Boiling Point: Road to Hell

“Boiling Point” is an ambitious title from Deep Shadows and boasts a seamless gamescape by dropping a country onto your hard drive. Like many other sandbox titles, the game allows the player to be the friendly tourist or a cold hearted lead spitting bastard while they pursue an arcing storyline leading them through the game. It can be pretty fun but as you will see in the following tour through the title’s highs and lows, you’ll need a somewhat beefy system along with a measure of patience to enjoy what it has to offer when it works.

“Boiling Point” is a title for the PC. The version reviewed below was patched.

Commando in Realia

Saul Myers is a pissed man. While following a story, his daughter disappears somewhere in the South American-inspired country of Realia, a country on the verge of civil war. Riddled with government corruption, drug barons, and guerillas fighting the army, people can disappear in Realia from a variety of ways. If the jungle doesn’t swallow them, those who live outside of it have their own ways of dealing with people they don’t like. But Saul’s not afraid. He’s a decorated Legionnaire who only knows that someone has decided to mess with his daughter and he’s coming down to find her no matter who or what might stand in his way. Traveling to Realia, he soon discovers that everyone wants something from the outsider and he’ll have to learn how to play the local game if he is to have any chance of finding her. What they don’t know is that he’s already reached his boiling point and if they can’t help him, he’ll just have to go through them.

Once the tongue-in-cheek intro finishes, you’ll find yourself in Realia with little more than a pistol, some money, and a lead to your daughter’s editor. From that point on, the game cuts the player loose. Will you go straight to the editor or explore the countryside? Or rob the dead on the side of the road for a better piece before taking on whoever is standing in your way?

Gunboat Diplomacy

Saul Myers arrives in Realia with more than just the change in his pocket. The designers have also given him a few attributes that change over time or through certain conditions. The different attributes range from your skill with “cold weapons” (your knife) to how sleepy Saul is feeling after running about like Arnold Schwartzenegger. Unfortunately, many of the “weapons” statistics don’t seem to make a lot of difference in the game from when you start out to when you make it to the end. Not only that, but for a former Legionnaire, Saul’s stats start out as if he was just drafted. It doesn’t matter that much, though. If you’ve got a decent trigger finger and a steady mouse hand, you can cap most of the enemies in the game with a few well placed shots despite what Saul’s profile says about your skill. Even when your “Sleepiness” stat shows that you’re “Dead Tired”, you can still push him into the next fight or drive without a lot of punishment. You might miss at close range if you empty your clip at someone, but if you shoot in bursts, he can still take out most foes while feeling like the walking dead.

Other statistics gauge his addiction to medicine from using too many healing syringes to his alcholism if he downs one too many tequila shots at the local bar. The higher these bars, the more Saul runs the risk of feeling their effects on his health. For example, as soon as he takes a drink of the good stuff, your vision will blur and your ability to walk around will be impaired for a minute or two. The more you drink, the worse the effects and the higher your rating for alcoholism which can easily rise. Saul’s got a low tolerance for the stuff. The good news is that the doctors of Realia can offer their services to help fix him up…for the right price, or if Saul is close enough to their faction, for free. So if Saul continues to feel parched or if he’s addicted to needles, he can get to the nearest doctor and conveniently buy himself an immediate cure.

Health is definitely something that has a lot of impact on Saul in more than just hit points. Damage can affect his arms or his legs as well as his body. Getting blasted in either of his legs, for example, will cause him to start limping about and the camera does a great job of showing this as it sways back and forth as you try to nudge Saul to drag himself back to civilization. This is even worse when both of his legs are blasted. Now he’s moving like a turtle with all of the jumping ability of a stone. Imagine an enemy chopper flying in the skies overhead looking for you and you can imagine how this helps to provide some of the excitement the designers were looking to give the player.

