BU Reviews: Pariah

When a developer such as Digital Extremes, with a vaunted single player game like Unreal under its belt, announces that it is creating a new single player game in a brand new universe... you take notice. Expectations are very very high, even when the initial development takes place at its newly acquired studio Digital Extremes - Toronto (formerly Brainbox Games of Desert Thunder fame). It is through this lens that we must examine Pariah.

Among the features listed on the official Pariah website, you'll find a list touting the upgradeable weapons, the immersive storyline, and the excellent AI. In the course of the review, we'll take on each of these (and more) and see if the game can deliver.


The fact that a team of Hollywood script writers developed the Pariah storyline is no secret. The premise is that Jack Mason, a doctor on Earth somewhere in the future, is charged with delivering a prisoner in-stasis infected with a mysterious virus. As all good shooter characters are wont to be, Jack is a buck-the-authorities kind of guy. To make matters worse, the transport ship has very bad in-flight entertainment in the form of a surface to air missile, ascending from one of the most vicious prison sectors on the planet. A crash ensues and our prisoner is on the run.

Unfortunately, engaging as the overall idea may be, there are some tremendous plot-holes and the pacing will leave you wondering why you're engaged in your current activity. New characters are introduced late into the story with little or no explanation.

The word pariah stems from the Southern Indian culture and it refers to a member of a low caste. What does this have to do with the storyline? I have no idea. Throughout the game, you get the feeling that there is so much going on and yet so little of it is explained. Even worse, the game ends leaving you wondering what just happened. It's not the reflective epiphany that the film The Sixth Sense pulled off so well. Lots of questions are unanswered, which begs the question "why introduce crucial elements to the story and not explain them? The storyline is advanced through a series of in-engine cut scenes with reasonably good voice-acting. I've read complaints that the quality is decidedly low, and while I have to admit that it isn't incredibly sharp, it probably won't be a factor for all but the most scrutinizing of gamers.


Every good first-person-shooter has a memorable and satisfying set of weaponry and Pariah offers a twist to the standard sci-fi arsenal - upgradeable firearms. Searching through each level will often yield a hidden energy core that will allow you to "spend" them on weapon upgrades. Sadly, the upgrades are not always exciting and often yield near-imperceptible results such as increased ammo count or armor piercing rounds. I may be over-scrutinizing, but I found myself wondering how adding an energy core could possibly increase the size of the ammunition chamber.

There are a couple of stand outs, such as the grenade launcher which emits projectiles that attract surrounding debris en route to its target. It's also one of the most effective weapons, so you'll get to enjoy the havoc you can potentially wreak with it. Upgrade this one early. The other must-have weapon is one that you find almost immediately - the Bulldog... better known as an assault rifle. Your Bulldog is no cliché' last-resort armament, in that it's among the most effective weapons at mid range and the one you will use the most. It is too bad that a more exciting and original weapon couldn't be the centerpiece; and the very imprecise round crosshair provided for the Bulldog was a poor choice, in my opinion. Later on in the game you will depend more heavily on the Plasma Gun; partly because fewer enemies use the Bulldog in later levels, and thus the ammo becomes scarce, and partly because the Plasma gun is very effective against the riot shield-wielding enemy. I also found the Sniper Rifle to be effective in clearing an area before entering and in its upgraded form the thermal scope is very good at helping you see the enemies lurking ahead.

The Rocket Launcher is less than satisfying for me as it is far too slow and awkward to take out long-range fighters, which is the distance at which you will do most of your fighting. The self-splash-damage makes the Rocket Launcher a risky choice in indoor firefights. The Frag Rifle (read: shotgun) is less than impressive as you'll find yourself out of range for most of the game. Anything past a few feet and you'll soon be taking more damage than you're giving out. The upgraded Frag Rifle is uninspiring as your expended efforts in locating six Energy Cores with which to modify your firearm are rewarded with a slightly more powerful and faster loading weapon that holds a few more shells.

One item I find particularly commendable is the Healing Tool. This little gadget is a futuristic medical device that repairs damage - but not viruses, apparently. It's upgradeable as well, and a nice change from the typical floating medkit that you find in shooters so often. It definitely adds to the immersion factor. Replenishment for this tool comes in the form of dropped medkits from downed enemy soldiers. Because you have to actually apply the treatment yourself, and are not automagically treated to health by running over it, you have one more aspect of the game to manage and it definitely adds to the strategy.

