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Devastation Review

publisher: ARUSH Entertainment
developer: Digitalo Studios
genre: Shooters

PII-450, 128MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 3D accelerator
ESRB rating: M

release date: Mar 28, 03
» All About Devastation on ActionTrip

That's right lads and lassies, we are blessed with another action FPS, coming this time as a joint effort of Digitalo Studios and ARUSH Entertainment. The initial announcement of Devastation uncovered that the game will feature non-stop FPS delight, fully exploiting the famed Unreal Engine supplemented with the so-called MathEngine Karma physics system. After testing the game's beta build we were rather impressed with the physics and the overall potential of the UT2003 engine. Also, the game seemed to have all the necessary rudiments for a promising FPS; an intense atmosphere that's filled with sudden twists, almost constant action, an intriguing storyline, huge levels and a wide choice of weapons. At the time we also noticed a few glitches here and there that might be attributed to weak moments in the engine or AI code. Since then, we were hoping these issues would be sorted out before we got our hands on the full retail version. Apparently, they were not.

The game's story takes players through an exciting and dangerous journey 72 years in the future, where the main character (Flynn) and his loyal group of outcasts are forced to fight against a vigorous and oppressive regime. The world is besieged by this cruel government, which enforces its decree by imprisoning, torturing, and murdering anyone who dares to resist its diabolical laws. Plunging deeper into the dark secrets of this unfriendly futuristic world, players suddenly find themselves in a struggle for survival against a deadly enemy that will do anything to remain in power. Yet, somehow, your team must muster all the strength it can to form a tough underground resistance movement. From here on, we leave you to discover the rest of the plot for yourselves.

Though this type of plot may not be all that unique or innovative, it does convey a sense of survival, which is enough for any FPS I guess. Players are going to have to fight, stab, throw, and shoot their way through many tense situations. (Ed. - Just like my high school.) But, at all times, you know you're fighting for a good cause, which can keep you spirits up for some time.

As you start rushing through the first few levels, it will be easy to get used to the interface and weapon handling. It's all quite simple, intuitive, and presented in the standard and straightforward FPS manner. Everything you need can be swiftly accessed via shortcut keys. From a practical point of view, Devastation has no apparent disadvantages. Everything appears to work smoothly. After a while though, some other disappointing aspects will arise that can seriously decrease the game's fun factor.

To begin with, no matter how far you've progressed in the game, CPU-controlled characters will exhibit bizarre behavior patterns, even the friendly AI guys. On occasion, the AI will work just fine without any problems. But when the player attempts to organize an attack with his AI teammates, things start going haywire. This proved to be a most annoying aspect of gameplay, especially in missions where you have to rely on the cooperation of your teammates. Wait did I say cooperation? That's a slightly stretched definition. Instead of providing cover fire and tactical combat support, your teammates sometimes freak out and start rushing mindlessly into certain death. (Ed. - Just like my high school.) When they're told to follow, they hold, and vice versa. Cooperation is evidentially not a big part of these guys training. Consequently, you're faced with two simple solutions: one, you can go into action alone (which is what I did); or two, you can spend all of your time ordering your teammates around and hope for the best. The AI characters don't appear to have any problems with simple orders, but from the moment things get hairy, none of your teammates will take the time to acknowledge new orders. It was like trying to organize a battle with unruly seven-year-olds as troops. As for the enemy AI, things aren't good for them either. Sometimes hostile troops can be deadly and precise. Then, right out of the blue, they just won't notice you, even when you're facing them only a few feet away. (Ed. - Like the me and the chicks from my high school.) In addition to being completely oblivious to your presence, opponents rarely act as a team and they often just run into your crosshair allowing you to drop 'em like flies. Similar issues are often known to occur with bot AI behavior patterns in multiplayer games. In this game, you get the impression that you are fighting off a horde of weak-minded bots, which certainly ruins the challenge.

Devastation, in spite of its disturbing AI setbacks, can be appealing thanks to a variety of interesting and amusing features which we don't usually see in games of this type. The MathEngine Karma physics system gave the developers a chance to incorporate many cool details into the game. For starters, you can interact with just about anything on the screen. You can kick all sorts of things about, such as trash cans, bottles, boxes, crates, and even basketballs (!?!). This type of interaction was also well-employed throughout the missions. Each mission denotes a certain number of tasks that need to be performed. Sometimes those missons denote destroying a particular object, planting explosives and detonating them from a distance, downloading security codes from nearby terminals, using rat-cams to locate your objective, etc.