There are a few other stats that you’ll also want to pay attention to. One is your strength which improves over time allowing you to carry more and more items in your easy-to-manage inventory. Another is your technical skill which determines how well you can upgrade weapons on your own. This is particularly important especially if you don’t like having to spend cash on someone else installing that new extended magazine for your gun. Parts can be found sold by weapons dealers, others are given out as rewards for jobs well done, and others are hidden out in the jungle. This is also important for disassembling your weapons and removing your upgrades.

Why is this important? Your weapons also have a degree of wear that is tracked. Fortunately, weapons wear down pretty slowly in the game but as they begin to wear down, they’ll tend to start jamming more often which can be awkward when you empty a clip at an enemy soldier only to see them limp away and shoot back because your gun froze up in mid-fire. Ugly. This is made even worse when many of the missions pit you against nearly overwhelming odds. Sometimes it might be better to buy a new weapon than to deal with the increased wear. As long as you have the cash, that is.

The attribute screen also track Saul’s relationship with the different factions in the game which is extremely important for those extra jobs that he can take in order to fatten his wallet. Jobs are found everywhere, but work for one faction will always annoy one or two others. Soon, I found myself in a precarious balancing act with several factions as I tried to keep as many options open for making money. Your experience might be different, of course, depending on who you want to support and how much danger you want to fly in the face of. But keep in mind that money drives everything in the game and the more opportunities you have available to you the better off you will be. In Realia, money is the only language that many of those you meet on your quest will only understand…and it’s the only way that you will be able to buy certain services such as healing, cures for your addictions, cars, or in buying the latest upgrades or body armor needed to survive. Everyone speaks the language of money and few things are ever free.

The different factions include the Government which is trying to maintain order, the Communist guerillas that are trying to topple it, the drug mafia dons that are quietly making a profit off of their hidden drug plantations, the CIA who are quietly supporting the government, and even the native “Indian” population that only want to be left alone. Bandits are also looking for an extra edge in their own little schemes and sometimes even the civilians will be looking for some help. Annoying any of these factions to any extreme will make them an enemy to deal with everywhere you see them unless you can find a way to appease them. This usually involves killing large numbers of a faction they hate, so there are ways out as long as you’re willing to deal with someone else’s ire. On the bright side, more enemies means more target practice allowing you to improve Saul’s weapons skills.

The game also keeps track of every contact and person that Saul makes including their conversations. Handy if you forgot what Guerilla X said to you several missions ago that you need to remember. It also keeps track of your missions…those for Saul’s daughter and those that you take from the other factions to build up your bank. You can choose to completely ignore the quest for his daughter if you want and follow up on the many other jobs that you can find everywhere else in Realia, but keep in mind that there are some things that you can only get if you follow the main quest such as certain vehicle skills.

Here is where you will also see the designers continue to expand on the concept of giving the player even more freedom. One mission may involve getting a US passport but give you three ways on how to go about getting it. This is a refreshing change from being given a mission and have only one way to go about doing it and it wasn’t just a one mission thing. Most every mission that you undertook for your daughter had multiple ways of going about them. One mission would give you the option of spending more of your hard earned cash on finding out information, or in following a potential lead and risking your liver in the process, for example.

And to help out Saul? Weapons. Lots of weapons. Lots of weapons with upgrade options. You’ll find the stuff everywhere, even from the dead lying on the road. Saul will find weapons dealers in both cities and everywhere else in between willing to make a sale and give him a discount depending on how well known he is to them. Realia is a dangerous place and as you wander about, you’ll often see factions engaged in fighting. Tracer rounds flash back and forth as gunfire rips through the air with both sides trying to jockey for position on opposite sides of a hill or even a stretch of road that you just happen to be on. Even cars trying to drive through the mess are sometimes riddled with bullets forcing the driver to jump out and shoot back. You can either sit back or join in the fun and then plunder the dead. In fact, that’s probably one of the best ways to gather ammo and weapons early on the game. Everything in Realia costs a ton of cash, but you’ll find that everyone carries a weapon and some ammo with them. The strange thing is that no one in Realia carries cash. Not even one peso. But they do carry almost everything ranging from assault rifles to RPG launchers.

