First-person shooters come in many different flavors. Historically accurate adventures, ultra-violent crime romps, and the occasional completely fantastical journey into Hell, or some such. Most of them tend to have one thing in common, however; namely, they all take place on some kind of ground. Shattered Horizon, however, well… shatters those horizons. Stuffing players in cold-war-styled cosmonaut suits, the game takes place amongst asteroid debris in space. Gravity not included.
Shattered Horizon is a multiplayer-only shooter, but given the budget price, that’s completely forgivable. It’s also easy to see why the game sticks to the freedom of deathmatch gameplay, given the fact that Shattered Horizon doesn’t even try to restrict anyone’s movement. After spending some time with the games admittedly vast control scheme, it’s possible to perform all sorts of maneuvers – rolls, flips, twists, boosts, and everything in between. This liberating system of control, coupled with the fact that you’re in space, offers a huge amount of freedom. It’s even possible to attach yourself to surfaces, meaning that any walls players find can also be floors. It’s absolutely dizzying.
Adding a whole new plane of movement to the typical shooter experience takes some getting used to, and can lead to frustrating deaths. Some aspects of Shattered Horizion feel more like a flight simulator, since enemies can come from literally any angle. Getting shot in the back is an instant death, thanks to the big fuel tanks characters wear. It’s possible – no, necessary – to move forwards while looking backwards every now and then, as well as checking every other direction as well. In games like Rainbow Six, the player is constantly reminded to check their corners. Zipping through space with every side of me exposed, that adage felt like a cruel joke. Shattered Horizon‘s concept manages to not just push the envelope, but completely obliterate it.
Unfortunately, there are a few issues that hold it back. Even at a budget price, Shattered Horizon is short on content. There are only four maps available at launch, and while they’re certainly well designed, it’s still a skint amount of areas to play in. The action itself features a grand total of one gun, which is just plain bizarre. It’s a sci-fi assault rifle, doubling as a sniper rifle and grenade launcher. This one gun is versatile, at least, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one gun. The lack of any other form of weapon besides a melee attack, coupled with the tiny amount of maps, makes Shattered Horizion feel decidedly anemic.
It’s a shame that the game is so weak on the content side, because the concept is absolutely fantastic, and executed perfectly. Floating around in space, boosting through abandoned space stations, and dueling with rival astronauts feels like a child’s dream come true. It’s a classic science fiction concept that hasn’t really been explored by games before. Fans of the Ender series, in particular, should feel warm and fuzzy inside playing this shooter.
The ideas behind Shattered Horizion are lovingly presented, too. The graphics are gorgeous, although they require a hefty graphics card and processor, and it’s only playable on Windows Vista or Windows 7, thanks to its DirectX 10 requirement. Still, those who can play the game are in for a visual treat: Shattered Horizon is somberly lit, hazy, and in some areas, just plain spooky. The sense of scale is absolutely massive, with intricate hallways winding through asteroids, and heavy mining machinery is depicted with great detail. In particular, one map is particularly haunting: a destroyed International Space Station, torn asunder by flying debris. These images, coupled with the minimalist sound design, make Shattered Horizon one of the most atmospheric shooters in recent years.
Shattered Horizon is an excellent game sold short by its own lack of content. What’s in the game is impressive, even beautiful; however, the fundamental fact is that there are only four maps and one gun to be had in the entire game. With the attention to detail found elsewhere, it’s strange that the game would ship with so little to do – with no campaign and so few arenas and weapons, Shattered Horizon almost feels like an expensive demo for something far greater. Still, the fact that the gameplay that is available is absolutely fantastic counts for a lot. Shattered Horizon is a game that needs fleshing out, but it’s worth playing for a glimpse of the stars the developers were clearly aiming for.