Martin gets his FPS on
How exciting. Devastation is a First Person Shooter. Whoop! It doesn't appear to be much different from a whole plethora of other First Person Shooters out there, and it's even powered by a heavily modified Unreal engine, along with a lot of other shooters that have passed our way without so much as a cursory glance. But with extended play of the snapshot of Devastation we were provided with, it's more like a First Person Shooter... with a twist of lemon.
Get by with a little help from your friends
Allow us to indulge you further dear reader. Set in a post-apocalyptic near-future, a classic rebels vs. empire-type war is raging. The hi-tech evil magaglobal corporations are scouring the wastelands for technologies that they haven't yet managed to get their grubby mitts on, and with it gain a power stranglehold on the remains of the Earth's population. Naturally a resistance force has sprung up, and you are the head of it.
The first interesting twist is the ability to command teammates mid-firefight with a simple Unreal Tournament-style command menu. You can order your pals to hold, follow, defend or attack individually, or as a group, and the effective system enables you to set up rudimentary strategic assaults and ambushes on the fly. However, at this stage the AI of your automated buddies doesn't seem to be fully integrated, and they will occasionally completely ignore your orders, stand still or run headlong into certain death, which can be irritating in situations where completion of the mission is dependant on the survival of your entire team.
For now, combat has a feeling of being slightly disjointed and weak. We felt as if we were just going through the motions of running and shooting without much hope for helping our team or being able to rely on them for backup and cover, as they seemed willing to just stick their weaponry in the face of the next trooper they spotted, instead only occasionally exhibiting a happy medium of caution and violence. It's quite satisfying to see both friend and foe alike sometimes exhibiting some savvy and finding cover and safe assault routes in the excellently designed levels.
Remote controlled rats! Teehee!
Thankfully you and your cohorts appear to be built like tanks, and at one point we lost count of the amount of weapons we were carrying, but we needn't concern ourselves with such trivialities as realism when there's just so much stuff to play with - we're talking upwards of thirty separate weapons with which to despatch the armies of black-clad foot soldiers.
Oh yes, and this is the one with the remote-controlled exploding rats. This is how they work: select one from your inventory, and set him scurrying off. Then you become the rat in first person; scamper through a hole in a brick wall, down some abandoned office corridors, through heaps of flaming garbage and boxes, around the feet off oblivious sentry guards, up to a generator and set off the bomb strapped to the little beast.
Sometimes tactics like that can be your only way of progressing in a level, in this case a level called Zangai. A rescue attempt sees your team entering a high-rise on the ground floor and working your way up through the decimated building. The use of a rat to blow the generator holding closed a security door is your only way in, but a lot of the time your progress is by no means linear, and exploration is sometimes key to success.
Crap with style
Each of the maps we had a chance to play had masses of effort poured into the details and textures. You really do get the impression of a crumbling metropolis struck by disaster, with huge flaming wrecks all over the place, twisted and buckled shells of buildings to scramble through, and some interiors missing entire floors with only thin broken beams enabling you to traverse life-threatening drops. There is stuff everywhere, too - stacks of boxes and cans and bottles and signs which all get knocked over and caught up in the crossfire. It's almost cinematic when you're caught in a mid-street battle and there's stuff falling all over the place, and barrels exploding which will sometimes knock the head off fire hydrants which start shooting jets of water into the air. Hopefully we get to see more of this through some of the game's 32 levels, because it's great.
The execution of set pieces and scripted sequences seems well directed as well; one particular, memorable moment saw us hopping inside a trapped subway train in order to pass across an enormous ravine. A quick glance across the gap revealed that the whole train was teetering on a buckled track hanging above... well, nothing. Cautiously stepping forward, the carriage began to shudder violently, and deciding it would be a good idea to exit the train sharpish, we pelted forwards with the other members of my team and bolted out of the door on the other side just in time to watch the carriages disappearing down the chasm. Nice.
Hopefully the developer's enthusiasm for constructing impressively and lovingly destroyable environments in the four levels we got to play is indicative of the kind of quality we can expect in the final product.
Make or break time
Devastation actually looks like a promising and refreshing slant on First Person Shooters, and developers Digitalo have given the game a nice edge in order to stop it from degenerating into generic FPS territory. We've yet to experience how the narrative might evolve or how the player progresses through the game properly, but hopefully the rest of the game can remain as consistently interesting as what we've seen so far. Factor in the multiplayer aspects, which the single-player missions occasionally mirror, and we could have a surprisingly strong title on our hands.