Saul also has vehicle skills which, for a former Legionnaire with military experience, are remarkably lacking when you start out. In his profile, you’ll find that the only thing he can do when he starts out is handle “Road Vehicles” which include cars and trucks. As Saul goes through the quest and picks up the necessary training, he’ll soon be able to pilot anything in the sky or drive anything on the ground including tanks.

If you don’t want to jack a car on the road, spend your hard earned cash to buy a car that will only blow up later, or haven’t reached the point where you can fly or pilot a boat, you can always hire a taxi. Of course, that costs precious cash, but for the right price they can take you anywhere in a hurry. If you don’t want to give up the piece of junk that you managed to buy or steal, you can always get it fixed in a hurry at any local gas station. You can even buy spare tires for those times that all of them get blown out from gunfire or grenade blasts and fix it up on the fly while on the road.

“She Says the Jungle… It Just Came Alive and Took Him…”

Realia is huge. The map is incredibly massive boasting 240 square miles of simulated space. To put this into a real world perspective, the designers point out that this is larger than the city of Chicago. When the game manual suggests using the vehicles in the game to get to where you need to go, it’s not kidding. Just running from one end of the map to the next can take at least half an hour or more. Vehicles help but even then, you’ll be facing some long trips along the backroads and paved streets found throughout the game and may even watch as the sun sets in the horizon with the moon rising overhead into the night sky.

And the best part of all of this is that it’s relatively seamless. That’s right, no loads except for the cinematics or when you reload a quicksave. However, there is also a price paid for all of this seamless exploration in the form of some random stuttering and choppiness even with more than a gigabyte of memory installed along with a fairly fast processor. The game recommends a video card with 128mb of memory, but suggests one with 256. The same with memory. A gigabyte is “suggested” along with a fairly snappy processor. You can turn down most of the detail to squeeze performance out of the title, though, but just be warned that you may still see some update lag as the game occasionally crunches through your resources to render the next area.

The graphics do a decent job in showing of the jungle interior of Realia as well as the two cities, the many villages and guerilla camps, military bases, and other places throughout the country. While the graphics aren’t exactly the best of the crop with flat lighting and textures found everywhere, they do instill a sense that you’re somewhere in the bowels of a war torn country on the verge of upheaval. Revolutionary slogans and posters are scattered about, characters walk about the streets of Puerto Sombra during the day, shady dealers and other scum appear at night, and glass shatters from the rain of bullets poured through windows and doors will occasionally explode into splinters from a well thrown grenade. Some of the surfaces can even be shot through such as wooden doors or walls allowing you to get the drop of an enemy without having to face them. On the other side of the coin, though, these surfaces don’t handle explosions very well. Occasionally, you might get caught in the blast of a ‘nade you tossed upstairs if you run down and it goes off overhead, for example.

As well as the graphics work to bring Realia to your screen, they also have their own issues…especially indoors. NPCs will occasionally spawn standing in beds with their legs buried in the furniture. Grenades, even if you line up your aim at just the right angle, may bounce off of an unseen wall in front of your face. If you ‘nade a room full of enemies and any of them are near a wall, they’ll sometimes end up halfway buried in it or blown completely through to the other side. One of the most annoying things is how inventory disposal is handled. Depending on what you throw out, it ends up as either a huge box or some kind of ammo case that adds itself to the the game world. This surprised me when I tossed out some items and they ended up in a huge long, wooden box that buried the head of a sitting NPC that I was talking to. I took the items back thinking that the box would go away, but it didn’t and the last reload I had was too far back to make it worth the effort. Fortunately the game eventually removed the box, but at that point I just decided to dump my stuff onto corpses if I found myself carrying too much stuff.

