Futuremark was only showing one style of gameplay and one map in progress – it pits two teams against each other in a battle to hold several Control Points scattered around the terrain. When I asked about showing additional maps and gameplay modes, the company's representatives said that this was the only one that was close to completion.
Because the game is so early in development—I've heard rumours of a late 2009 release, but Futuremark hasn't confirmed anything—the developer isn't even sure how many maps there will be in the game when it eventually ships. It's to be decided, we were told.
What is certain is that the maps will all be located on or around the Moon's remains and all of them will be gravity-free. This will make for some visually stunning levels with great views of the Earth and the battered Moon – and graphically rich environments are where Futuremark's pedigree resides as a benchmark developer.
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Much to my surprise though, the graphics aren't the most interesting part of the game – instead, it's the gameplay that promises the most. The lack of gravity is being used in such a way that it could add to the overall immersiveness rather than detract from it – being able to move and rotate freely could create some interesting and action-packed scenarios unlike anything you'll find in a run-of-the-mill shooter.
Walking along vertical walls—and potentially ceilings on indoor maps—will add an interesting twist to gameplay, but I feel it will also make the game more difficult for novices. The freedom of movement is aided by the spacesuits the players wear – they're equipped with thrusters that enable you to move around in space, but also replicate the effects of gravity and allow you to walk around the environments as one normally would in an environment with gravity.
Intriguingly, Futuremark has implemented support for multi-core CPUs and also PhysX technology – both of which are already in 3DMark Vantage. I had to ask if the graphics engine was exactly the same, but interestingly it's not – instead, it's evolution of the 3DMark Vantage engine. This means that it'll be DirectX 10 only and will therefore require Windows Vista (or Windows 7 if it's out when it's released) to play the game.
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The physics engine will be balanced across both CPU and GPU, depending on the situation, with the GPU adding effects to the simulations more than anything. The possibilities in a zero-gravity world are quite endless though, so it'll be interesting to see where Futuremark takes gameplay physics in Shattered Horizon
– I'm quite excited by the prospects here.
I talked with Futuremark about the implications of GPU-accelerated gameplay physics and how they scale back on graphics cards that can't accelerate PhysX – in this situation, the physics engine will run on just the CPU. Details on exactly what a PhysX enabled GPU will do to enhance the gaming experience are understandably light at this early stage, but the developer said that it is still working on balancing the amount of gameplay physics with hardware requirements.
In the build of the game we saw, things like boxes, debris and bodies are the objects where you can witness the most prominent physics effects at the moment, but there was talk of things like particle physics and potentially cloth simulations when the game gets closer to completion.