. in several places throughout the level; dust kicks up when bullets hit objects in the environment, certain surfaces appear almost photo-realistic, and the halls are filled with warm light and dynamic shadows. There was some inconsistency in the texture quality, however, with some surfaces looking much better than others. This may be something the developers are continuing to work on.
While some of the lighting effects are positively gorgeous, other effects seemed unnatural, like a bright light emanating from newspaper plastered on the wall. Apparently meant to be a reflection of the light coming from an incandescent bulb in the middle of the room, but its blinding brightness made me feel as if I were looking directly at the sun. If the effect can be toned down a notch in the final release, I think the visuals will be more pleasing.
At this stage, the A.I. is not on par with what we've seen with F.E.A.R.. The bots do not make much use of cover, they don't appear to coordinate their actions, and they don't retreat when in trouble (which is rare, since you're the one who's outnumbered). The terrorists also suffer from some monotonous voice-acting, seemingly all performed by the same person. The result is that the player is reminded he's playing against a bunch of more-or-less identical bots. Before the game is released, we hope the developers will employ a few more voice actors to give added life to the terrorists.
A lot of work has obviously gone into the in-game physics. While I was somewhat disheartened to see the all-too-familiar drab hallways lined with crates, boxes and bottles, I was nevertheless pleased to be able to interact with the boxes and bottles by shooting them around the room. Boxes fly about convincingly, but the bottles need some work. They don't shatter realistically and they don't make a sound when hit. It's also fun to shoot the hanging lamps and watch them sway and cause shadows to dance about the room, but it seems odd that shooting the bulb doesn't break it.
The Mark build we played was a dated version, in its early development stage, but it's showing a lot of promise as a visually appealing shooter with an exciting, modern-day storyline.
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