The vehicles also show off and react to damage from collisions or bullets meant for your head. Tires will blow out and crumple on the wheels from well placed shots affecting their handling and actually tipping the car. Fortunately, this isn’t a driving simulator and even when damaged, each vehicle continues to control well enough for you to be dangerous and get to where you need to go. The simplicity in the controls is shown off especially in the flying portion of the title. Helicopters are easy to control (if not turn) and landing a plane is as simple as cutting the engine and letting it drop right onto the runway. Well, maybe not THAT easy, but you get the picture. If you’re on foot, you can also shoot through windshields or ‘nade vehicles to take out the driver if you wanted to. The last was fixed in the first patch for the game allowing drivers to be taken out by explosions.

For all of the death that’s scattered throughout the country, Realia still has a pretty decent population for Saul to interact with and shoot on a regular basis. The animations assigned to everyone work out well enough giving everyone in Realia a bit of character but not by much. Your foes will roll about to try and dodge your fire and then clutch their stomachs from a good shot or their face before falling down. civilians will cower and duck from any gunplay that you might be engaged in on the streets, but a lot of it looks pretty stiff. Some of the conversations look a little awkward along with the running animations. The textures on most of the people in the game look great at a distance but don’t do a lot to really make any fine details stand out up close. The cinematics are decently done as actor Arnold Vosloo’s face is used to present Saul Myer’s grimacing visage, but even then the flat lighting that seems to be everywhere else in the game aside from the jungle is present even there.

The sound work for the game is a mixed bag. The only thing you hear on the road is the grinding engine of whatever car you’re driving which can grate on your ears. Or, if you’re in the air, the noisy whirling of your rotor blades. In the water, you’ll be treated to the acoustic textures of a buzzing motorboat splashing its way through the waves. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was something else to listen to. Like the music. There IS music in the game which would show up but like a friend that owes you money, it would quickly disappear again without notice.

This also affected the voices in the game. Saul’s would go from a silent whisper to a sudden bellow, blowing out your eardrums, while the person he was speaking to would move their lips and appear to say nothing but subtitles while gesticulating their arms in some kind of pantomime. The shoddy sound in the title, though, was not everywhere. Gunfire reports shook my speakers, the positional sounds actually worked out allowing me to track my foes, and I could hear every “gringo” insult shouted by Saul’s enemies. It’s just when you sit down to talk with someone, it’s time to practice your reading skills or crank up the volume. When you do hear the voices in the game, though, the acting ranges from somewhat awful to decent. Saul’s was the best out of the bunch (from what I could hear).

As for the actual dialogue, it also does what is asked of it. The writing is not the game’s strongest suit, but it gets the job done in both telling what story there is and providing enough motivation to care about what the next mission will be. However, the story is so thin in this game that I really can’t say too much else about it other than how everything else relates to what is required to keep driving it on. It basically provides only the most base motivation to continue and I won’t even go into some of the really odd twists that it goes into for the climax. As for the missions themselves, they’re pretty simple and direct with what they want the player to do and some of the reasons behind why you need to follow up on what someone wants you to do are pretty creative.

One thing that the game does well in the sound and dialogue department is to recognize the player’s standing among the factions through voice. Find yourself in the jungle or passing by soldiers belonging to one of the factions and they may call out to you. Depending on how close you are to their faction, they’ll either tell their buddy that you’re with them or shout your name in awe. Or if they hate you, they’ll insult you and start shooting instead. Realia’s a dangerous place, but when you get respect you hear it.

Combat in the game can be pretty exciting. Saul is not superhuman, able to take the punishment of grenades and bullets only to come out smiling and laughing ready to steal his enemy’s lunch. The run and gun approach will pretty much tell your foes that target practice is in session so running into a camp filled with bad guys is not a smart thing to do, especially when they might be carrying RPGs and grenades along with body armor. Again, this depends on your playing style and whether or not you like sniping from a distance, raining down grenades with your launcher or with what you’ve plundered from your foes, or shuffling around on the perimeter of the camp coming out to ambush a few enemies only to shuffle back into the underbrush to flank the party that thinks you’re still behind the tree you just left. Enemies will react to your attacks by rolling on the ground to avoid gunfire, running to take cover, and basically try to get in a better position. If you shoot an enemy and they don’t die from the first shot, odds are very good that they’ll run away for better cover or just fire blindly in your direction.

