The final frontier has been the setting of choice for countless titles over the years, but Surgical Scalpels are upping the ante when it comes to vacuum-based fun by putting the vast, empty void we call space front and centre in their upcoming game, Boundary.
After a brief rundown of some of the game’s basic features – customisable weapons, gun range, multiplayer modes etc. – we were handed the controls for our first match against a few members of the development crew. Despite being well experienced in the FPS genre, the lack of gravity and our newfound ability to move in six degrees of freedom initially took some getting used to.
The slower, considered movement of our avatar (a heavy Support class, but the floaty nature of space means nearly all classes move at a similar pace) coupled with the temptation to go blasting off across maps led to more than a few deaths as we were caught in the open by the opposition. Drift too far from the action, as we often did, and you’ll suddenly find yourself lit up on enemy radar. Linger even longer near the fringes and you’ll end up in the middle of a micro meteor shower that’ll quickly rip through your suit and health. Safe to say it took us a couple of matches before we eventually found our space legs.
Surgical Scalpels are aware that for many players, like us, this will be their first taste of zero-g combat in a competitive FPS. The development team have, therefore, tried to make gameplay as intuitive as possible by implementing a control scheme that’ll feel instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a mainstream shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Some elements are naturally going to be a little different, given the setting; there’s no jump or crouch/prone in space, after all, so those are swapped for ascend and descend abilities, while shoulder buttons traditionally saved for grenades are instead used for rotation.
Most classes – save for the Flanker, which we’ll discuss in a bit – come with a grapple that can be used to navigate close-quarter areas at a slightly faster pace than the standard thrusters allow (we used this method to pull off a particularly impressive surprise kill during one match) or quickly reach floating structures, from where players can set up ambush opportunities or catch a moment's respite to regenerate health and manually patch up any major leaks in their suit. The game also makes excellent use of the DualShock 4’s gyro sensor, which allows for easy precision aiming while on the move – a feature that was particularly handy while we were still getting to grips with zero-g traversal.
Maps themselves, like the rest of the available tech and weaponry, are in keeping with the game’s near-future aesthetic; we played one that was dominated by the scattered remains of a destroyed space station, with plenty of solar panels and pod-like compartments to hide behind. Some parts, like those huge solar panels, are destructible, with players able to shoot holes in them and peek through in a way that was very reminiscent of Rainbow Six Siege’s breakable walls.
When I asked if Surgical Scalpels had any plans to add maps set on the surface of a planet or moon where there might be a touch more gravity, I was told that it could be a possibility in the future, but that post-launch DLC would first focus on adding more classes, with three more said to be arriving at some point after the game launches. The base game will begin with five classes in total, of which we tried the Support, Recon and Flanker (there’s also a Sniper and Medic class).
The Support class is the most armoured, with a huge exoskeletal-type chassis on its back that, while bullet proof, also has the largest silhouette. Most come with two main weapons, an ability, and two secondary weapons - such as heavy cannons or missiles - that are attached to the frame of the big backpack. Recon was our favourite, thanks to a gadget that detects enemy players once it is dropped or launched. Every class’ suit will alert you with audio (and eventually visual, once they’re close enough) warnings to the presence of a nearby enemy, but having one of these beacons floating around proved to be extremely useful at helping us track down the other team’s players amongst the large map’s debris and hiding spots.
We definitely see the aforementioned Flanker class being the most popular, however, due to its “ninja-like” abilities and speedier movement. This class never shows up on enemy radar, and instead of a grapple it has a triple action quick-boost ability that easily outpaces the standard ‘sprint’ found in other classes (it also won’t reveal your position to the enemy if it overheats, unlike the latter). Even though the loadout we tried only came with a shotgun/pistol combo, the reduced range was worth the trade-off for the extra speed and stealth. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a nerf coming its way post-launch.
While our session drew to a close before we could really get to grips with what the game had to offer, what we did play was enough to convince us that Surgical Scalpels could have something special on their hands. First person shooters can often feel formulaic, but Boundary brings something refreshingly different to a crowded table. Once you’re over the initial (albeit gentle) learning curve, the controls prove to be comfortably intuitive, and the extra freedom of movement considerably liberating. Most importantly, underneath it all is a decent shooter that, a few pre-launch bugs aside, felt reassuringly solid, despite the unconventional lack of terra firma underfoot.
