It is the hallmark of Futuremark’s products: Feats of real-time graphics that push visual and performance boundaries alike. Futuremark has made a serious name for itself with their 3DMark benchmark–a product that is notorious for making hardware weep with cutting edge graphics techniques.
All of the assets in 3DMark’s scenes are made exclusively by Futuremark, and those scenes typically consist of intense shootouts in space. Who hasn’t thought to themselves while watching these sequences, “I would love to play this”? Futuremark has finally delivered on that dream with Shattered Horizon, and they brought along their trademark visuals to remind us of how weak our hardware is.
Shattered Horizon is a futuristic, multiplayer, first person shooter set in space. A tragic mining accident on the moon resulted in an explosion that has shattered the lunar sphere. The two affected space organizations–the International Space Agency and the Moon Mining Cooperative–are fighting for control and survival. Sounds real original, doesn’t it? Don’t check out just yet, because the game has some serious tricks up its sleeve.
Shattered Horizon throws a curve ball with its unique mechanics. The entire game is played in the zero-G locale of open space, and gives the player control of all axes of orientation. This radically new approach to FPS game play completely redefines how we look at the genre.
Old genre, new mechanic
Control in Shattered Horizon is focused on the concept of multi-directional boosters. Your character is equipped with a space suit that has boosters on it for both movement and stabilization–it’s essentially a fancy jetpack. The suit allows you to remain relatively stationary when firing your weapon, and to orient yourself with the strange shapes of the debris strewn about the map.
Holding right click allows you to spin in any direction as you move the mouse. Furthermore, you can lower yourself to any surface and anchor yourself to it. Anchoring greatly improves your accuracy, and is the only truly effective way of using the scope to snipe unassuming free-floaters.
All-axis manipulation as a control scheme can be a very disorienting experience. I found myself craning my neck to combat the visual effect of the spinning and flipping environments of Shattered Horizon.
With the game’s zero-g environment, you have to begin thinking about your enemy’s movements not only on the horizontal plane, but also on the vertical plane. This also has to be considered in the context of your own momentum and motions. It’s an incredibly simple concept with a steep learning curve. New players will figure it out quickly, but mastery will take some time.
Brian and I understood the concept, but the other players destroyed us when we first played the game. Then again, we were playing against Futuremark staff, so I think it’s safe to say that they had the advantage.
Core game play is what you would expect from a shooter like this. Every player has a scoped rifle that fires bursts when scoped, and is otherwise fully automatic. Each player also has three different grenade types: An EMP grenade that zaps suits and limits mobility, an Ice grenade that explodes in a giant plume that limits visibility, and finally the MPR grenade, which sends out a large concussion that pushes players and objects around. It’s all rather standard fare, but it becomes a very unique experience when combined with the incredible control scheme.
The one thing that left me absolutely astounded was the suit shutdown key. With the press of a button, your suit will shut down and stop responding. You will no longer have the ability to anchor to surfaces, or use jets for propulsion and stabilization (firing your weapon sends you flying in the opposite direction). The benefit of this tremendous vulnerability is stealth. You are invisible on radar when the suit is powered down.
The jaw dropping part of a suit shutdown is the presentation. Once you power down, you lose everything. The HUD dissolves away, the game chat disappears, and the audio drops out (the suit simulates audio since sound waves cannot travel in space). Once you’ve powered down, the only things you can hear are muffled gunfire from your weapon, your breathing, and your heartbeat. Everything else is completely silent. It is a stunning thing to experience in a game.
Graphically, Shattered Horizon is exactly what you would expect from Futuremark. The game is gorgeous. When played on DirectX 11 hardware, Shattered Horizon is one of the best looking games on the market today. The sun glints off of metal surfaces in a very convincing manner. Real time soft shadowing is applied to all surfaces. Lights from all sources flare and reflect off of your visor, creating an immersive simulation of light refraction on the curved glass surface. In action, the game is simply breathtaking. This beauty comes at a price, though, and in true Futuremark style, the game will definitely tax your system. It is the perfect title to stress your hardware.
My biggest concern with this title is the limited novelty of zero-g combat–will it still be fun once we’re used to it? The game is not otherwise very deep. Shattered Horizon ships with just a few maps, a handful of game modes, and only one gun (the rifle). With such limited content, I fear that hardcore gamers will quickly grow tired of the game, but Futuremark has promised to keep the game fresh through free DLC.
This concern aside, Shattered Horizon is a beautiful game that visually delivers in all the areas you’ve come to expect from Futuremark. More impressively, they created a unique experience that is an absolute blast to play, and that is no small feat for a developer’s first title.
Shattered Horizon introduces a fresh mechanic to the tired FPS genre, offers an incredible value ($20!), and it pushes the hardware envelope. Given time to mature, Shattered Horizon could serve not only as the standard by which we measure graphics, but also as the standard by which we measure innovation.