You’ll also notice a few odd things about your foes. Your enemies never run out of ammo (but carry a limited amount) and never carry cash. That and they can’t open doors for some reason making it too easy to trap them in rooms if you’re fighting several of them indoors. They can’t climb ladders, either, while you can to get in a better position. If you find them fighting on the road, they’ll walk out into traffic and get blasted by passing cars.

“Remember, Sully, When I Said I’d Kill You last? I Lied.”

I’ll say it now: download and install the patch FIRST before doing anything else in the game. There is a nasty bug in the pre-patch version that would cause cars that you would exit behind you to disappear after walking away so far. This would leave you without a ride if you happen to have used one to get you deep into the country. It’s especially worse when you’ve filled the trunk with weapons and ammo. The patch also fixes a variety of other things so it’s a good idea to patch anyway.

Anyone expecting to be able to steal any vehicle they can see in this title will be severely disappointed. The only way to jack a car is to shoot at one and hopefully force someone out of it before it gets away. You can either brave their gunfire to get the car (if they belong to a friendly faction) or gun them down where they stand. This isn’t too much of a problem unless you’re trying to maintain good relations with whoever they belong to. The problem is that at certain places where you can actually SEE vehicles sitting around, Saul can’t just hop in and take one to the next mission even if he is a “close friend” of the faction there. Even worse, in some areas of the game map, the frequency of cars on the road makes it such that you’ll be waiting and looking over your shoulder for several boring minutes before something shows up.

This gets especially aggravating for some missions where you deliver a vehicle to an out of the way place only to have it disappear once your business is concluded. So if you take a vehicle that’s part of a mission to a base far off the beaten path, it will disappear as part of a completed mission objective once you speak to the whoever you need to. To add insult to injury, you’ll often find that sitting outside is a new vehicle that you COULD use but the game denies you entry to with no explanation other than the cheery “No go, gringo!” message that flashes at the top of your screen. That leaves you to slog through several kilometers of jungle just to find a road where you can jack a car and even then you have to wait until something…anything…shows up.

At one point, I was so far into the jungle because of a mission that took the chopper that I had delivered that I ended up having to walk ten minutes just to get to a road where I had a chance to steal something. That’s ten real world minutes. And occasionally, I would have to fly across the map to another base for a mission (if I had the good fortune to get a chopper). I pointed my whirlybird in the direction of where I needed to go and then walked away to get some cereal, watch an Adam Sessler review followed by another intern skit while channel surfing G4, and then come back just in time to see that I needed to wait a minute or two more before I had finally arrived. Unlike Morrowind where I could eventually call on magic to speed up my journey or zap me to where I needed to go, or even GTA where the distances didn’t matter so much because vehicles were almost always within easy reach (including the fact that you can jack anything that could move), or even Privateer where you can easily hit “Auto” and arrive in range of your intended waypoint as it took out the tedium of manually flying the entire distance, you can feel every minute of dead action in “Boiling Point”.

While this mechanic can still make for exciting gameplay especially if your car was blown up as you barely survive a mission deep in the jungle forcing you to limp back to civilization hoping that you don’t run into a jungle jaguar eager to tear you apart, most of the time it just made for extremely tedious moments of running, flying, or driving from point A to point B. After awhile, the bloom enhanced jungle just started to look all the same to me.

At one point, I’d take on a mission that required me to use a helicopter only I would never return to finish it once the objective was completed. Believe me, you’ll want to do this and no one will care (just make sure it doesn’t end up as a sAM target if you do need to bring it back to complete a mission). Flying is the best way to get to where you need to go. But even here, there are problems. Again, you may be confronted with a lot of boring flight time depending on your playing style. If you’re friendly with most everyone (as I was), no one will really bother you, but that made for boring trips across the sky.

