Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: Noviy Disk / Wild Hare
Developer: Digital Spray Studios


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PC Review - 'Instinct'

by Keith Durocher on Oct. 9, 2007 @ 1:56 a.m. PDT

Story-driven first person shooter, inspired by real-life events in a mountainous region of North Korea. Instinct tells a story of an elite US army unit stranded on a top-secret Korean military installation. The aftermath of the operation crossed the world news flashes on September 9, 2004.

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Wild Hare
Developer: Digital Spray Studios
Release Date: August 22, 2007

"Way back" in 2004, a massive explosion rocked North Korea. A mushroom cloud was observed and quickly pawned off as a mere forest fire by U.S. news media. To this day, no one is exactly sure what caused this explosion, except perhaps the North Korean government and military. Intriguing, isn't it? This sort of loose scenario is rich with potential, perfect for urban legends that rely on just enough truth to make the story seem legitimate. We see it all the time; "based on a true story" is often used by Hollywood to entice viewers. "Reality is stranger than fiction; we couldn't make this up, folks!" Of course, there is no set rule on exactly how much of the tale needs to be real versus how much of it can be complete fabrication, but why split hairs when entertainment is involved? This is precisely the approach a Russian development team called Digital Spray took with the North Korean explosion, and the end result is a PC game called Instinct.

At its core, Instinct is a by-the-books first-person shooter. Its plot follows three Russian military spec-op soldiers infiltrating a secret, illegal research and development lab buried in the mountains of North Korea. The facility has been engaged in morally bankrupt biological warfare experiments, attempting to manipulate virus code. The scientists succeed, but not in the way they had hoped. The end result is that the entire base gets overrun with zombies. Yes, zombies. Undead. Ab-dead. The not-alive-but-still-somewhat-peeved. It's only nominally glib to say Instinct is Counter-Strike-meets-"28 Days Later." As you can imagine, three living Russian soldiers with guns against a small army of flesh-hungry and psychotic corpses is a formula for good times.

Now at this point, I can't help but point out the absurdity in the setting alone. For starters, these are technically supposed to be American soldiers, but for reasons I'll explain later it's much easier to just think of them as Russian. Then there is the idea of the Russian (or American, it's ridiculous either way) military choosing North Korea as a place to build a secret base. Of all the places on Earth that are remote and cloistered enough to do this sort of thing, why an enemy country? Why not Canada? Then again, who cares? Does it really matter why you're using an AK-47 against a zombie? Nope, not really, just so long as by the end of fiasco, a really big explosion happens to explain what "really happened" in 2004.

Now, to explain why it's easier to think of your soldier as Russian instead of American, the game's official web site indicates that all of the voice-acting in Instinct is in Russian with English subtitles. It is very difficult to think of American spec-ops speaking to each other in Russian. However, I cannot stress enough how happy I am to hear this. I have stood on a soapbox many, many times ranting about the need for companies to just let the native languages shine. I am almost ecstatic that some second-rate voice-actor with no connection to the development of the game itself hasn't ham-fisted his way through a poorly translated script and ruined the immersion. If all I have to do is switch the country of origin from America to Russia in order to keep the flow running smoothly in my head, then so be it. Better that than seventh-grade drama class-quality dubbing.

Now, as I stated earlier, Instinct is very by-the-book. What I mean is that there is virtually no innovation to be found. There are no fancy tricks to the weapons, no special power-ups, no skills, no advancement, no inventory and no physics-manipulating puzzle-solving. There's nothing here at all besides twitch-click shooting, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although there is certainly a glaring deficit when it comes to weapon variety. There is a certain sense of bland monotony that creeps into the game, and it starts here.

Sadly, there is also a minimum of enemy types. One can argue that zombies are zombies, but if all you're going to include in your "intense FPS action" is undead and the occasional army trooper, then perhaps one should spend more time on the corpses themselves to mix things up? As it stands, there is an endless supply of undead in jump-suits with axes. Why so many axes? How so many axes? Occasionally a zombie in a lab coat or flak armor will pop in, but other than that, it's pretty much sweatpants and hoodies as far as your weapon sights can see.

Inside the base itself, there are some strange elements to the ambience that are fairly easy to pick out. For starters, there aren't quite enough triggered scripts to elevate the sense of disaster. You're a soldier in a base that is supposed to be collapsing in front of your eyes, not a long-abandoned research lab. Occasionally, there will be a little nod to this, like the scientist getting an axe in the back just behind a barricaded door. Digital Spray could have, and should have, put much more of these little events into Instinct.

Also, there is a really odd sense of scale to this title. Everything is exaggerated and barren. Why are there so many bathrooms and showers, and why are they so huge? The toilet stalls are gargantuan. Why are the stoves in the kitchen roughly five feet high? Ever see a countertop microwave oven that could comfortably fit an entire 20-pound turkey with plenty of room to spare? What sort of malformed freak sleeps in a bed with no mattress that's two feet wide and nine feet long? At one point, I felt that perhaps there was an underlying punch line still to come, and that I was actually playing covert-op strike-dwarves.

No review would be complete without covering the graphics, and there is much to talk about here. Digital Spray developed the graphics engine used in Instinct from scratch, and to that end, I applaud their efforts. However, this is far from a state-of-the-art example of 3D technology. The models look terribly phony, with limbs that appear attached to the body with silly putty. The textures wrapped around all the models are occasionally detailed, often pixelated and low-resolution. The lighting is decent, although it is often a little too bright.

There is an option you can toggle on and off that is simply dubbed "comic book effect," which I quite like, although I find it makes Instinct nearly impossible to look at. Instead of draping a thick black outline on top of everything (a la Silverfall or Crackdown), this effect smears a thick white outline on top of everything. The effect is somewhat similar to the Photoshop "ink outlines" filter and looks neat, but the added brightness not only reduces the spooky dark atmosphere, but it's also somewhat of an eyestrain. I usually kept this option turned off.

Finally, Instinct renders all long-distance objects as a blur, and only when you're close do things come into detail. This is exceedingly difficult to look at, especially in outdoor levels where almost everything is a long ways away. It's as if you're in control of a myopic trio of soldiers.

A game such as this relies as heavily on AI as it does on graphics, and I'm sad to say that the scripting is one of the weakest aspects to Instinct. There are far too many "gotcha!" triggers where a zombie just literally pops out of nowhere. These tricks weren't clever in Doom, and they aren't clever now. Enemies always know exactly where you are and when you're there. It doesn't matter how sneaky you are or how undetected you feel you've been because zombies and enemy soldiers always know exactly when to start shooting, and they rarely miss. Finally, there is absolutely zero adaptive behavior or tactical thought to the AI. I point this out only because it's one of the press release's selling points. I say, if you can't back up a boast like that, don't draw attention to it in your ad copy.

I know that this review consists mostly of negative commentary, and it must seem as though I hated every second of it. This isn't true. Yes, there are many things that could have been done better, but in all honesty, Instinct is nowhere near the worst FPS I've ever played. While there are many things it does poorly (scripting, bland play and the .exe has a strange habit of crashing every time you exit the game under Windows Vista), there are many things it does well (voice acting, a story that is engaging and it has an excellent soundtrack). I do have to point out the terrible judgment on behalf of the publishers (Wild Hare), who use Starforce copy restriction. Be forewarned: If you want to play this game, you'll have to allow hidden Ring 0 device drivers to be installed on your operating system. These drivers are not removed with the uninstallation of Instinct and are known to cause a wide variety of problems with optical drives. However, with a little more attention to contemporary FPS titles, I think it quite possible that Digital Spray could produce some patches or expansions that could make Instinct a decent budget shooter title.

Score: 4.9/10

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