English | Platform: PC | Release: December 23, 2011 | Publisher: ARUSH Entertainment | Developer: Digitalo Studios | 860 MB
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developers of first-person shooters are desperately trying to reinvigorate their old dogs with new tricks. Some do realism, some try their hand at scare tactics (I hate you, Shannen), some do pure combat, some role-play a bit, and some just give gameplay the bird and stuff their boxes with a load of useless, vulgar crap. Others? Well, others make players presidents of their own little group of killing machines.
Each design has its ups and downs. Scary games can be more Leprechaun and less Exorcist. Combat titles can lack AI or be too straightforward. Those ones stuffed with random garbage can turn out like a corn tortilla wrapped around every single item the Taco Bell/KFC combination restaurant offers... Not so good. Then there are the squad-based shooters, which perhaps have it hardest, for they depend on several of the base components the others require, but also need to deliver on the whole command and control concept.
Before segueing into how he saw Gloria Estefan naked while she "was" his cousin, that kid at school who walks over, taps you on the shoulder and then begins to prattle on about the greatness of latest videogames because they're so pretty may have you believe Rainbow Six birthed the squad-based FPS craze... Do me a favor and throw a little Space Hulk in his face the next time he opens his mouth. So there might have been some other, more popular game that did it first and better, but Space Hulk is what I remember and Space Hulk is what I'll use (it had a cool box -- deal with it).
Way back when, Games Workshop knew that certain things needed to be done to make a title of the sort successful. The graphics were ugly as all hell, the control was half broke, it was quite possibly one of the hardest videogames ever made, and every single level looked pretty much exactly like the one that came before it, but damned if it didn't work. Ordering troops was easy. As an Imperial Terminator, it was your job to command a bunch of Blood Angels around and eliminate Gene Stealers on a snowballing space hulk that happened to be barreling toward a colonized planet. This was possible because you could temporarily freeze time (which itself is freaking bizarre), bring up a tactical map overlay, point your goons around, have them line up in halls, cover angles and move as a unit throughout the levels. If all else failed it was always possible to manually control the lot of them from the first-person if need be. How do you like that, Rainbow?
Where are we going with this? Devastation from Arush, Digitalo and Groove tries something similar. It takes the concept of squad management on an action level, makes sure your squad is constantly facing overwhelming numbers, and insists players control the whole thing while getting shot from sixty different directions. Unlike Space Hulk, this game is far from ugly, it's not identical from one level to the next, and it's not super duper hard (there also aren't a whole lot of Gene Stealer Tyranids to deal with). Unfortunately, also unlike Space Hulk, pointing the goon squad around is a bigger pain in the ass -- a task that ultimately isn't completely necessary to enjoy successful gameplay.
Depending on the mode and the level, it can indeed be rather important to keep the eight bums you command following you (defense and assault come into play later into the game). Brazenly, the developers at Digitalo decided that instead of perfectly symmetrical, unobtrusively square levels, they were going to create immense mazelike environments with plenty of dead ends, an absolutely astonishing amount of interactive clutter, narrow planks, death pits, and a whole lot of other crap. This means the artificial intelligence had better be sporting some intelligence. Nothing will kill your Daikatana quicker than some buddies refusing to board the elevator.
Amazingly, the team of ruffians I employ managed to navigate these insanely detailed worlds rather effortlessly. They'll climb the hell out of ladders, scurry across wood beams between buildings (unless they need to be pushed off for blocking my path), and will follow to the best of their abilities, provided they don't feel like just standing around or hunting a lone Pacification officer (corporate jerk) way off in the distance, which they have a sick tendency to do. But it's not the pathfinding that keeps AI down!
When only a couple of men are enlisted, the game remains fairly simple to manage. The more troops that join the ranks, the harder it gets. As Devastation moves along, the collection of rapscallions, like ugly Pokemon, will grow. As it does, each of the little problems and AI inconsistencies will compound until all that's left is a bunch of guys who never seem to be doing exactly what you want them to unless you're holding their hand.
The premise is great: game drags on, group grows, weapons become more readily available, people need to be given certain weapons for certain roles and placed in certain spots to counter the enemy, the game moves on some more. Yeah, well you try throwing guns at the heads of your men and poorly dressed women by hitting the backspace key and then selecting all of them by name alone. Wait... Were you Jim or Bob? And what weapons did I toss at your face exactly? Come on, come on! We're getting shot!
Group problems matter little. Unless you're playing simulation and dealing with the AI's eagle-like sight and unfair computer given advantages, you'll find arcade mode to be a relative breeze. Simulation, though, is where the pro will find most joy in Devastation. Its very inclusion is neat, and the added pressures and slower pace it brings to the table can be great, especially midway through the solo campaign when it completely transforms to something akin to your average bot match with single controllable spawn points for either faction.
Enemies will run around like bots, jump around like bots, do in your face tactics like bots, and seemingly try and bunny hop while shooting like crazy and randomly ducking (hitting their target every time if the weapon they wield boasts any kind of accuracy). Watching a Devastation fight is almost like being a spectator to multiplayer deathmatch where unskilled scrubs drunk off Nyquil are having at it. Playing Devastation can almost be as fun as watching these fights, however. Enemies are everywhere, the world is gorgeous, you have a ton of weapons, and people are shooting every which way. That alone deserves recognition.
With a tweaked combat system and combat AI (from Halo to Red Faction to Half-Life to Far Cry), Devastation could have been so much more.
