Storylines in games are shit. Not a new observation by any means, but one that's as true today as it was ten years ago. For all the credit we give games like Sam & Max, Knights Of The Old Republic and Max Payne 2, most game plots are wafer-thin excuses for slaughter, daubed on the back of a napkin by a semi-literate, attention-disordered metal fan. If a game's not a rip-off of Aliens, it's probably a rip-off of Neuromancer or The Matrix, with a level
of character development slightly less sophisticated than your average porn film.
Which is why it came as such sweet music to our ears when we found out
that Pariah, the new FPS from Unreal-developer Digital Extremes, is all about telling a great story.
"We really want to push the envelope in storytelling," agrees James Schmalz, founder and creative director of the esteemed Canadian codeshop. "I've played too many games, especially in the FPS genre, where the story is like 'ho-hum', and the game's really not that compelling. Even Doom 3 - an amazing game - is at best a B-movie. We're putting a lot of effort into making a really interesting story - one where you have an emotional investment in the situation and the characters, and we're trying to do that more so than anyone has done before."
The game itself is a handsome sci-fi shooter set on a far-future Earth. Like many of its ilk, you've got a selection of vehicles, some big guns, a few enemies and the trusty old Unreal engine humming away beneath it all. The big difference, as far as James is concerned, is that these factors are matched by an equally advanced emotional aspect, something he sees as increasingly critical in today's hi-fidelity game environments.
"With the level of graphical detail, the facial animation and the physics, you need to have a much better storyline that blends in with and matches that level of realism. And if you don't, it's that much more disappointing. As the technology gets better, you need to have the better actors and the story to deliver a compelling overall experience."
It might sound like hype, but Digital Extremes is leaving nothing to chance in its quest for the perfect story, enlisting the help of two Hollywood scriptwriters, spending painstaking hours casting voice-actors and generally laying out a shedload more time and cash than most FPS developers would ever dream of.
"Oh yeah, we're going crazy," enthuses James. "We've done all sorts of research about how stories are made and what makes a great story. We're on the fifth revision of the script right now, and we still want to tweak the dialogue, make sure everything's just right. Then, when we record the voice-actors, we're
going to videotape the actors' faces
too, so the animators can match the
facial expressions. We don't want our characters to look like manikins."
Feel The Force
Unfortunately, the results are so far a bit difficult to judge. Not only are the final voices yet to be recorded, but Digital Extremes is also being understandably cagey about the plot. After all, it is the game's key feature and the company doesn't want to spoil it.
What we can tell you however, is this. The year is 2520. You are Jack Mason,
a suicidally depressed doctor called to Earth - now a horrific prison colony - to escort a patient off-planet. You've been told your patient is a prisoner with a dangerous virus, but when you get there you find she's also a hot ex-military chick called Karina. On your way back, your dropship suddenly goes out of control (sabotaged) and crashes into a forest. All hell breaks loose, and you find yourself fighting for survival with Karina at your side. As you make your way back to
the prison however, the real story starts