Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog

Pariah (PC, 2005): Lived Up To Its Name, Apparently
August 7, 2010, 7:47 am
Filed under: Pariah (PC, 2005, Canada)

I’ve read some very disparaging reviews of “Pariah.” As someone who feels favorable toward this oft-maligned title, I want to counter some of the more common critiques. First though, the futuristic narrative revolves around Dr. Jack Mason (your character, in first-person perspective) in the year 2025 accompanying a comatose female patient (who is in cryostasis due to a virulent disease she carries) across a barren landscape occupied by violent clans and the military forces fighting them. At the outset of the game, the medical ship goes down in flames (hit with anti-aircraft missiles), releasing both you, a few comrades accompanying you on your mission, and the patient—who promptly awakens from her induced coma and gets shot (not lethally). Because you are standing within feet of the patient, you are showered in her highly infectious blood and also contract her disease on the spot. The two of you continue onward through the hostile battlefield to your destination (apparently an installation that will help eradicate this disease), and this journey comprises most of the game. The odd thing about this “disease” is that it turns the victim into a walking bomb—

like literally a blowey-uppity explosive bomb—that kills anyone within several hundred feet, while leaving the carrier untouched.

A number of too-complex plot twists occur, some bizarre aliens get involved, your character Dr. Jack Mason himself might be a double-spy for purposes of maybe bringing his dead daughter back to life (don’t ask), and eventually it turns out that the disease was purposefully created, maybe by the government, etc., etc.

Now to my defense: First, since perspective is everything (and opinions are like assholes—everybody’s got one and they all stink), I think this game was short-shrifted by almost every reviewer because of the time it entered the market–which was pretty much on the heels of Half-Life 2. Everyone had just finished making their way through that incredible epic and was ready for the fun to continue with “Pariah” (which, in all fairness became victim to its own pre-release hype as a kind of Halo-HalfLife 2-Killer, which is clearly was not). So, when the game’s limitations became evident,  lots of reviewers griped: “It’s trying to be Half-Life, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard.” Many videogames since have fallen under the same guillotine blade, of course (and I use the same implement all the time myself). Nevertheless, I think the disappointment in many reviews I’ve read has little to do with “Pariah” on its own merits, and more to do with reviewers’ disappointment that, for the time being, they were going to have to wait for a new Half-Life 2 saga.

Well, I’m an extremely slow gamer (or maybe I’m just a busy person), and it took me the better part of half a year to finish Half-Life 2 in an utter state of amazement, and after that I followed it with another 6 months of F.E.A.R. shaking in my boots, and another 3 months of Quake 4. But considering how the availability of reasonably entertaining FPS games fluctuates, (and wanting to play something new while waiting for the next installment of anything), I haphazardly came across this title for a handful of dollars (prices cut no doubt because of bad reviews) and picked it up. As of this writing, you can buy it new on Amazon for a little over a buck. I was no longer riding the high of Half-Life 2, I had played F.E.A.R. and busted it wide open, limped through and finished Quake 4 with glee, and decided to give “Pariah” a try. For these (and other) reasons, I was predisposed to like it. What I found was a beautiful-looking game (for its time, context is always key when talking graphics–again, PC version on all high settings) with complex inside and outside terrains, battles, and a nice array of weapons and vehicles. I bet this game, had it preceded Half-Life 2, or had been released at a different time altogether, would NEVER have gotten the negative reviews it has garnered, because it is a fine, fun, entertaining game with decent action and simply great graphics. But I kept seeing reviews comparing it to Half-Life 2-and no game would ever stand a chance at that comparison. A little adjustment to expectations, and I found that “Pariah” was a VERY engaging game. To boot, it had 2-player cooperative mode and it shipped with a full set of development tools to create your own maps. What’s not to love? Regardless, many reviewers simply never gave Pariah a fair shake because of their own previous “metaphysical” experiences playing HL2. How fair is that?

Next, many negative reviews griped that “In Pariah’s story line, some dumb girl who is infected with a virus keeps running away from you and you have to go find her. I just wanted to shoot her and be done with it.” Excuse me, but in what video game doesn’t this happen? For example, how many times did Alex Vance (or Barney for that matter) disappear and reappear in HL2? This sort of plot contrivance is simply video game convention–certainly nothing to complain about. Again, the HL2 comparison did Pariah in, unfairly in my book.

