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Shattered Horizon

Z-Axis granted.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

It's odd. I feel like I shouldn't be enjoying the Shattered Horizon beta as much as I am. The reason for that is the game is based on one of those kind of ideas that shouldn't really work. The idea is this: astronaut deathmatch.

It's the kind of slight-silly concept that usually lands games in a load of trouble. In this case it could have been because there aren't not many good models for 3D deathmatch, or because it needs to be bang on with the solid, accessible interface if it's not going to stumble into the dangerzone of experimental design. Or it could have encountered difficulties because of players struggling to get their head around that "no floor" idea.

All that said, it does seem suspiciously like the Futuremark game studio (the game-making spin-off from the benchmarking people) does actually have the technical know-how to pull it off. Shattered Horizon is intuitively playable and immediately comprehensible (at least to anyone with shooter experience). I was spawned and zooming about within seconds. As much as I expected to flounder with the 3D space, it was entirely straightforward. I even topped a couple of scoreboards in the afternoon. Not only that but the astronautiness of it is actually kind of engaging, at least for a big old space geek like me.

Shattered Horizon is set in the near future, where privately funded companies have begun military operations against each other in orbit. A huge explosion has put a large amount of moon rock (the titular shattered horizon) into space, and this orbital flotsam now plays host to a guerrilla war between space-suited mercenaries and miners. (And how auspicious is it that I write this preview just minutes before a rocket is being fired into the surface of the moon so that scientists can look for water, with stated intention of returning to the moon. I mean, seriously, life imitating games, or what?)

I really wanted to make a joke about "Z-Axis Versus Allies", but it didn't work.

This, in other words, is the perfect excuse for team-based deathmatch across a series of objective-based game modes.

It's the level design that I've enjoyed most. The subject matter is reflected perfectly in the art-style: a realistic take on what might happen if the moon exploded. If that makes sense. Free of the normal axis of up and down, the levels are genuine 3D affairs - laboratories built into a swathes of asteroids, for example, or an extended and reconstructed ISS, which has been hit by a meteorite - complete with docked future-shuttle and giant cargo containers spinning helplessly in space. Futuremark seems intent to make it as true to real space as is possible. Clearly it can't implement totally realistic physics without having players fly off into space at the slightest whiff of gunfire, but it can model beautiful space rocks, and epic, realistic space structures, all based on the kind of junk we actually put up there for science and stuff.