For a veteran developer with credits like Unreal Tournament 2003, Digital Extremes makes a lot of rookie mistakes with Pariah. The plot is incomprehensible. Weapons are boring. Player movement is straight out of the Ice Capades. Multiplayer isn’t fun. And there is no saving on demand. Yet for all that, Pariah is more mediocre than bad. Even with so many flaws, it’s still an agreeably half-assed Halo clone that packs some amusement in short spurts.

8Most problems are of the “Man, how did they screw that up?†variety. The plot is straightforward action-movie sci-fi about a 26th century M.D. named Jack Mason, who crash-lands on a devastated Earth that’s been turned into a prison planet. All he really does is pursue or defend a young woman with a mysterious explosive infection, but vague storytelling gives you a “missed the first half of the movie†feeling that never goes away. Characters drop in and out of the plot. Momentous events occur with no set-up, as if Digital Extremes forgot to include a few cutscenes.

The levels are gorgeous, though. Even if you never really know what’s going on, you can at least enjoy the picturesque scenery provided by the latest Unreal engine. There is a nice blend of outdoor and indoor environments, including a fall forest where leaves slowly flutter to the ground, rundown factories and refineries, and even a moving train. At times you get the feeling that you’re battling from one generic Unreal Tournament map to another, but at least the settings are pretty.

Also, more objects are destructible than in the average shooter. You can blast concrete columns to rubble, shoot away metal barriers and, of course, blow up barrels. And in a nice twist on the usual ka-boomable refugees from Donkey Kong, some levels feature acid barrels that spew poisonous clouds whenever they’re punctured.

But detonating this stuff isn’t as much fun as it should be. Pariah does feature some interesting touches, like health that recharges if you take cover similar to that used in Halo and a range of vehicles that also seem to have been pulled from the Bungie shooter, but the weapons are disappointing. Although you can pick and choose weapon upgrades after collecting energy cores, the weapons lack punch. And the targeting reticle is so huge (a holdover from the Xbox edition) that you barely need to aim them.

Aside from when flamethrower guys dash around in panic when their volatile backpacks have been set ablaze, there isn’t much satisfaction to be derived from any of the gunplay. There are just a few types of foes, all of which are variations on standard shooter space cops wearing helmets that wouldn’t be out of place on futuristic firemen. They often respawn, and they’re pretty dumb to boot. Enemies wielding splash-damage weapons like grenade launchers don’t even know enough to hold fire at close range, and often insanely blast away until they blow themselves up.

21_1Some of this silliness is negated by an agreeably fast pace. Everything moves so quickly—maybe too quickly, seeing as a slip-slidin’-away lack of friction makes it easy to skate off cliffs—that you don’t think about suicidally stupid adversaries until after they’ve blown themselves to bits. This speed makes the game pretty challenging at the default difficulty, however, and that exposes issues with save checkpoints that are spread too far apart. Of course, this entire problem wouldn’t exist if Digital Extremes had simply added saving on demand, which is as expected in PC shooters as seatbelts are in cars.

Multiplayer is blah, with predictable deathmatch, assault, siege, and capture the flag modes. There is ‘bot support, and an incredibly easy-to-use multiplayer map editor along with the standard one that ships with most Unreal Tournament-powered games, but it’s hard to envision experienced shooter fans spending much time either playing this game online or designing levels for it. In the end, you probably won’t hate playing Pariah. But then again, you could just replay Halo again.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2 GHz, 512 MB RAM, WinXP

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