But why would I need to steal a chopper this way in the first place? Despite the number of air strips scattered throughout the game, none of them are stocked with flying machines. Nada. Even if a strip does have a chopper as some will later in the game, you’ll find “No go, gringo!” greeting you again at the top of the screen if you try to take it. Unless you take on a mission requiring one, then one that you can use is magically summoned for you. Even then, it only lasts so long because of gas and here there is another problem.

There are gas stations scattered everywhere and next to each one is a landing pad and what appears to be a pump for gas. The only problem is, the station only wants to sell gas to you if you have a car. So why bother to make a landing pad with a gas pump at a gas station? Yet, there it is, mocking you and your thirsty attack chopper.

The missions themselves are pretty straightforward, but I also discovered that not all of these are bug free, either. For example, at one point you can take a mission against one of the mafia factions to assassinate a particular person. Oddly enough, that person shows up twice in two different missions. To make things more confusing, you might even run into one of the “Dons” that head up the faction and, yes, you can take him out…only to see them miraculously return to life if you leave the area and come back. Not only will they be back, but so will all of the soldiers that you just took out. What happens if you take out the gas station attendants that refuse to fill your chopper? Your rating among the civilians may take a hit, but fly away and come back later and they’ll be busting your nuts for not having a car to fill with gas again. If you’re on friendly terms with a particular faction and need to destroy some of their property, you’ll find that you can sometimes get away without them firing a shot at you…even if they see you lob grenades at their jeeps or other equipment. They might complain that you’re being rowdy, but that’s it.

There’s also a rare tendency to fall off the map while getting out of vehicles, especially helicopters. There’s some kind of transition that the game makes between you inside the chopper and in getting out and that’s where you fall through the map. It’s happened often enough for me to quicksave every time I touchdown just in case Saul steps out from the chopper and into the void. When that happened the first time, I began swearing like a drunken pirate who was just kicked in the crotch because I had just flown several minutes of boring airspace to get to where I needed to go and would now have to repeat the entire mind numbing journey…tempting me to just start shooting passing helicopters that were friendly to break up the tedium. Just remember to save often.

There was also talk that the game would have multiplayer or co-op opportunities. Unfortunately, the final release of the game that I played did not have any of these options available. In the key configuration screen, though, you’ll notice an entry or two that hint that it was going to be part of the game such as a key assignment for “Team Chat”. This is really too bad as a title this huge with such a large playing field would have been great to play in. To Deep Shadow’s credit, however, they did confirm that such functionality may be added later as part of an add-on per the publisher’s decision.

There is one thing going for the replayability of the title, though, and that’s the sheer number of missions offered by the different factions. Depending on how you play the game and who wants you dead, you might not see everything that the game has to offer on your first play through. You might decide to help out the mafia and make an enemy out of everyone in the game, for example. It will certainly make for a more challenging experience, one that some players may wish to invest more time with just to squeeze every mission out from the title.

Slow Cooked

Despite the bugs and occasional gameplay issues, I still found myself returning to Realia. The ambitious sandbox potential is definitely there and is capable of providing moments of great tension and excitement, especially if you find yourself stranded in the middle of the jungle low on ammo and health. A gigantic playing field, extensive weapon selection and upgrades, the ability to use vehicles, and a large assortment of missions from the many factions scattered throughout Realia ensure that there is always something to look at, keep track of, or do. It also has some replay value depending on who were your enemies and your allies and what missions were available to you on your first run through almost guaranteeing that you won’t get to see everything at first.

However, the game’s many shortfalls will also continue to test players’ patience and their ability to remember to quicksave often. It certainly tested mine, especially in view of other titles that had also done this sort of thing before. Even with the lucid moments of when the gameplay came together to provide the experience that the designers intended, gamers will still have to dig past the mess of bugs and other design oddities to find them. If you can tolerate these issues, however, you might enjoy the latest sandbox that Deep Shadows has put on the table and find yourself lost and fighting for your life in the war torn countryside of Realia.

- World 1-1

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