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Sep 18, 2011

Shard zero awaits in WorldShift

Game Category: Strategy - Real Time, Role Playing Game
Developer / Distributor: Black Sea Studios / Black Inc
Release Date: 16 Nov 2009
Rating: ESRB - Teen

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WorldShift, from Bulgarian developer - Black Sea Studios, is a real time strategy game that breaks from the traditional mould. You may know this studio from their release of Knights of Honor - a decidedly good historic RTS that I will review sometime soon.

WorldShift features a hefty dosage of strategy, a long single player campaign, and very good multiplayer fun. It feels like you are playing a role playing game since you have to collect items and xenoshards to power up your heroes and troops. Surprisingly, the game also throws in a few levels of tactical fun. To cap it off, the multiplayer aspect of WorldShift will make you feel like you are duking it out cooperatively in an MMORPG to vanquish the big bad evil boss. This was really unexpected!

If you do commit yourself to WorldShift, you may find yourself surprised by what the game gives back to you in return - many hours of hectic fun. You are going to need heaps of cunning and patience though to go far in WorldShift.

Time to login and play Worldshift
Before I go diving into talking about game mechanics, let's talk about WorldShift's story.

An alien massive object known as "The Shard" makes its way towards Earth and lands in north-eastern Siberia. Shortly thereafter, the onset of a mysterious aura from the Shard causes a "Plague" that transforms most of nature and humanity into something different altogether.

The Shard is still doing it's work today as the main campaign begins it's story. Set against this bleak sci-fi future are three factions you will meet in the game:
  • The Humans - survivors of the plague living in huge domes, 
  • The Tribes - the people who have survived mutating into something more powerful,
  • The Cult - a new aberration of strange beings that have recently emerged.
The Cult in the starting movie
Game Play
There are a number of buttons that greet you when you log into the game with your Gamespy account. Here are the seven that matter:
  • Missions - A campaign that takes you through eighteen missions with interesting objectives. There is even the opportunity to have duels, sneak around (like in a Commando game).
  • Locations - A great cooperative PvE, or Player vs Environment experience. Find artifact caches on these maps that contain items you can use (even in the campaign mode).
  • Deathmatch - Fight head to head against human opponents on the Internet or LAN. On top of finding artifacts, you also get Battle Points that you can use to spend on purchasing items.
A mission from the campaign
  • Practice - A skirmish mode that allows you to play against the AI or against other players. You won't find any artifacts nor get any battle points during Practice.
  • Ability Grid - You can find items from artifact caches in multiplayer games or during campaign play. These items can be slotted in to the grid to improve the abilities of the three faction's heroes and troops. An item's improvements are randomly generated like in an RPG.
  • Chat - Use this button to organize your chat sessions with other WorldShift players. You are also able to maintain a list of friends here.
  • Statistics - Check your standing against other players on the Internet ladder.
Let's move on - the things that impressed me about WorldShift, in order of priority, are the following points: the interesting and challenging campaign, great multiplayer fun, and impressive graphics. Let's cover each in detail.

A fierce battle awaits
An interesting and challenging campaign
The campaign is an interesting mixed bag of scenarios that may cause some to shy away from it. It relies heavily on the use of hero characters to advance the story in the game. Incidentally, the story can be quite confusing at first as it throws you into the world of WorldShift with the barest of explanation of why certain things are happening. Make sure you don't forget to mouse over the tiny icons at the upper right of the loading screen before embarking on a mission.

When you start your first mission, you may be surprised to find there is no need for resource collection at first. There's also something unconventional you may notice - Denkar, the first hero you control has a power called "Call Reinforcements". This power can be accessed periodically (but after a long recharging wait), clicking on it allows you to continue your game with the troops you started with at the beginning of the mission.

Nevertheless, the campaign does get much more interesting very fast. Stick around and you will be rewarded.

Lots to read
While playing the game, you may notice a directional green arrow pointing you to your next objective. This is a helpful feature that doesn't leave you guessing as to where to go next. Also, after making some progress in a mission, you may find a green lighting bolt symbol on the ground. Make you get your hero to touch this as it saves your progress in the mission; unfortunately, there is no other way to save in a mission. There are other interaction icons that you will discover as you play the campaign.

There are two bars that contain the powers you can employ in a mission. They are the Global Actions bar and the Action Selection bar. The former are powers tied to your faction and are not tied to any unit, while the latter feature powers that your hero characters and troops possess. Just point at an icon on the bar with your mouse to read the tool tip for that power. You will find powers that will freeze enemies for a few seconds, heal heroes and troops, call for reinforcements, and even shoot a projectile at enemies.

Touch the lightning bolt icon to quick save your mission
Your enemies can be quite tough at first without any items to buff your faction. It can get difficult to the point that you may just want to give up the campaign altogether. I say, don't! You may be playing the game wrongly. There are some levels that are tactical missions, so don't just rush in to fight everything you see.

