Shattered Horizon - Best MultiPlayer Design

Over the Steam Holiday Sale Event I bought a game I would not have otherwise - Shattered Horizon. I'd seen video and screen caps of the game and thought, quite frankly, that it wasn't worth a look and overpriced to boot. Yet another MultiPlayer shooter with the standard multiplayer options that have bored everyone for years, what's the point? Zero G and Jetpacks will not make this significantly different than a Zero G mod for any given game in the FPS genre.

That was until I played it.

What this game does is get multiplayer right, as in caters to all of the best ideas from other games. That may seem like a criticism but it isn't, FutureMark has paid close attention to what players like from other shooters and incorporated it with their own twist.

To start off with there is no perk system, everybody has the same abilities, weapons and armor. There is a ranking and achievement system that does not affect your game experience, it's just for bragging rights. Your rank also appears in the team select window, showing you when vets are team-ganging the n00bs. There is AI on the servers part forcing teams to be more equal that seems to extend to some kind of rank calculation as well, but that may be my imagination.

Next we have the anti-camper system where snipers are forced to "ground" themselves to a surface and stop moving in order to steady the rifle in scope mode, making them a stationary target. The ability to snipe while floating or walking exists, it's just near impossible to aim that way. You can ground yourself to nearly any surface, in any direction and your regular fire mode is also more accurate when doing so.

Another addition is your HUD that not only displays team colors, but also brackets enemies in a red box (even behind cover) whenever they are shot or come close enough. The box will fade when hits are avoided for a few seconds or the enemy goes into silent mode. You could call it a wallhack with a conscience.

Grenades are a selected secondary fire mode and consist of Ice (smoke) which hides you (or enemies) from the HUD, MPR (frag) which is self explanatory and EMP which momentarily disables any suit in the explosion but allows gunfire with hindered look movement. The grenades have a "cook" mode, the longer you hold them the farther they fire before detonation. This is Zero G though and getting the timing right takes some practice.

Finally you have the ability to "stealth" yourself by going into silent running mode and turning off your suit. This hides you from enemies (and teammates) HUD but it also disables your own, including voice messages. You can still be seen, there is just no HUD identification, suit color is the only reference. Movement in this mode is also slow, so again the trade-off is balanced.

Some finer points of gameplay feature total roaming. That's not just a bullet-point on a box, having more vectors of escape really adds to the fight. There is also a limited burst thrust for quick dodging that slowly refills, similar in idea to sprinting with an endurance cap. You have a melee attack that is really more insulting than useful to me as you rarely ever get that close. Also there are two points of weakness on every suit: the faceplate of the helmet and the oxygen tank on your back - Both can be targeted for quicker or even instant kills.

Now to address the arguments against:

Many would argue that a perk system is important and extends the life of a game. Yes it does, but only for those who get in on the ground floor and aren't prone to Rage-Quit. There is nothing more daunting and detrimental to new players than knowing that you'll be using the worst weapons, have the worst armor, no abilities and will be nothing but n00b fodder for the next week straight. No one wants a 40-1 death/kill ratio to overcome and so they simple don't buy and/or move on to another game.

Another complaint is SH has only one weapon. Not really, it's actually five weapons with no switching, eliminating the inevitable gun dance of death. The primary firing mode is a machine gun which not only caters to the spray-and-prey n00bs but allows tight bursts for the higher accuracy vets. Using the scope puts the weapon into sniper mode which fires ten shots at once, and the three grenade types account for the final three weapons. All of which are easily accessible, even in the default keyboard layout.

The last complaints are not really gameplay related. Firstly is related to content, as in there isn't much. Well, that's hard to argue at the moment as there are few maps, four to be exact. There is a free "Moonrise" map pack coming which will add another four and if you bought early you could be beta testing them right now. For the rest of us, we hope the content comes soon as, yes, four maps is small and no SDK is forthcoming. The second problem is the DX10 issue. XP users are left behind as well as "casual" PC gamers which would in fact expand the user base, but this is FutureMark after all. You know, the makers of the 3DMark Vantage benchmark tool? It would be remiss not to want your product to push the envelope in those shoes, no?

Shattered Horizon creates a level playing field and every facet has it's checks and balances - Rock, Paper, Scissors. The additions don't give you an advantage, they just make the game more interesting and fair. It's these reasons that make it the best multiplayer design I have seen yet and game designers should take a page from this book.

Steam has generously given three Guest Passes for each purchase (but not with the four pack for some reason) so if you have a friend that purchased it and your rig lives up to the requirements, bug him for one.
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