Wow, the guns are good. No, wait, it’s the people you shoot with them that are good. They perform – mutants pirouette, gang members spin, enemies twirl, dance and shudder with every bullet. It’s a simple touch but the satisfaction is immense.
Every death is a thing of beauty, mixing melodramatic mo-cap and theatrical procedural momentum. The results create some of the best death throes you’ll ever see on PS3 (here are some Rage deaths in slo-mo if you want proof). There were points in a hard-fought battle where I wanted to call a time-out in the middle of the action and applaud a particularly meaty performance as a thug cartwheeled past me or collapsed in a tangle of limbs. “Bravo! Well done… uh, are you alright?”
All this gunplay takes off after a bleak but oddly moving opening sets the scene. An asteroid called Apophis glides silently through space. Pianos gently play and a voice counts down through preparations and procedures as the hunk of ice smashes past the Moon and then impacts on Earth. It’s a beautifully understated and atmospheric start; hints of sadness, big explosion, go!
Fast-forward a few hundred years and you awaken in an Arc, a pod buried deep underground to survive Apophis. The world you discover is a dusty, arid wasteland full of survivors in frontier-style settlements. There’s a clear mix of influences here, throwing in everything from Firefly, Blade Runner and Mad Max, with the overall vibe being ‘space cowboys on Tatooine’.
For the most part it looks beautiful too, but with one large elephant in the room. Well, there will be a large elephant in the room when it loads – there’s constant texture pop-up everywhere. It’s maybe understandable in the larger wasteland areas – with miles of mountains to render – but even in your starting point of the Arc, moving your head causes numerous layers of fine detail to appear a fraction of a second after you look around. This is a small pod about ten feet across, with no outside view.
This is going to be the thing that makes or breaks the game, depending on your tolerance for it. Once you notice it, you see it everywhere. The slightest move of your head makes fuzzy rocks suddenly sharpen, walls un-blur and metal change from featureless grey panels to scratched, pitted sheets.
The only thing that saves it from ruining the game is that when it’s all kicking off, your attention is usually focused on things such as the enemy you’ve just exploded or the buggy you’re chasing, and so it’s less prominent. In the quieter moments, though – wandering around a town, say, or turning to talk to someone – it’s harder to miss, and if you’ve high threshold for graphicosity it could be a tough flaw to buff out.