Boundary Early Access Review (PC) – Space Force (of Duty)
Were you one of the handful of people who not only played Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, but actually enjoyed it? Fear not, no judgement here. I too was one of such a minority. Despite its many issues and numerous flaws, the Zero-G shootouts and space-based combat had me enthralled. ‘Boundary’, a new first-person-shooter from Studio Surgical Scalpels and Skystone Games, is all of the thrills of that combat system, with none of the extra frills like a campaign. Or fine tuned balancing, for that matter.
Just released into Early Access, is it worth firing up the old space rocket with your trusty assault rifle by your side just yet? Let’s find out.
The Last Frontier, To Shoot
Boundary is a multiplayer space-themed first-person shooter. It’s literally as simple as that description. Four short tutorials will teach you the basics of gunplay, using equipment and most importantly, traversal. Given that space has a distinct lack of gravity, Boundary plays rather differently to your typical FPS, to its undoubted benefit.
Jumping into a match, you’ll immediately notice how much you’ll float about, knock into structures unexpectedly and end up aiming upside down at a similarly lost opponent. The developers have done an admirable job translating intergalactic floating into satisfying FPS mechanics. Traditional sprinting is replaced by a burst of O2 launching you in a specific direction, recovering from shots is thematically replaced by repairing ruptures in your suit and you can use button inputs to barrel roll in either direction.
The gunplay feels tight and incredibly responsive which is fantastic given it’s still in Early Access. Assault rifles will spray bullets in a tight formation while a heavy machine gun will send miniature soon-to-be-asteroids into the vacuums of space. Landing shots takes a decent amount of skill, as knowing where to aim and accounting for travel speed will mean the difference between the best players, and abject failure.
Mechanically, Boundary is super fast-paced. Combat encounters are frequent and firefights rage like a matchstick meeting an aerosol can. If you thought strafing was bad in other games however, this game smashes the previous bar by how far circle strafing can carry you through engagements. It’s awful and kind of awesome at the same time, but it will be infuriating as you start your conflict in the reaches of space.
Before each match, you can select from up to six classes of combatant. They’re your typical fare: assault equivalent, sniper, medic, tank (called Fort), recon and stealth. Each class utilises different weapons and starting equipment. The assault class starts with an EMP grenade which disrupts enemies’ movement and controls, while Fort fires an ADS grenade that marks targets.
Each class also has different stats for health, armour and maneuverability, making it an important choice for matching your playstyle. This becomes a more tactical decision when you factor in game mode selection, as Fort might be essential in Domination but useless in search-and-destroy equivalent Purge. It creates a nice dynamic across teams as you try to balance what your squad are bringing to the table.
If there’s one issue with the system so far, it’s that snipers are dominating the choice selection from my experience. Not only are they capable of one-shot kills, thanks to there being literally no air resistance in space, they can thwack you from basically anywhere on a map. The map is also space – so that just means everywhere with a line of sight.
There’s also some problems with balancing across teams. It’s common for matches to have lop-sided engagements, like in one match where me and one other player got repeatedly blasted by a team of 5 as Boundary refuses to rebalance sides mid-match. Moreover, if there’s skill-based matchmaking yet, it needs jettisoning out into the furthest depths of the universe. Some matches were so ridiculously unfair skill-wise it made playing it a chore. This may level out as the player count continues to rise, but right now, matches don’t always feel balanced.
Houston, We Need Some Content
With 7 maps and 5 game modes currently available alongside the 6 classes of astro soldier, there’s a semi-decent amount of spacefaring combat to be had. Having said that, every mode is a clear inspiration of variations you’ve played hundreds of times before in other FPS titles. From staples Team Deathmatch and Domination to Search and Destroy, Sabotage and a Rush/Conquest equivalent.
For the most part, the modes are fun and serve their job. Map design is surprisingly interesting, thanks to the space station locations and 360° movement offering spacious vertical and horizontal layers. A couple of objectives, particularly on Domination and the rush mode feel imbalanced towards one team which needs some fine-tuning. While there were bottle-necked objective locations in places, these were actually thrilling, creating tense rampages and moments for the kind of organic chaos only multiplayer FPS’ can fathom.
Yet, after a couple of hours of playing and having a great time, the lack of maps, modes and even weapons or equipment started to become noticeable. Of course, this is going to be improved a lot between now and Boundary’s full release, but this feels more like an introductory promise of the game that is to come. If you truly love the mechanics, there’s at least half a dozen or so hours of potential enjoyment here, but I can see many bouncing off quite quickly until more content is introduced.
To its credit, the progression systems in the game are quite strong. You level up your overall rank while playing any class, but you also gain levels for XP garnered with specific weapons and soldier types. Levels unlock a host of new cosmetics, guns, equipment and there’s more promised too. Boundary features a “pick 10” type customisation system whereby you can mix and match weapons, attachments and equipment up to a maximum of 20 points, which really incentivises experimenting and tinkering.
As with most Early Access titles, Boundary is missing that content depth to really maintain its longevity as a viable FPS alternative at the moment. However, the mechanics, progression and gunplay are solid enough to make it worth trying if you’re very much into the genre.
Space Is A Wonderful Place
If there’s one thing a space-themed video game needs to nail, it’s the sense of atmosphere (ed – or lack thereof) and the aura that the infinite void holds. Boundary smashes through this like a black hole meeting matter. Graphically, the lighting shimmers across every surface, background planets loom over the engagement arena with impetus and the tracers from bullets flare across the pristine space stations you’ll be navigating.
It’s truly beautiful, to the point that I actually died a couple of times from stopping to marvel at the technical prowess on show. Dynamic elements like being able to shoot through glass solar panels and swooping your way into interior corridors via ducts add a grounded realism to an otherwise out of this world experience.
Given that this is space, audio cues are kept to a minimum, with the kind of beeps and muffled noises you’d hear directly from the ISS’ own transmissions. There’s very little, if any, musical score here and while the lack of epic backing track sometimes feels amiss at the climactic end of a match, I think it’s a justified concession to maintain the thematic loneliness and vastness of space itself.
Seriously, Boundary looks kick-ass and even if the content offering doesn’t hold you, you’ll be glad you came along for the view.
Keep Pushing Boundaries
For an Early Access release, Boundary is in a pretty great spot right now. The gunplay is tight and satisfying, visually it’s stunning and the atmosphere of space has been captured impeccably well. There are some caveats like the problems with balancing, lack of long-lasting content and what will be a pretty hardened introductory skill-curve for new players.
I also ran into a couple of bugs – one where my game locked up at the start of a match and another involving clipping into a particular wall which was bothersome. The biggest issue it needs to address is region locking, owing to getting some ridiculously awful pings from other players, creating scenarios where I’d quite clearly be blasting their suits apart only for me to somehow end up drifting lifelessly into space. Oh, and the matchmaking, please fix that ASAP.
That’s quite a few problems on the face of it, but many of them I imagine will be fixed over the next few weeks and months and most are minor issues. The core of Boundary’s space station is solid, reliable and wholly beautiful, which makes its present issues pale away in favour of the awe of space shootouts.
Despite some early teething problems, Boundary is shaping up to be a stellar FPS experience with a wonderful space aesthetic and unique gameplay systems based around its Zero-G combat. Balancing, matchmaking and content needs some significant fine-tuning, but this space station should be ready for launch soon. One small step is needed, but a giant leap worth taking, Boundary will be.
Boundary is available now on PC via Early Access (review platform).
Developer: Studio Surgical Scalpels
Publisher: Huya Games, Skystone Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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