Reviews: This path to war is a little bumpy.
WarPath is Digital Extremes' budget-priced going-away present for the original Xbox as they gear up for the next gen. It sounds like a shooter lover's dream come true: an online multiplayer fragfest from the developer of Unreal and Pariah at a wallet-friendly price? I couldn't wait to open the wrapping on this parting gift.
But as mom might say, ?It's the thought that counts.?
On the plus side, WarPath packs a surprising amount of gaming goodness for a budget title: 16 player support over Xbox Live, 17 maps, four game types (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Front Line Assault, a Battlefield-like mode where you have to capture map points), three vehicles, upgradeable weapons and a turn-based hex format single-player campaign. Sounds pretty cool so far, right? Unfortunately, the gameplay is pure vanilla shooter; it's brutally fast ? much like Unreal Championship ? and is decent enough but there is really nothing distinctive or exciting about it.
The story takes place on the beautiful resource-rich planet of Kaladi where three races are fighting for control: the cyborg Ohm who need the planet's resources to survive; the religious House of Kovos who covet and protect the planet as holy ground; and the Human Coalition who are simply looking for a place to settle. Needless to say, nobody gets along and all hell breaks loose. The tenuous ?story? is really just an excuse for the three races to kill each other; the brief text ending of the single player campaign is painful proof of that.
The offline campaign starts with each race occupying five territories in a hexagonal map. Each race takes turns attacking another; if the attacker wins, they gain the territory. Game types vary per territory but are mainly Team Deathmatch or CTF with you and three AI teammates fighting four enemy AI. Sometimes you will unlock a new weapon if you successfully capture a territory, or gain CAM bonuses.
CAMs are modules used to upgrade your weapons to three levels. There are six weapons in total (though you can only select two at the beginning of each match) and include the standard assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher. You also have unusual weapons like the Tyrant, which fires sticky plasma grenades, and the Vanguard, which spits out energy balls. When upgraded, the Tyrant enables you to remote detonate the grenades (which stick to floors and walls) while an upgraded Vanguard lets you stick energy balls onto a wall or ceiling that will zap nearby enemies with mini-lightning bolts. Kudos to the developers for trying to come up with something different but in practice, you'll stay with the tried and true standards since the Tyrant and Vanguard are really only useful as defensive weapons in CTF and Assault, and are practically useless in one-on-one combat since their projectiles travel way too slowly and take too long to activate. And if you don't like an upgrade, too bad ? you're stuck with it until you die. You also have a non-upgradeable bladed melee weapon and an upgradeable healing device which comes in very handy when you're running back to your base with the enemy flag.
Unfortunately, all weapons suffer from a tiny targeting reticule that is light grey in color, making it virtually invisible on anything other than a pitch black background. Combine that with the incredibly fast gameplay and accurate aiming at anything beyond point-blank range feels more like luck than anything.
You can pilot any of three vehicles but these are only available on a small number of maps and you'll probably avoid them anyway because they are difficult to steer and their aiming accuracy is a joke. One time I had two enemies in my sights only 10 feet away and was laying into them with my vehicle's chaingun and they simply turned around and ran away without a scratch. Grr.
The AI is a mixed bag as well. Enemies will often ignore you, running right past you or simply stand out in the open doing nothing, while other times they will ignore your AI teammates and concentrate their fire solely on you with uncanny accuracy. The friendly AI is no better; I've seen AI teammates sit dumbly while happily watching enemies grab our flag.
Although there are 17 maps, they all follow the school of ?dark narrow industrial hallway? design and so look and feel the same, which makes the gameplay quite repetitive. While the maps are decent in size and the narrow hallways encourage tight one-on-one combat, they're mostly symmetrical so it's easy to get disoriented. As well, there are no HUD indicators pointing out flag locations, either the enemy's or your own, making it difficult to try and recover your flag or backup a teammate trying to score.
As stated earlier, gameplay is extremely fast, almost comically so. The characters move with exaggerated speed and a jerky cartoonish animation that almost perfectly emulates the Keystone Kops ? which would be funny if the game wasn't trying to be a serious shooter. As it stands, it just looks goofy. You can also perform a super fast sprint, complete with a cool blurred tunnel vision effect, and hop around like a frog (though your jump height is nowhere near as buoyant as Master Chief's).
Graphically, the game looks decent but not outstanding; in fact, everything gives you a sense of ?been there, done that?, no doubt a result of keeping it a budget title. The character designs look lifted straight out of Unreal and Pariah, which probably saved expensive artwork time but if you're going to play as these characters, why not just play Unreal or Pariah? The Ohm and Kovos characters also look very similar, which can be confusing when in the heat of battle.
The game's budget heritage really shows in the audio department. There is no talking whatsoever beyond a women's voice telling you ?red flag taken? or ?blue team scores?. The generic grunts of pain are barely audible, though the weapon and explosion sounds do pack a surprising punch. Worst of all is the corny B-grade synthesizer techno-rock music which is so cheesy and clich? it starts grating on your nerves within the first few notes.
You'll notice that I haven't mentioned anything about multiplayer despite the fact that WarPath is designed to be an online fragfest. Unfortunately, that's because finding anyone online is pretty much a futile exercise. No doubt this game would be far more enjoyable playing with others, but the same issues would still apply.
It's not that WarPath is a bad shooter; there's just nothing really appealing or exciting about it. If you're a Digital Extremes fan, you'd be far better off playing Unreal Championship with its wide variety of characters and weaponry; better yet, there are still tons of people playing Halo 2 with its much more interesting weapons, varied maps and multitude of fun customizable gametypes. If WarPath was released two or three years ago, it might have built a nice little niche for itself as a decent shooter for the budget conscious; but as it stands, it came out way too late with too little to justify even the reduced price tag, especially when far better shooters are available as cheap Platinum Hits.