Devastation also offers a wide-range selection of light and heavy weaponry. When things get tough around the futuristic block, you don't necessarily have to grab the nearest flamethrower or mini-gun. As an alternative to heavy weapons and explosives, you can pick, say, two pistols or light SMG's and use them in both hands (the subtle, popular, and very effective Lara Croft type of maneuver). Some missions will require you to use stealth and tactics, which is why the long-ranged sniper rifles will come useful. When fired from a great distance accurately, sniping can cause devastating effects to the target. If you strike your opponent directly in the head, it will fall off in a matter of seconds or simply blow up to pieces. Snipers can also rip off limbs of an unfortunate foe if they happen to be in your crosshairs at the rght time. Anyway, it's a cool effect. A bit gory, but still cool. Of course, the level of gore can always be reduced or switched off completely if one so prefers. Apart from all the available weapons, players can pick up and use various objects that lie around. For example, you can pick up a bottle or a wooden plank and smash it on the head of your opponent. In some levels you can place small cams on rats and then use them to explore the area. A nice and innovative idea and certainly quite helpful at times.

There's really no point in emphasizing the capabilities of the Unreal technology once more. Some of the improvements that were made to the engine have truly enhanced the possibility of the technology. Thanks to Unreal, the MathEngine Karma physics Devastation offers an outstanding variety of up-to-date in-game visual effects. Excellent lighting effects and superb, and very realistic shadows are only a segment of the engine's potential. Other qualities include authentic smoke and fog effects, realistic water surfaces, detailed backdrops, and first-rate particle effects. In light of all these potentials, it just surprises me how sloppy a job the programmers have done with the engine code and the AI routine. In the docks, for instance, your character can easily fall into water, after which it is absolutely impossible for him to get back up on the pier. The astonishing thing is that there's a ladder available, and you can climb it, but there's no way you can get to the top. What the hell is that? The scary thing is there's a warning before that section that says, "try not to fall into the water." I can honestly see what they meant now: "don't fall into the water, we didn't optimize the code for the bloody ladder!" Or, as I like to put it, we were too lazy to fix this.

The sound effects and music are okay, but nothing that would make you go nuts over. Every sound is realistic and goes well with the game atmosphere. Although I'll admit that some of the tunes could've been a bit lengthier and the game ambiance should have been enriched with a few more sounds in the background (it just sounds too light and quiet at times).

Devastation also features an exciting and well-balanced multiplayer mode that features 14 maps (with four different environments). Gamers who prefer their multiplayer challenges over the single-player experience can enjoy 4 game modes: DM, TDM, CTF, and Territories. This mode turned out to be more fun at times than the single-player chapters, with over 30 additional weapons and 50 different players to choose from.

In short, the single-player ride in Devastation brings a few nice refreshments to the FPS genre and it wholly exploits the potentials of Unreal technology. The multiplayer can be a lot of fun, the maps were well-designed and there's a variety of modes to try out. None of these features, however, can justify the occasional engine bugs and terribly optimized AI. Because of that, the single-player experience feels like you're playing against an army of total idiots that seem willing, if not eager, to run right out into the open where you can pick them off. So, my advice is that you should buy the game only if you're bored with other multiplayer titles you keep playing these days. The single-player has a nice story, but nothing all that mesmerizing, so you won't be missing much in that respect.

UPDATE: We were just informed by Donald Case from ARUSH Entertainment that players can in fact climb out of the water, but via another ladder that's located on the far side of the dock. The "don't enter the water" warning sign apparently refers to the hungry sharks that could nibble your feet. So, shoot me I was wrong. In any case, one ladder is still "out of order" shall we say, so I guess that only fixes half of the problem.


7.0   Good

The UnrealEngine and MathEngine physics have played their part very well - nice character models, realistic physics, huge highly detailed levels, decent particle effects, etc. There's a great variety of weapons to choose from and numerous items and objects to pick up and use in self defense. Several interesting gameplay novelties. Good multiplayer;

Terrible AI (both enemy and friendly). Some of the engine codes were not optimized that well, so you'll be running into a number of very irritating bugs along the way. Some time the game is too quiet like there aren't any outside factors and ambient noises. So, I'd definitely vote for more in-game sound effects and an extended soundtrack. Also, for some reason, they didn't think it important enough to make your character able to climb out of water.



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