A lot of games these days like to play on the fact they're "open ended" or allow "free play" without limiting restrictions to how and when you do things. Often though, these games don't end up being anywhere near as free spirited as they once appeared, in some cases it almost seems like a down right marketing lie. Boiling Point isn't one of these offenders, however, but while it does provide one of the better examples of nonlinear gameplay so far in 2005, it fails to stack up in far too many other aspects.
Basically, Boiling Point is a game about rescue and revenge. Although in retrospect it could have worked well, there is no relevance between the game's title and the gameplay on offer - for instance, there isn't a "point" in the game where you're anger "boils" creating some sort of power-up ability or anything, it's just a catchy name. Saul Myers, the human controlled character and ex-military guy, receives news of his daughter's kidnapping in South America and hops on a plane to free her, but before he can crack some skulls, he must become accustomed with his new environment and become trusted by the people who live there. This is where the game hands control over to you, and this is where the blended mixture of fun and disappointment kicks in.
Right from the beginning it is easy to see that Boiling Point features some impressive open ended "choose your own path" gameplay. You are simply dumped into a small heavily guarded town surrounded by jungle, and basically let loose to do what you want. There are people too talk to, buildings to enter, items to buy, alcohol to drink, drugs to get addicted to, money to make working - it's pretty much all here. You can even jump in a taxi and explore the entire game's area, providing you're whiling to foot the fare. Perhaps the coolest part is, the jungle areas are all accessible, meaning there are no invisible barriers in Boiling Point. It's almost like you have complete access to an entire country.
However, with the good comes the bad, and unfortunately Boiling Point is not all roses when it comes to initial impressions. Whether it is the occasional out of sync audio in the opening sequences, or the occasional visual glitch, it is also apparent reasonably early on that Boiling Point is not the type of game you'd want without an Internet connection readily available to download patches. Even very early into the game the amount of bugs and general all round roughness awaiting is almost startling - here's one for an example. Say you start a game and decide to play around a bit (read: shoot innocents) and then decide to restart a new game, one would think something as simple as this would work flawlessly, but not in Boiling Point. In Boiling Point, when you restart a game, you're dumped back to the correct location, but some of your previous game's progress still seems to be saved - any phone calls or messages you received are not processed again, and it seems those innocents don't forget your psychopathic attacks very easily, as on more than one occasion it was apparent they're memory crossed over into the new game, fleeing for the hills at the first sight. It is amazing how something as serious as this could make it through to the final game, and while it isn't necessarily a game killer, it sure as hell doesn't make you feel confident in the game's ability.
Outside of the initial glitches, Boiling Point doesn't do itself many favors when it comes to performance either. Despite being played on a reasonably high end Athlon64 system, Boiling Point failed to produce acceptable framrates when using high detail settings, it wasn't until some serious detail was sacrificed that we could achieve a playable game speed, and even then it was far from smooth. Whether this is a conflict with our system (X850XT - Cat 5.8's) or a general problem with the game is still up in the air, but I'm guessing the latter. Whilst it is true acceptable framerate levels are subject to personal opinion, unless you've been playing Doom 3 at 1600x1200 Max Detail on a Geforce 2 MX for the past 2 months, you'll more than likely find Boiling Point's lack of optimization unsettling.
Once you put the somewhat disappointing initial impressions aside (providing you can produce settings capable of a smooth experience on your machine), it has to be said the amount of gameplay on offer in Boiling Point is quite vast - if you get caught up in the reasonably solid storyline you'll be gaming for some time. As mentioned above, there are lot of things to do in this game before you even delve into the mission and submissions, let alone after. With kidnapping being such a sensitive area, going Duke Nukem isn't going to work in this game so you will need to start small and really work your way into the society to recover the fate of your daughter. One way in which this is done is via "relations" meters that shows how highly (or lowly) particular factions in this world regard you - depending on which path you take, you'll need to align yourself with the right people, and to do that, you basically have to do what they want.
On top of the relations aspect, Boiling Point also uses meters to factor in many other gameplay aspects. For example, the game features a distinct "RPG XP Points" element in your ability to shoot particular types of weapons, your ability to trade and your physique, amongst others. All such information can be accessed via your character profile, and while no "skill" seems to be directly upgradeable via user allocated experience points, your actions in game will determine what areas gain experience, so really, the RPG aspects are kind of "behind the scenes" which, depending on your personal preferences, is either a good thing or not so good thing. Personally, I like this method - it means your gameplay determines your abilities, not the other way around.
Like RPG's, Boiling Point also has a standard inventory system, where you can store everything you need from food and books to guns and knives. On the topic of weapons, there are quite a few on offer, including all the usual suspects such as an AK47, M16, RPG etc, as well as more unique items such as a Crossbow, a jar of jam to attract jungle bloodsuckers, and a bullhorn to name a few.
Seeing as the environments are reasonably large, getting around can be a problem but there are other means other than walking - as said above you can jump in a taxi, or buy yourself a car. However, unfortunately the game's glitches show their ugly head yet again here as the driving model in this game is very basic indeed; it seems cars in the world of Boiling Point free themselves of conventional physics on some occasions. On top of that, on multiple occasions we found a function as simple as leaving the car wouldn't work, leaving poor old Myers stuck inside the car for all eternity. A simple game reload will fix this presuming you saved before hand, but that is hardly acceptable. As it would seem, you really have to save regularly in this game because you just never know when a game ruining bug will pop around the corner. Aside from cars, you can operate other means of transport in the game such as boats and planes, but the experiences here aren't much better.
Visually the game is about mid range for what you'd expect from this genre - obviously quantity over quality was used in the sense larger more lively environments were implemented whilst painstakingly accurate textures and models were not a high priority. This is a good thing for this type of game as creating realistic environments is more important for the overall gameplay than gorgeous close range visual details. However, with that said, the fact one or the other had to be chosen and not both is not surprising going off the above mentioned performance issues the engine seems to have.
Boiling Point is an interesting game, there is no doubting that; it's not your typical shooter even if that's only because it actually lives up to its nonlinear label. While it shares similarities to games like Deus Ex, you do get the feeling that perhaps developer Deep Shadows tried to get a little too advanced and complex, leaving many gaping holes in the fundamental aspects of the game. Granted, it is true Deep Shadows are patching Boiling Point, but in its pure retail form the game is far from ready in our books, and while Internet connections are pretty popular now days making post release patching more and more acceptable, there's definitely a line and Boiling Point has crossed it; even with patches, it's hard for a game with a retail product as rushed as Boiling Point to regain confidence amongst its user base, and more often than not, it takes quite a few patch releases to get most problems under control. If you can put up with the technical issues, and don't mind downloading moderately sized patches to fix a so called retail game, then Boiling Point is worth a look, but I'm afraid many gamers probably won't be as forgiving as this.