Here's a tip for Mission 6 (click this paragraph multiple times to read the blacked-out text): The game comes to a halt with what many perceive as extreme difficulty on Mission 6 - "Sneaking In". If you remember the game Commandos, then you should know that it is better to sneak around and avoid contact with enemies. Also, find yourself some explosives to help distract the bad guys. 

Anyway, if this RPG style game play in the campaign is not your cup of tea, and you truly crave for mission building game play, then head over to the multiplayer modes to get your feet wet there.

Sneaking in - take heed of what Ganthu has to say
Great multiplayer fun
Multiplayer play can be quite addictive. That's because there has been a resurgence of WorldShift thanks to it's new price point from download stores like Gamersgate. As such, I have counted at least 40 people during my visit to the Gamespy servers. There were ample opportunities for deathmatches and cooperative PvE. There is also a matchmaking service that will automatically find players who are keen to join you in a game you create.

Cooperative PvE, is actually quite fun because all players will team up together to defeat huge boss monsters that puts everybody to the test. However, unless you complete missions in the campaign to unlock Co-op maps, you will be limited to only a few map choices.

PS - This is how you will get the incentive to return to the Campaign mode and continue playing it. Now get on back there and try out the Campaign, it's worth it!

Kill the boss monster
Impressive graphics
There is no doubt that the environment and unit 3D graphics in WorldShift are very impressive. Look at the main menu alone and you will see animated filaments of aura emanating from the planet.

Next, witness the in-game graphics and marvel at the alien jungle terrain, volcanic bad lands, sprawling deserts, and more. The decor and props that dot the landscape looks very beautifully detailed - especially the alien looking flora with their garish colours and weird features like claws.

Each of the heroes and troops from the three factions, the buildings, and monster bosses are all animated very smoothly. The range of motions is detailed and some of these are quite stunning (for example, there's the Hellfire and Stone Ghost units, I just love the way these guys move). The weapons fire is also very well done and tends to be bright, colourful, and flashy.

Shoot that thing!


The music and sound effects in WorldShift are of good quality. I enjoyed the game loading music and found it had epic vibes as well as a futuristic theme. However, I wonder why there was an occasional lack of in-game music and was wondering whether there was a bug with getting the music tracks to play dynamically in the background. As for the sound effects, I loved the vocal cues and weapon sound effects that you can hear for the many varied units in the game. I found the mission and in-game narrative to be of reasonably good quality too.

Lots of players must love this game
  • There are some nifty ideas found in WorldShift that seems to bring a new angle to an RTS game - take for example the feature that allows you to call for reinforcements periodically, and the RPG slant that the campaign takes. 
  • Even the cooperative PvE mode turned out to be quite fun, with players chatting about who would take on role of being the tank - it's like I was playing an MMORPG.
  • I like the graphics a lot. Most often, you can see huge detailed structures that reach to the "sky". Since there is actually no sky in the game, this means these structures stretch from the ground all the way to the top of the screen. Don't worry about any obstruction, since things blocking your view will turn translucent in the foreground.
  • There is an interesting story in the campaign mode if you take the time to read every single word the game throws at you - this includes the material provided for in the game's manual.
Quick... revive me so we can kill Adam
  • You are forced to play on Gamespy, and the game needs to authenticate it's serial number.
  • Unfortunately, I disliked the save system as it forces you to play the whole level through in one sitting. If you haven't completed the mission, you will return to the start of the mission if you must leave the game.
  • The game probably still has a couple of bugs, but this is probably much better than when the game was first released. It crashed only once while I was playing the campaign in mission seven (that was when I accessed a Global Action for the first time). I was also shown a Lua dialog error at the main menu on one occasion. 
  • I remember the restart button was absent. So if you want to force a mission restart in the campaign, you will have to wait it out while your hero characters get killed. Frustrating indeed.
  • There were no health bars shown by default. Remember to hold down the Alt key to show them.
  • Here's a very minor point - you don't get all the PvE maps available to you at the start. You must play through the campaign to unlock them.
Unlock PvE maps by completing
key missions in the campaign
Frankly, I was surprised by how fun WorldShift turned out to be. I was at first taken aback by the obtuse feeling I had while playing the campaign. Moreover, the fact that I didn't get to see any base building in the campaign mode at the start, and that I also had to suffer the ignominy of being continually defeated at Mission 6 for quite a while, nearly forced me to lower the score of the game by half a point.

However, after sticking it out with the multiplayer modes for awhile, I must say that WorldShift seems to be built around encouraging cooperative PvE and deathmatch play. It does a good job of it too - and I can see why, considering that there were many friendly players in the chat room.

I suggest you give WorldShift a try if you like a different experience for a change. But, do be prepared to spend a bit of effort to fully enjoy the game.

Pick one of three items as your reward
Daily PC Game Review Score: 7 / 10
Review Date: 18 Sep 2011


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