Devastation Preview

Digitalo's Unreal-powered first-person shooter is due out next month. We get a hands-on look at what makes it stand out.

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Devastation is due out next month, and we recently had a chance to play through a preview version of this first-person shooter from Digitalo Studios. The demo gave a good feel for the game--which is based on the latest Unreal technology--as it included portions from four different levels, as well as most of the weapons you'll be able to use in the game.

A ragtag band of resistance fighters will assist you and can be given orders.
A ragtag band of resistance fighters will assist you and can be given orders.

Devastation is set in a bleak future where most cities lie in a desolate state of disrepair. Ruling these cities is an evil conglomerate known as Grathius Corporation. Its latest experiments involve advanced cloning research, a plot element that plays into later missions where you'll face endless waves of enemies that spawn out of advanced cloning devices. Your only recourse is to advance through the enemy ranks and take out the spawning machines before they overwhelm you. You'll also eventually get access to these devices yourself, which will allow you to continue playing through a mission even after "dying." Assisting you against Grathius Corporation are other members of a ragtag resistance band, whose members you can command using an onscreen menu reminiscent of other tactical shooters like SWAT 3.

Aside from letting you command squadmates to assist you in battle, Devastation sets itself apart from other shooters with its advanced Karma physics engine, which gives the game's environments more interactivity than the typical first-person shooter. For example, playing through the game's gritty urban levels, you'll come across trash on the ground in the form of empty bottles, cans, boxes, and metal drums. If you walk carelessly through a pile of bottles and cans, you'll kick them around, making a lot of noise and potentially alerting enemies around the next corner. Boxes and crates have a different weight and inertia to them, but they can still be moved around to provide a minimum level of cover. However, these boxes prove to be flimsy in a firefight, as we were able to easily shoot through and shatter wooden crates that enemy characters would try to hide behind.

In firefights we observed reasonably intelligent AI behavior from enemy soldiers, who would try to move behind cover in the environment and shoot only from protected positions. Advancing up a short hill in the demo's Chinatown level, we also observed enemies rolling metal drum trashcans down the incline at our squad. This action did not appear to be scripted, exemplifying creative ways the AI tries to take advantage of its environment.

The rat drone is perhaps the most interesting weapon, letting you sneak up to guards from a rat's-eye view and explode the drone.
The rat drone is perhaps the most interesting weapon, letting you sneak up to guards from a rat's-eye view and explode the drone.

Some work still needs to be done on the squad AI, as squadmates do not always respond intelligently to a command to attack. Sometimes they will act as expected, running into the next rooms to shoot at enemies. At other times they will merely run around the level, confused at where to go next. To the AI's credit, your squadmates show an impressive ability to follow you, even when you become separated by several stories as in the demo's multilevel Zangai mission. From the fifth floor and the opposite side of a multilevel building, I was able to call for backup to my squad waiting a few floors below. Within about a minute, the AI squadmates had navigated the sets of winding stairs and found me at the top.

Devastation features two types of game modes in its campaign, arcade and simulation. The primary difference between the two is that arcade allows you to carry many weapons, whereas simulation allows you to carry only one heavy weapon and one or two side arms before your character becomes encumbered. When you're encumbered, your movement rate is slowed a great deal, and you must drop weapons to regain your full running speed.

The game also includes an impressive array of weaponry including pistols, grenades, submachine guns, sniper rifles, and heavy machine guns. Most of the smaller weapons like the pistols and submachine guns can be fired with a gun in both hands, doubling your firepower. However, the tradeoff is that going with two guns at once really decreases your accuracy. Futuristic weapons are also included in the game, such as a laser sniper rifle that sets enemies ablaze for a moment before their bodies burn to ash. A tiny, single-handed version of a multibarrel Gatling gun also appears in the game. Using two of these, you can unleash an incredible number of bullets in a brief period of time.

The most interesting weapon, however, is the rat drone, which appears as a cute, squirming rodent in your hand. Set the rat drone on the ground, and you'll get a ground-level view of the action, where you can direct the rat into small holes in the wall. Armed with a camera on its head and explosives on its back, the rat drone can walk unnoticed by enemy soldiers before you explode it to take out enemies or key generators that you can't reach by foot.

Many smaller guns can be equipped two at a time for extra punch.
Many smaller guns can be equipped two at a time for extra punch.

Devastation will ship with a special multiplayer mode called territories. Two of the levels in our press demo gave a taste of what territories will be like, with two sides each guarding a base that houses their own destructible respawner. The object of territories is to kill off the other team, which will of course involve taking out the enemy respawner first. Each team will devote some of its members to base defense and others toward attacking the other base on the other side of the map.

With its impressive graphics and physics, as well as a unique multiplayer game style, Devastation aims to stand out from the crowded market of first-person shooters. The press preview gave us a promising taste of what PC shooter fans can look forward to seeing when Devastation ships in late March.

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