With The Outer Worlds' memorable cast still fresh in our minds, we turn our attention to the loyal companions that have followed us into danger without a thought for their own lives. A trustworthy escort or two can enhance gameplay, through either their personalities or simply the bonuses they offer. Whether they are friends, hired guns or merely folks whose interests align with our own, these are the people we'd choose to watch our backs.
This is how The Outer Worlds should be played.
James | Garrus Vakarian - Mass Effect
There's few game characters who have the charisma and likeability of Garrus Vakarian. Initially cold to your character, Commander Shepard, in the original Mass Effect, he quickly stands out from the rest of your companions and only goes on to be near indispensable as both a gun hand in combat and ready with a charming quip or two in conversation.
The joy of the series is often the relationships you build with your crew, and Garrus' interactions with the other characters is endearing as much as his chit chatting with quest givers and adversaries alike. His experience and knowledge has a genuine impact on your decisions too, making you think again about the right course of action, something which is far from clear cut.
On the battlefield, in the fight against the Reapers and various factions they're in cahoots with, Garrus' gunplay is sublime, and you'll combine that with his tech powers to create a diverse supporting character you can always rely on.
There were times in the series that Shepard's journey got difficult, and every single time Garrus would be there in my party to keep pushing me forwards, have my back in combat or be a confidant with advice and support with some of the trickier moral decisions in the game.
On top of all that, it never fails to raise a smile seeing just how much he loves his calculations.
If his sharpshooting skills don't scare the enemy, that melted Halloween mask of a face just might.
Sam | Morrigan - Dragon Age: Origins
Dark Souls notwithstanding, Dragon Age: Origins is my favourite RPG of all time. A major deciding factor in that is the strength of its supporting cast of companions, my favourite among which is Morrigan.
Daughter to a haggered shapeshifter, Morrigan - also known as a Witch of the Wilds - answers the protagonist’s call to aid them in stopping the apocalyptic “Blight” from consuming Ferelden. Though the cause is noble, Morrigan is anything but a willing heroine.
She’s incredibly blunt and dry witted, perfectly brought to life by the excellent Claudia Black (Chloe Frazer in the Uncharted series). When paired with morally upstanding companions like Leliana and Alistair, constant squabbles ensue as Morrigan plays the antagonistic part of devil’s advocate. Often she’ll suggest the less moral (but more practical) solution to a problem, much to the chagrin of other party members regardless of whether or not it needed to be heard.
As a result, Morrigan can come across as uncivilised and abrasive, but the unfiltered truth of her perspective can help any hero to make the hardest decisions with all bases covered. Over time it’s possible to dull her hard edges somewhat and even to romance her, though ultimately, she’s still just serving her own desires.
Unconventional to the end and damn handy in combat, Morrigan lives up to her title by being one helluva wild witch to come to appreciate.
If a tough decision needs to be made, you can count on Morrigan to give it to you straight.
Liam | The Ghosts - Ghost Recon Wildlands
There have been so many notable companions and partners in games over the years that I struggled to pick just one. There’s Skyrim’s Lydia, a Nord sworn to carry our burdens (read: dwarven tat and pillaged foodstuffs) who also loves a spot of spelunking, or Ashley Williams (the steadfast crew member from Mass Effect, not the Bristol City centre back) for whom I sacrificed Kaiden to save during the ill-fated mission on Virmire.
Both would be worthy winners, but, in the end, I’ve gone for the AI squad from Ghost Recon Wildlands. As Sam quite rightly pointed out when we were discussing our choices in one of PTC Towers’ many luxurious spas, these guys aren’t exactly known for their winning personalities, despite their penchant for military humour (and "military" language, shown below).
I couldn’t even tell you their names (I think one was called Midas, though couldn’t say which for sure) but their ridiculously overpowered sync shot easily trumps any personality vacuum. This ability let you pick out three enemy targets which your squad would then take out on your command no matter what was in the way, be it buildings, solid steel walls or even small hills. I’ll take that over a sunny disposition any day.
By military humour, we mean it's not for young ears.
Let us know who your favourite travelling companions are.