Next, I’ve read many reviews that complained “Pariah just can’t make the action of shooting a gun interesting. And the weapons seem weak, and they sound weak.” I know these kinds of elements, if not done just right, can ruin a game. But I’ve got my system hooked up to powerful stereo studio monitors and these guns are vibrating the floor. Now that may seem extreme, but from where I’m sitting, I’m going deaf.

Next, I’ve read: “In Pariah, your opponents move around too quickly to hit sometimes, and then they run right back up on you after retreating, and the enemy characters keep repeating the same lines like `We don’t want you, doctor! We only want the girl!’ If I heard that line one more time, I was going to shoot myself,” said some chump-reviewer. Uh, again excuse me, but this critique is coming from people who played games like F.E.A.R. where every psychic soldier has the EXACT SAME VOICE and has the same range of about 5 phrases? F.E.A.R. is an awesome game, but few people seem to level their sights at its limitations. Again, this sort of AI silliness, or limited dialogue, is either video game convention, or it is a testament to the state of technology at the time of the game’s production. These issues are not endemic to “Pariah” by any means.

All of this is not to say Pariah is a perfect game–there is no perfect game. (I have gripes about everything.) Let me enumerate my Pariah-problems.

First, many reviewers said that the story line, or plot, was so convoluted as to be senseless. On this point, I must agree. The storyline starts off very strongly and is promising. But that very nice premise, somewhere in the middle, completely falls apart. In fact, late in the game, there are cutscenes designed to drive the story forward–and they end up making no sense whatsoever, although they appear to be very important. I entirely gave up on trying to interpret the story and variety of characters about halfway through. That didn’t ruin the action for me, however. And that is also not to say that the main characters themselves aren’t somewhat interesting, because they are. (NOTE: I actually played through this game twice; it is a steadfast pact I have with myself that I rarely, if ever, play a game more than once [even if there are multiple endings or different types of characters to build]. I simply don’t have the time, and there is always some other title waiting on my shelf-o-shame to play. In this rare case though, the only reason for a second playtrough was to cooperatively experience the story campaign with my partner [actually on the Xbox version of the game, which does not look as good]. Why I mention this fact here: Playing it a second time, I focused intently on the narrative to try and make sense of it, and while I still had trouble, I found that the once-completely-perplexing ending [which I won’t reveal] was actually quite powerful (and quite sad) once I had a loose grasp on the plot. My conclusion is if there had been more attention paid to the clarity of the narrative overall, the game may have been recieved more positively by reviewers. But I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone playing this through twice just to unknot the narrative. After all, I guess you can just look it up on Wikipedia.)

This brings me to my biggest gripe about Pariah. It seems this game has it backwards a bit. Usually, in the games I’ve played, the cutscenes are the movie-moments: big in scope and beautiful to behold. Well, in Pariah, the first-person playing screens (everything but the cutscenes) are really quite gorgeous (given the time period—again, the PC version with maxed-out settings), lush, nice color palette, some nice vistas, good shimmer-effects on the explosions, etc. On the other hand, the third-person cutscenes themselves (which should be awesome if we are talking video-game-convention here) are horrible looking in comparison. When a cutscene loads, the characters suddenly look chopped up, images become super-low-resolution and really quite crappy. The cutscenes almost look as if they are unfinished beta-level work or something. Very strange. But soon enough, the first-person-playing-screen reloads and we are back to the beauty. Unfortunately, every cutscene suffers from this, and it does detract from the game.

Lastly, there is one element to Pariah that ALMOST ruins it-at the very least, it causes a lot of grief and swearing. Heads up: There is no quicksave function. (This is common in console games, but more rare with PC games, in my experience.) Instead there are predetermined loading points where the game saves automatically. Almost finished a level, but you suddenly die near the very end? Guess what? You’re right back at the beginning of the level to play it all over again…and again and again and again. There is no overriding this. Want to talk about aggravating? Don’t get me started. But I persevered, and the save points are liberally placed (usually), and, honestly, this factor does add an element of extra tension to the game. (But it’s still aggravating as hell.)

One review I read said: “Pariah represents forty bucks I’ll never get back. If you ever make the mistake of buying it, look for it in your budget bin. Don’t pay top dollar.” I don’t know how I would’ve felt had I spent $40 on a new copy. It probably would’ve colored my review of it significantly. But as it stands (lucky for me) I didn’t spend $40 on it. I spent a few dollars. And what an incredible, great, fun value.