If a developer makes a decent, multiplayer-focused first-person shooter but no one is there to play it, does it deserve to be bought? Ponder this piece of Zen as we examine Warpath, a new, budget-priced FPS from developer Digital Extremes. Warpath is, for all intents and purposes, an Unreal Tournament knockoff that looks and feels pretty similar to Digital Extremes' last game, Pariah. Purely taken as a multiplayer shooter, Warpath has its qualities; but those qualities might be difficult to grasp considering that just about nobody is playing this game online, days after its retail release. And as far as its single-player experience goes, it has one, and that's about all you can say for it.
The premise of Warpath is that three warring races are battling it out for supremacy on a distant world. There's the human coalition, a group of futuristic supersoldiers decked out in what looks like a blue version of the Master Chief's suit from a certain other first-person shooter that one might argue Pariah was an awful lot like; the Kovos, a group of mechanical creatures that look like fatter versions of the Cylons from the old Battlestar Galactica series, but with weird Matrix code running down their faces; and the Ohm, who are basically Star Trek's Borg, but without that whole collective consciousness deal. Each race has a couple of unique weapons, but once you play through and unlock all the available guns, effectively there is no difference between factions, save for aesthetics.
Warpath includes deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and front line assault modes. The first three are pretty self-explanatory. Front line assault mode places a few capture points around a map, and requires at least one member from each team to stand in those points until a meter fills up and designates it as captured. Once a team has captured all the capture points on a map, they can then gain access to the opposing team's base and blow up its generator to take the round.
The four modes of play work well enough in Warpath, though the lack of unique or interesting weapons, cramped maps, and largely unnecessary vehicles do put a damper on things. The weapons' greatest fault is that they just don't have much feel to them, nor do they seem especially well balanced. The rocket launcher and shotgun are by far the most useful, whereas guns like the sniper rifle-esque javelin and grenade launcher aren't very effective over the course of a match. Of course, it's good to have at least one person using at least one of these two weapons on your team, but playing as that person isn't much fun, because you tend to get shot in the face a lot more than those wielding a shotgun or rocket launcher.
The maps in the game are almost exclusively indoor, with a few outdoor sections in some. Most of them are composed of narrow corridors, scattered elevators, and a few larger, open areas where bigger groups of combatants tend to congregate. Purely for the purposes of on-foot combat, the maps serve the game pretty well. There's just enough room to maneuver, though there are usually a couple of decent hiding spots and vantage points, and plenty of ammo and armor power-ups. The problems start to mount, however, when vehicles get tossed into the mix. No map in the game appears properly built toward vehicle usage. There's just not enough room to move them around properly, so what you typically end up with is a situation in which both sides have a couple of people in a vehicle, travel to the same spot, kind of get stuck there, shoot each other until one or both of the vehicles explode, and that's that.
Fundamentally, Warpath is built to be a multiplayer game. The Xbox version features Xbox Live and system-link play for up to 16 players, and the PC version has online and LAN play for as many as 32 players. You need at least six players to have a decent match, but unfortunately, in both versions of the game, we found ourselves running into a lot of situations where nobody was playing online. We did find a few matches at least, and we can report that the online performance seems relatively lag-free on both platforms; but the sheer amount of trouble we had finding opponents doesn't bode well for the game's lasting value.
There is offline play to be had in Warpath, but it doesn't amount to much. The single-player "campaign" is actually just a series of skirmishes that take place on a grid-based map. Each faction controls a portion of the map, and each is given one turn to challenge an opposing faction. Defeating them in battle gives you control of that territory you just challenged for. There's next to no story in this mode, nor much context for what you're doing, and you can be done with the mode in just a couple of quick, meaningless hours. The bot artificial intelligence is also rather bewildering. The game gives you four difficulty levels to choose from, and on all levels but the hardest, you'll find yourself mowing over the competition with ease. Enemy bots will sometimes just stand perfectly still, waiting for you to blast away at them. Other times, a whole group of them will just run right past you and won't stop to shoot you unless you shoot them first. Tactics just aren't a faction when going up against computer players, and all it really boils down to is you finding an enemy, shotgunning or rocket-launching them to death, and moving on. The hardest difficulty does make them a touch smarter, but you still won't have too much trouble winning matches.
Warpath presents itself reasonably well, though it does feel an awful lot like it's been built with recycled parts from Pariah. The game does go for more of an Unreal Tournament-esque hyperfuturistic look, but some of the set designs and core elements just look like Pariah all over again. It's a decent-enough-looking game, though there's not much to really catch the eye beyond the bare essentials. The Xbox version has a slightly more hobbled frame rate, but both versions run pretty well taken as a whole. There's not a ton of audio in the game beyond the synthetic, Halo-lite soundtrack and random explosions and grunts of fallen enemies, but what's there does the job.
So, with all that said, the answer to the question posed at the beginning is, ultimately, no. Warpath, while not devoid of enjoyable qualities, doesn't have enough going on in either the multiplayer or single-player departments to really be worth your time or money. The multiplayer definitely can be fun, and at the relatively cheap price of $20 on the PC and $30 on Xbox, those in serious need of a new FPS for their chosen platform could find Warpath entirely tempting. But considering the number of multiplayer FPSes currently available on both platforms that not only retail comparably, but also manage to provide both a compelling online community and a single-player campaign that's actually worth playing, Warpath looks rather perfunctory by comparison.