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“Devastation” review

by on May.06, 2012, under PC Game Reviews

Game: Devastation
Developer: Digitalo Studios

2.5 llamas  Unremarkable spawn of the Unreal Engine 2

Editor’s Note: I recently found my game play notes on this title when I played it nine years ago. In the interests of maintaining my “timely review” record, I’ve posted my observations and opinions below.

During the early years of First Person Shooter (FPS) development, it’s safe to say that storyline was rarely a primary concern for the design team. Players were often presented with a back story that focused on a arsenal wielding individual dedicated to the ultimate overthrow or destruction of an evil, oppressive or alien organization. Check out page 1 of the game manual and you can see that this ubiquitous premise has been utilized once again.

To paraphrase: It’s 2075 A.D and Earth is now a ravaged and devastated planet, it’s a technological Dark Age with hardly anyone knowing how to use basic devices, the surviving Mega-Corporations control most of the remaining technology and there is a resistance movement bubbling and fermenting amongst the downtrodden. Enter Flynn Haskell, leader of the local resistance and your in-game persona as he leverages two paragraphs of back story to justify massacring a small army of Corporation Pacification Squads across the environs of a ruined city.

Devastation‘s grandiose “twist” on the FPS paradigm is the concept of squad control, allowing you to gather additional rebels to your cause and seamlessly issue fire and movement orders to them. Unfortunately, the execution of this game-play feature inevitably results in the “execution” of most of your comrades within the first few minutes. Your compadres routinely disobey orders that you issue and are also highly proficient at throwing their lives away in a variety of amusing ways, ranging from assaulting sentry guns in the open to pirouetting endlessly on a piece of debris that they have become totally fixated upon. Team members routinely block your movements (especially around ladders and choke points) and it’s far too easy to get stuck on the copious rubble that permeates many of the maps. If you’re a die-hard aficionado of “rage-quitting” a game, welcome aboard … you’ll definitely experience ample opportunities to indulge in your hobby.

Graphically, Devastation showcases just how good the Unreal Engine was at the time … at least in the level environments. Textures are detailed and the the level design, although uninspiring by today’s standards, are above par for similar games during this period. The main complaint player’s will note is the incredibly bad lighting in a lot of the missions. While the designers avoided duplication of Unreal‘s original kaleidoscopic coloured illumination, they did opt for what is one of the darkest and drabbest lighting schemes ever seen in a game. Fortunately brightness, contrast and gamma controls are provided to help alleviate this problem. Character models are also rather lacking in detail, however this may have been a necessary sacrifice to allow the extra polygons needed for your “posse” to be rendered.

There is a comprehensive arsenal of weapons available to unleash Devastation on your foes, ranging from pistols and sub-machine guns that can be dual-wielded, to more esoteric weapons like harpoon guns and remotely controlled rat drones. Unfortunately, the corresponding weapon sound effects are muted and insipid; firing a sniper rifle in the open sounds like a damp-squib that’s been detonated under a five-foot pile of mattresses. You also don’t want to reload your shotgun in a potential combat situation as once you start the process, you can’t interrupt it until you’ve reloaded the entire clip.

There are quite a few bugs present in the original game. The Load-out interface never seemed to work correctly requiring repeated attempts to select weapons. There’s also the impressive ammunition bug that gets triggered when you drop a pair of dual-wield weapons. If you immediately pick them back up again, the magazine size for both weapons doubles. You can repeat this several times to enhance your single hand weapons; after all, “you can never have too many bullets.”  Rage quitters will experience additional angst when they encounter one of the regular “crash to desktop” events that plague many of the missions. You can throw around quite a bit of the rubble that’s strewn about the maps, however stopping to pick up a Chesterfield sofa to throw at a goon is probably not the most efficient means of dispatching your foe … especially if he’s porting a spun up mini-gun!  Finally, some of the AI routines near the end of the game seem to be missing; in one of the final missions when you need to defend your base, the opposition will have enough trouble just trying to unlock a gate to reach your fortifications. Digitalo did release a patch (v390) that provided an AI rewrite and some better weapon sound-effects, however many of the game’s original complaints persist to this day.

While creating a squad based FPS was a worthy goal back in 2003, Digitalo’s efforts unfortunately fall flat with an incomplete and forgettable experience. So forgettable in fact that I had to Google the words “rat drone” to find out what my game-play notes were about, as I’d forgotten to write down the game’s title! If you’re insistent on reminiscing about an Unreal Engine 2 game, LucasArt’s Star Wars: Republic Commando (2005) will undoubtedly provide a more polished and enjoyable alternative.

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