Available: January 2004
Best Price: N/A

Firestarter © GSC Game World / Russobit-M / Hip Interactive
Preview by: Andreas Misund Berntsen

Firestarter is an upcoming first person shooter from Ukrainian company GSC Game World that pits you in a deadly virtual reality game of death and destruction. The story takes place in 2010 where the player is entrapped in a virtual reality game. Unfortunately a virus has taken control of the game, and the rules have been changed. To beat the game, and regain your freedom you have to complete a number of challenges, all within 48 hours.

Yeah, the story isn’t award winning, but that’s okay. We recently got to try a beta of the game with the same build number as the recently released demo. In it we got to play four of the industrial levels that let you fight a handful of monsters, use a handful of death-bringing weapons, and try out some of the somewhat alternative aspects.

At the start of the game you create an avatar if you will, and from the menu you get to choose between characters like a gangster, a marine, and so on. Each of these have statistics regarding health, armor and speed, and additionally they start with one skill, such as Soft landing: Basic, or maybe Self Defense: Basic. The character you choose also has a favorite weapon, which usually suits his or her strengths. During the game you get to upgrade the statistics and expand the skills, so you better get a lot of frags, since those make up the score that pays for your upgrades.

When playing the game you spend most of the time running around, collecting power-ups, additional armor, ammo, weapons, and so on. At core the game is reasonably similar to Quake 3, both in terms of atmosphere and intensity. There are however some fundamental differences. In Firestarter you don’t respawn, meaning if you die due to a spawn frag, you’re gone. You have to restart the level because of that. Fortunately the levels don’t last very long. During a game you’re usually given objectives, such as finding a certain item before the time limit runs out, killing a certain number of monsters, ridding the world of a boss monster, or just surviving for a few minutes. One of the things that impressed me the most is the artificial intelligence, which is rather interesting, but due to the game’s premise it doesn’t get to show off much. According to the website the AI supports group behavior, but what I liked the most is how it makes good use of teleporters, jump-pads, and so on.

Since this was just a beta there were of course some problems, but since this isn’t a review I won’t judge it too harshly. For instance, on some levels there were only one or two spawn points, so if you’ve collected a lot of ammo you can pretty much just stay by a spawn point and kill them as they appear. With a dual machine gun you can take them out in about a second, so it feels a little stupid.

The monsters themselves are split into three groups, zombies, demons, and robots. These vary in terms of fighting style, armor, health, and obviously appearance. There were of course also a few cool weapons included, such as a couple of machine guns, a shotgun, a rotating blade of some sort, and a rather cool missile launcher. What makes the missile launcher cool is that it can fire several types of rockets, such as homing, mercury (really fast, low damage rockets), normal ones, and really huge ones. The developers are supposedly implementing a sophisticated skeletal / character physics system, so it can be interesting to see how the fiends respond to a well placed rocket or two.

In terms of graphics what impressed me the most is the performance, and the crispness of the textures. I’m sure the full game will have a wide selection of levels, but in the beta it was largely just industrial levels, filled with the typical industrial 'stuff' you’d expect. The game does perform extremely well, regardless of how much blood, gore, and high poly monsters are on the screen at once. Those interested can find a lot of info about the engine on the official website, but I think I can say for sure that even those with less than high-end PCs will have a good time with this game.

The music included in the beta also did a good job for the atmosphere. As expected the soundtrack consists mainly of industrial techno, but it’s far from as horrible as other games' attempts at the genre are.

I think I can say with certainty that games like Quake 3 and Serious Sam have been a big influence for the developer, so fans of high intensity shooters should watch out for this title. If this was a review I’d attack some of the gameplay issues, but I’m counting on those to be ironed out by the time it’s done.