Picture, if you will,
a post-apocalyptic planet Earth in complete ruins, controlled by greedy, superlegal corporations who have expanded into the surrounding solar systems to stip mine them and to feed their voracious appetite for power. To their surprise, however, strangely belligerent aliens react none too kindly to the territorial infringements of human colonists and massacre them, prompting the corporations to hire warriors with really big, noisy guns to do the dirty work.
Sound familiar? No, it's not "Aliens: The Strategy Wargame" (although that would make a pretty awesome title, I'll have to admit), it's Interplay's Shattered Steel, newly released for the PC. Borrowing heavily from such plot concepts as Aliens, Blade Runner, Mechwarrior, and even Spectre (yes! now all we need is Bolo). Shattered Steel tries to combine them all as a first-person campaign shoot-em-um paced along the fairly predictable Hollywood-Cyberpunk modus operandi.
In Shattered Steel, you take the role of a mercenary planet runner, pilot of a vehicle by the same name. The small models look something like a charging, fire-breathing ostridge all wrapped in aluminum foil, but who's counting, anyway? As a die hard company employee with little brains, lots of brawn, a fat pension plan, and zero life insurance, your job is to fly around enemy-held areas in your corvette spacecraft, protect the life of the fragile settlers, blow up the big, bad, indiginous critters, and protect the corporation's investments. One wonders exactly which economic genius decided that a one-man operation is the most cost-effective way to go about things, but since it's a computer game, how could you violate the doctrine of "You Against All of Them?"
Interplay designed a good deal of flexibility into the planet runner's structure. With 11 different planet runner chassis, over 25 weapons in either primary or secondary configuraitons, different kinds of power plants and shield generators to choose from, and the ability to vary power outputs to different parts of your machine on the fly, the planet runner supports a performance envelope any pilot can like. Unfortunately, like so many linear action games out there, you have to find the equipment first.
With an interface reminiscent of such first-person shooters as Doom and Marathon, Shattered Steel sadly also adopts the movement parameters of them, as well. As hard as it is to imagine a multiton piece of hardware stopping on a dime, it does. As far as in-cockpit displays go, the lack of a comprehensable compass hinders mission completetion a bit (no Mechwarrior NAV points here), but the richly-rendered alien landscape comes though like a charm -- missile exhausts, exploding meanies, and all. There's just something spine-tingling about seeing a tactical nuke declare ground zero in the voxel-rendered terrain at your feet, leaving a gaping blast crater for you to ooh and ahh over.
If you can get through the less than believable storyline (for instance, the aliens are all as big as your planet runner, with armor skin and potent weapons), Shattered Steel has a lot to offer to the enterprising player. Take care to not fast forward through the briefings your ship's computer offers. The sheer attitude of the artificial intelligence is worth listening to, at least for the first few times. The game does not want for good artwork throughout, though maintaining the high levels of detail severly taxes the redrawing speed of your computer. Good speakers are a definite must, as Shattered Steel is filled with enriching sound effects, not to mention above average background music.
All in all, Shattered Steel performs like an upgraded version of Reality Byte's HAVOC, fun as a first-person shooter with lots of geometric ugly things to rip through, all bundled in a complex campaign storyline. Yet it's nothing we haven't seen before. Like other reviewers have stated, Shattered Steel takes a lot of different game and plot componenets "and combines them into one neat package." Overstated? Maybe. But revolutionary? Hardly.