Game Over Online ~ Devastation

GameOver Game Reviews - Devastation (c) Groove Games, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Devastation (c) Groove Games
System Requirements Windows, 700MHz Processor, 256MB RAM, 1GB HDD, 32MB 3D Accelerator
Overall Rating 75%
Date Published Tuesday, April 29th, 2003 at 12:40 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

What is Devastation? There are two answers. In gaming terms, it’s a team versus team game in the vein of Counterstrike, Tribes, Battlefield 1942, so on and so forth, only it actually has a single player component (that isn’t a tutorial). In story terms, Devastation takes place in the not too distant future of corporate tyranny. Instead of oppressive world governments, the CEOs and board of directors have put a yolk on the population, with rebel factions fighting back. On the eve of the twin Matrix films in 2003, this backdrop seems eerily familiar. It’s a dark future, but the developers simply leave it at that and go with the action route instead. There’s no attempt in the ensuing game to really flesh the conspiracy part in detail, a la Deus Ex, or through sarcastic humor, a la Fallout. The result is a game that tries to grab a huge chunk of the first person shooter pie: team competitive play, bots from multiplayer matches, full single player campaign. But it comes up short with only a few morsels.

That might be looking at the whole game a little too bleakly (I did spend the last week playing a game called Devastation). Devastation carries a laundry list of features. If it were a resume, it’d be the resume of the month on Monster.com or Hotjobs. There are thirty-five modern and futuristic weapons ranging from remote controlled rats (who act as remote detonators) to your regular 9mm pistol. Sadly, something had to give in this retinue, and that would be the sounds. After coming off of Raven Shield (also an Unreal powered first person shooter) and its diverse arsenal, the effects here are too artificial. There’s not enough bass or metallic ring to the guns. But Devastation makes up for it by featuring extensive multiplayer features. You have your regular bot-included team versus team play in single player; called Territories in Devastation. CTF, deathmatch and team deathmatch are available for your human cohorts in a variety of indoor and outdoor maps.

Devastation might look and sound like a Doom or Serious Sam type of game, but it’s not. It has the pretense of realism through its simulation mode, which is a good attempt to infuse believability into the world Digitalo Studios has created. Weapons, for example, don’t reload automatically. You can throw bottles and objects around you to distract or kill people. Unfortunately, the level design doesn’t utilize any simulative concepts because every one of the corporation’s goons is outfitted with firearms, and more often than not, you’ll have an arsenal of weapons yourself, which makes it a moot point altogether. This is something that was used extensively in Splinter Cell, but in Devastation it is little more than a cosmetic feature that marketing can put on their checklist. You kick up a trail of pop cans and boxes in your wake of devastating the landscape. But it does little other than make the whole thing look cool.

That’s aesthetic criticism though. The real problem with Digitalo’s creation is the AI: two AIs, in fact, because this game is team versus team. You have your friendly AI and enemy AI. There are sporadic moments where the enemy AI appears to work in sync with the game, but it is mostly because of the scripted setup. Dodging bullets and sniper fire at night through the shanty towns and wastelands of Devastation’s San Francisco or Tokyo is exhilarating. But then you realize the snipers don’t move and you can pick them off easily in concealment.

Because Devastation is a team versus team game, keeping teammates alive is priority number one because the game abruptly ends if they get killed at least in the first half of the game. The friendly AI is unfortunately over-zealous in eliminating every moving thing within their patrol radius. Thus, I found it’s best to assign them some backwater defense post to get them away from the heavy firefights. Once they are capable of regenerating and resurrecting themselves, your teammates become a little more useful. So ultimately, for at least 50% of the game, you’ll have to put two intelligence caps on: one for your partners and one for you.

Digitalo has worked many of the normal gaming conventions into the game’s fiction. Respawning, a popular term in first person shooters, turns out to be a regeneration device that the corporation Grathius uses to create their clone army. Again, allusions to The Matrix will be made. Along the way, the rebels capture one of them for themselves and this explains why you can respawn every time you die. The developers also try to hide the common mirror-map objectives, where both sides have to do the same thing similar to Counterstrike or Tribes. Objectives are broken down to disabling security grids, infiltrating places or destroying certain objects like regeneration devices. In the single player missions, a few defensive objectives help give a breath of fresh air. It is fun trying to hold off a horde of cloned corporation grunts, but again, this is another case where the scripted portion of the game is offsetting the deficiencies of the AI and mission design. And in light of the game they’re trying to design (something like Unreal Tournament with a story baked in), it’s really cheating. It isn’t seamless or dynamic when you have to resort to scripted tricks to help make it work.

No doubt, Digitalo’s trump card is the graphics. Many titles claim to use the Unreal engine but few can use it to the effect they do. The character models may not be the sharpest in color but they animate well, reacting to physical damage viscerally. Point and shoot a shotgun at the chest of an enemy and you’ll see him or her fly back against the wall. There is copious use of shadows and real-time lighting. As you move through shadows, you’ll see the light dance on and off your arm. So much darkness is used, in fact, that most of the game is shrouded in a void annoying for someone who hits the gamma correction at the onset of every first person shooter. Starting in San Francisco and making its way to Asia, most of the environments have a neo-urban oriental feel to it vis--vis architecture. All are universally decrepit, which lends credence to the storyline of a devastated world.

The final version of Devastation is really a mirror of the execution in the gameplay. It’s hit and miss in some areas. Even with the patches released so far, the game has a tendency to crash unexpectedly. You would expect that in multiplayer mode but it happens often in single player too. It happens even more if you switch from multiplayer to single player or vice versa. Considering the general stability of the Unreal engine, it’s hard to imagine what’s going on underneath the covers, but suffice to say, Devastation could have used more time in the QA lab.

There are Xbox .ini files strewn all about in the installation folder. For those who are programmers, you can even locate a few Sourcesafe tags, which makes the game look like it was rushed out the door. Devastation has a lot of good ideas in it. The team competitive game is certainly one that could be made into a compelling game. Digitalo almost makes one out of it, if only they had trust in themselves to carry it out to its fullest extent. Before it, games based on this concept of team versus team had laughingly simplistic single player components. Tribes and Battlefield 1942 had single player options that were little more than tutorials for the meat of the game. Devastation is able to transcend that, albeit rather briefly. With bullets flying and chaos breaking out in the midst of civilization’s ruins, it’s hard not to be impressed by Devastation. If it could crash less, have its gameplay as polished as its graphics, and a few more smarts included using its premise, it could be on another level altogether. As it stands now, it fails to devastate the competition.

 

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Rating
75%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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