WarPath: Hands-On Preview

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WarPath pits three species: the Ohm, the Khovos, and the Coalition against one another in a fight for life. But, what the game is really about is pure and simple killing - online and off - to the tune of three vehicles, six upgradeable weapons (plus a melee weapons), and twenty-six levels.

If you've played Pariah, you'll feel vaguely at home with the game. While the WarPath story itself has nothing to do with the Pariah storyline, it's clear that some of the artistic assets and gameplay ideas have their roots in Digital Extremes' 2005 shooter. I've heard this game described as Pariah's Quake 3 Arena, and I think that fits.

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The single player ladder is not at all linear. Each of the three races begins with a pair of race-specific default weapons and possesses an equal number of hexagonal attack points - all representing a level. By winning the corresponding match, you gain weapon upgrade points and may potentially unlock other weapons. Every round you are allowed to choose a level to attack and are forced to defend any level an opposing race may challenge. Alternately, the enemy races may challenge each other and a result is automatically generated. The object of the ladder is to possess all of the hexagonal attack points and thus, all of the weapons and levels. An interesting "random" hex occupies the center of the board. As you can see, this gives you an infinite number of ways that the single-player portion will play out. The Ohm, Kovos, and the Coalition all have their own storylines and winning scenario.

But while the singleplayer portion is certainly a draw, most of the activity will likely take place online. There are four modes of game play: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Frontline Assault. The first three need no introduction, but the Frontline Assault mode, borrowed from Pariah, pits team against team in an Onslaught-style push to control points and ultimately shoot down the opposition's power generator.

Vehicles are present, complete with mouse-steering, in both Capture the Flag and Frontline Assault, though not on every map. Again, if you've played Pariah, you will recognize these immediately.

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Where the multiplayer experience differs from many action first-person-shooters is in the selection of your weapon loadout in which you may choose two to your liking. While there aren't classes (everyone runs and jumps the same), having to choose your weapons up front makes the game a little more strategic. The weapons are, unsurprisingly, very similar to the Pariah arsenal and feature one of the most unique ideas from that game: upgradeability. That's right, collect C.A.M.s from fallen foes and upgrade your weapon up to three levels right on the spot. Improvements range faster reload times to thermal scopes and altogether fundamental changes in how the weapon operates. One of the best examples of this is the Vanguard. In its beginning form it is not unlike Quake's HyperBlaster. Upgrade it a couple of times and it can be charged to create a slow moving ball of plasma that sticks to any surface and shoots lightning bolts at any passersby. Your standard machinegun, shotgun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, and sniper rifle are present as well. Also making a return from Pariah - the EMAD health tool. The only pickups in the game are armor (stackable to 200) and generic ammo replenishment. In some cases a floating box of ammo can be picked up, but in most cases you will have to stand briefly by a stationary ammo box as you refill.

The Unreal Engine is put to good use, as is the Havok physics engine. The environments are nothing short of what you'd expect from Digital Extremes: exceptional. While some of the levels border on the generic sci-fi corridor theme, others are simply stunning. Battle may take place as an enormous spider mech crawls by and battle ensues overheard, it may occur amid an inferno, or the action might center around a low-hovering attack chopper. The Havok physics engine keeps the laughs coming as a team of your fallen enemy is hurtled high into the air from your rocket attack.

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While a somewhat unique singleplayer ladder is included, this ultimately is all about multiplayer gaming and it will live or die on that. Included is the WarPath version of UnrealEd and a stand-alone server, so that should go a long way towards seeing life breathed into the WarPath community.

We'll continue to dig into the game and will report back with a full review sometime in the near future. But for now, WarPath is a game to keep your eye on if you're looking to try something new. The value-priced shooter from Digital Extremes will be available in retail stores Spring 2006 on the PC ($19.99) and Xbox ($29.99).