My less-than-exhaustive search through each level yielded enough Energy Cores to upgrade every weapon to the maximum, save the Rocket Launcher that I managed to improve by only one level. Strategies may vary, but if you aren't the sort of player who explores every area thoroughly and are forced to use only the Energy Cores that openly present themselves to you, I would recommend the following: Upgrade your Bulldog and Healing Tool to the max immediately and the follow with an upgrade or two apiece to the Grenade Launcher and Sniper Rifle respectively. If you've got an extra Core or two towards the end, pitch a few into the Plasma Gun. Don't hold onto any in hopes of upgrading the final weapon, the Titan's Fist. Once you pick it up you will be on the last level, it doesn't upgrade, and you will be forced to only use that for the final showdown. So enjoy them while you can.

My overall opinion is that the weapons fit into the future Earth theme pretty well but, for the most part, are fairly average until they are fully upgraded. Only then do they pack the punch and have the alternate modes to raise interest. When I think of upgraded weapons, I think of blazing new effects and amazing transformations. I would have loved to have seen the weapons start with the abilities that they enjoy in their enhanced state... and then really break the mold with the upgrades to make them worthwhile. The concept is good, but the execution of the idea falls flat.

The vehicles are minor players, and I'll mention these later in the review. It is interesting to note, however, that the original design for Pariah called for a total of six vehicles - three wheeled and three hover type. Only three of these made their way into the singleplayer game, with a fourth available in a lone multiplayer map.

Emergent Tactical AI

I'm not sure what happened here. But it seems like the AI is... well... broken. At some points, the tactical AI pulls some amazing tricks like throwing grenades into crates that they are standing behind, resulting in spectacular suicides, while others plunge to their death off of a moving train level. Still others seem indifferent that you've taken out their nearby buddies with a very large and very loud grenade detonation, and turn to walk off slowly in another direction. Out of sight, out of mind! Most of the AI challenge then comes from enemy that enjoy advantageous placement. Even then, a seasoned shooter veteran can anticipate just where most of those are going to be.

In later levels, when enemy factions are battling one another, you just can't help but notice that despite all the hoopla surrounding the riot, none of them actually hurt each other! I watched for quite some time while soldiers and prisoners battled it out in close range, hitting and shooting each other to no avail.

Your adversaries shout out as you are spotted and, more pleasingly, as they start to realize that you are overwhelming them, they call out to their baddie buddies, "He's picking us off one by one!". Damn straight! However, I do wish that there were a greater variety in the enemy taunts. After a level or two of hearing things like "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So long Sucka!" I began to relish shooting them for an entirely different reason. That kind of taunt ruined the immersion for me. Luckily, the others weren't quite as corny, but were repetitive just the same. In a serious shooter, I expect somewhat serious adversaries. I must mention that the occasions where the banter was more tactical in nature, the game worked for me.

I'm not sure what happened to the AI in the instances mentioned above but, while it wasn't universally true, it was certainly present enough to make an impression.


While no longer on the bleeding edge of the graphic frontier, the Unreal Engine build on which Pariah was developed did receive a number of nice upgrades like selective bump mapping, bloom effects, and distortion. The Havok engine is put to good use as explosions send bodies flying and chunks of the environment populate the air. The destructible environments appear in a limited number of places, which is a shame, because it is thoroughly enjoyable dealing sufficient punishment to a guard tower to topple it to the ground and ,yes, crushing your foe beneath it. I would like to have seen much more of this!

The level design starts off with a number of nicely constructed outdoor levels, complete with wind-blown trees, running streams, and waterfalls. The lone gripe I have with concerning some outdoor levels are the invisible barriers that keep you from wandering out of the play area. I much prefer natural barriers to a long climb up what you believe might be a hidden area or alternate path to an objective, only to meet an invisible wall.

For the most part, the level design mid-game succeeds in creating a number of memorable moments. The Anvil prison is nicely portrayed as are the speeding train and transport levels. The vehicle levels, while a nice diversion, don't fare as well. In large part they fall victim to Pariah's save system. You cannot choose your save points, but instead you must rely on the automatic save that the game chooses for you. These are typically triggered by a location on the map and while, for the most part, they are well chosen, you sometimes find yourself with a vehicle that is too badly damaged to make it past the next checkpoint and are doomed to repeating the sequence over and over. Alternatively, you could restart the level from the beginning, but that just proves the merit of my gripe.

The final levels have high and low points. Inside the dam, you'll find yourself admiring the architecture and the interior of the drop ship corridors is quite impressive. I was not so amazed by the final level. It felt rushed, frankly, as it is very flat and linear, with only a few static meshes to break things up. Likewise, the bosses were a bit of a disappointment. [ spoiler alert! ] The battle with Stockton is seriously disappointing because of what I believe to be a bug in his AI: You can crouch right in front of him and dish out damage while he stands upright happily shooting over your head. [ /spoiler alert! ].