Using next-generation Unreal technology, the game has managed to craft some of the most amazing environments in any shooter to date. Every single room, street, hall, alley, corridor, roof, balcony, and staircase is so totally filled with perfunctory litter it's almost distracting. The nonsensical post apocalyptic world is masterfully delivered through technical achievements in the field of level design. Nearly every piece of discarded refuse can be shot or moved in some way. Mostly frivolous, boxes, cans, barrels, computers and more come complete with destruction animations and applied physics (however glitchy) that gives the large and comparatively quick loading environments an eerily believable look and feel. Ducking behind four stacked boxes and seeing them shot off one at a time, exposing your frail head, is just too cool.
For as detailed as the environments are, the character models aren't. Stiff animations, poorly detailed faces, sloppy bodies, texture work that looks like a large man rubbed a cheese grater over their skin, and some weird art decisions make characters look like the hobos ripe for the robbing in Deus Ex. Thankfully, there are a damn lot onscreen at any given time and colored well by nice lighting and made lively by nice particle effects. Unreal tech seems to handle it all pretty decently, too. Me? I'm all about quantity over quality any day of the week. To that end, Devastation is darn pretty.
Sheer technical brilliance takes a back seat to somewhat archaic design philosophies, though. As sprawling and open-ended as some of the levels seem to be (this problem is not nearly as bad much later on in the game, when it switches to that straight up multiplayer map style we talked about and is no longer focused on linear A to B levels), most come with an inordinate amount of locked doors. Who takes the time to render 400 doors in a level that are all useless? It's impossible to tell what you can and cannot open at a glance, so often just walking about and trying everything in sight is the only way to go, which can make the necessity of exploring for health and ammunition somewhat tedious. I also feel further compelled to endure this tedium and try and open every door because even though a nifty little radar indicates where my next objective lies in relation to myself, I naively cling onto the slim hope that by wandering about I'll somehow discover just what the hell is going on.
Like the Postman, everyone in the world that is Devastation is a complete idiot incapable of remembering the past. It's only 2075 and suddenly the Earth imploded and got itself conquered by multinational conglomerates that are all evil. As far as I can tell there are no longer many civilians (if any), but there are plenty of resistance fighters to combat irrationally motivated corporate scum, fueled by pure evil, of course.
Devastation starts with little explanation, back-story, character development, or any kind of a plot. Those police looking dudes are bad while you and the rest of the ex-military gangbanging homeboys are good. Peachy. Police dudes also have some kind of cloning device. Swell. Don't worry, you're going to find the blueprints conveniently on Alcatraz after you get kidnapped and you're also going to try and "expose" the evil corporations for what they really are. Since this is a post apocalyptic future that doesn't seem to be inhabited by anyone, let alone one that's democratically governed, I'm not all that clear on who you're going to expose them to, but what the hell, at least you can get a cloning machine out of it.
And it's like this for level after level after level after level. Seriously, what the hell is going on? Who are these people? I read the manual, I checked out the story between missions, I listened to the whiny doctor gone skater skank, but all I know is that I think the main character, Eminem, is some kind of lunatic good guy in dire need of a cloning machine of his own because the corporations are evil. Why are they evil, Eminem? Since you also seem to be evil (or are at least cool with shooting folks and threatening women with pistols), why don't you just join the corps and ditch the hood? I guess we're all also in the "technology dark age," so that probably pissed him off... Oddly, no one I've seen wielding an assault rifle in advanced sentry protected facilities seems to understand that the dark age is in effect. I see it as modern day Detroit, only unpopulated.
The conversations don't ever help the plot. Everyone in Devastation has a tendency to just kind of say stuff. It makes sense, if you don't care about story, but it's awfully annoying, as are most of the sound effects -- something you all will be able to attest to given the amount of feedback Digitalo has received. They're busy readying a patch to fix up some audio issues, namely changing guns to keep them from sounding like they all fire peas, but that isn't out of the box, and I can patch Ultima IX all I want, but it's still going to be Ultima IX come review time.
Screwing up the way a billion different weapons sound is pretty zany. Devastation doesn't exactly sport a billion (plus or minus nine hundred million, nine hundred ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and sixty five) but it has a fair compliment of ass kicking tools.
The Goldeneye effect works. A lot of the guns in Devastation serve similar purposes, but the mere fact that they were included is enough to warrant praise. Variation is goodness. Besides, there's even a cute little mouse bomb. The number 35 doesn't change the fact that you'll be using the guns to uncomplicatedly shoot folks and inanimate things, but at least there are a bunch of them.
And what of multiplayer? Multiplayer can be great and multiplayer can be worse than being kicked in the shins. Territorial mode (exactly what you play in singleplayer) is cool, when it functions (I've been assured that a patch is in development and should be released shortly).
You win territorial by keeping your single spawn point. Camping won't be a problem because the objective is not to amass kills, but rather to shut down the spawn regenerator of the enemy and then systematically exterminate his remaining forces. If yours gets whacked, you'd better hit theirs and bring it to 'em. Multiplayer completely alters the game for the better. Without AI comrades and daft AI opponents, a lot of the problems of Devastation fade away...but then it's broken, so who cares?
Bugs, the absurd storyline, often nonfunctional multiplayer, odd graphical and physical glitches, in-your-face bot-like combat, and some questionable level design are all problems. Conversely, excellent visuals, an immense arsenal, an enjoyable multiplayer component (when properly working), and a stab at originality are all pluses.
Devastation is a balancing act between that negative left-hand and that positive right-hand. One's reaching for the belt, ready to scorn, while the other is picking up the mouse and hotly anticipating patches and the improvements they promise.
Down the middle, Devastation is slightly above average. A more action heavy, AI driven combat system and a more robust command and control mechanism could have propelled the title into greatness if the story were a little better and the physics were a little polished.
Worth checking out, Devastation can't hope to usurp the best of the genre, but it still deserves a download at the very least.
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