Destiny. That, my friends, is a pretty powerful word. To assign an unwavering, pre-defined outcome on a person or thing, an outcome that laughs in the face of choice and remains steadfast regardless of infinite variables, is a rather hefty fucking weight to carry. A weight I’m sure the guys over at Bungie are all too familiar with.
Thankfully the concept of weight goes out the airlock when you’re in space, which coincidentally (otherwise that analogy would make no sense) is the setting of Bungie’s attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle, in their new interstellar FPS, Destiny.
First off: don’t feel like being a faceless, walking battle tank with a serious case of the strong silent type and an AI companion? Well now you don’t have to! Destiny lets you select from three different classes (one of which is a walking battle tank), each with their own distinct play styles! (Strong silent syndrome and companion AI is just a given for cosmic bullet-fests… just roll with it)
Upon booting up the alpha, the classes I had available to take for a spin were the brutish Titan (pretty much a Spartan), the agile Hunter and the AOE loving Warlock. Feeling like a rebel (and also totally being won over by that awesome hood) I chose to start with the Hunter. It was then that Destiny essentially turned to me, winked whilst flashing a cheeky smile and unveiled a veritable buffet of customisation options! So I obliged and dug in like uni student with a tape worm. What came out the other end was a sleek, 80’s inspired, lady terminator with glowing eyes and flashing LEDs. After deciding that she absolutely, hands down, screamed covert sniper, I chucked on her hood and threw her into the fray!
Upon landing in the picturesque, alternative getaway destination of War-Torn Earth, I dutifully accepted my crown as King of Terrible Life Choices by promptly charging at a group of alien warlords whilst firing from the hip with a sniper rifle. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before searing plasma bolts and large chucks of shrapnel were in and around my face. But it was in that moment of frantic scrambling for cover and desperation to keep my robot lungs …doing whatever it is robot lungs do, that the ol’ muscle memory kicked in! Within seconds of hearing the celestial, electronic chorus associated with a recharged Overshield, I boosted from cover like a jet-pack bestowed Banshee, iron-sighting suckers with mathematic precision and putting them down with a single crack from my hunting rifle. That, my friends, is a testament to controls and gameplay. They’re tight, they’re responsive and they’re intuitive. If you’ve ever so much as dabbled in the FPS genre, your trigger fingers will find a home there on Destiny.
But Destiny’s beautiful design is not limited solely to its mastery of hurling chunks of lead at your enemies, no; it’s in every frame, every orchestral note and more importantly, the marriage between the two.
The alpha let me peruse two dichotomous locations within Destiny’s world, that of war-ravaged and abandoned Russia, where nature had laid claim to its crumbling urban jungles; and The Tower, a clinical, futuristic, space station where humanity’s last chance hangs out, killing time and coming up with arbitrary “kill X number of space rats” missions. The Tower’s pretty neat but Russia, man! Russia is where it’s at! Doing the story mission there has your little AI buddy (voiced by Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage but more on that later) telling you how it used to be bustling with life, how man fought bitterly when the alien threat came and how they subsequently lost. But you know what? We didn’t even need that!
The environmental design and musical score portrays everything. Abandoned ramshackle bunkers, office floors littered with personal effects, earth ravaged by mortar craters and passenger jets that have been downed and the battered remains left to rust. Russia is a graveyard and a monument to loss. This feeling of emptiness is only compounded by Martin O’Donnell’s amazing score (you may know him from a little game franchise called Halo). The music is sparse and reflective one minute, only to erupt into a sweeping, orchestral battle cry once bullets start to fly.
The sound design is pretty great all round, with weapons sounding like they pack appropriate punches and alien growls being genuinely rather unnerving. Oddly, the most noticeable issue here is Peter Dinklage’s performance. There I am, right? Underground in a labyrinth of dark, ominous corridors. I’ve just cracked open a door that was welded shut and Dinklage has given me the old clichéd spiel about “Was it keeping us out or something in?”. He delivered it fine.
So, then I skulk through the adjoining corridors, the light starts getting dimmer and the score starts building, some shit is about to go down! I pop my head through a doorway it a big open area and BAM! Monsters that look like a cross between Xenomorphs and O.G. Warhammer 40K Genestealers! I’m startled but then all the tension is suddenly deflated by Dinklage delivering a line to the effect of “Oh no. It’s the …hive?” Now, I get this is a text-based medium, so I’ll describe it the best I can. There’s no conviction, no agency, it’s like he was skim-reading his lines whilst updating Twitter about how much he loves filing his tax returns! It’s just boring! Thankfully though, most of the time he decides to talk he’s being drowned out by gunfire and my hubris-filled yelling of “get you some!!”
Very, very minor annoyances aside, Destiny is our first big step in the console market towards a truly next gen experience. The visuals are jaw dropping, the frame rate is consistent (huge deal!), the gameplay is solid and most importantly of all, it’s straight up fun!
If you’ve ever enjoyed a Halo game, get psyched! If you’ve ever blasted Skaggs in Borderlands, get psyched! If you’ve ever mercilessly butchered rats to farm XP in …well, in every RPG/MMO in existence, get psyched! Destiny grabs all those elements, shoves them together and says “Go on champ. Enjoy yourself, you’ve earned it!” …I wonder if it’s possible to replace my dad with this game…