This game had every chance of not being released at all. The beginning of the great war coincided with the final spurt of Shatterline. The game lost its publisher, most of the team was forced to evacuate to the West of Ukraine, some of the developers took up volunteering, helping the army, and the director of Frag Lab took up his own weapon and enlisted in Territorial Defense to defend his home. And in general, in February and March, we were all somehow not in the mood for games. But Frag Lab quickly restored productivity, after the end of the Battle of Kyiv the team returned to the capital and… released Shatterline into Steam‘s Early Access almost exactly as planned before the war.
The fact that during the war a Ukrainian studio releases a project, if not AAA, then definitely AA-level is a miracle in itself and a powerful signal to Western partners. Ukraine did not give up, Ukraine is still working, and even in such difficult conditions, Ukrainian developers are able to create world-class products. But it is even more important that Shatterline turned out to be a really cool and very Ukrainian game. I’m not ashamed to play!
|Platforms||Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S|
Development and team
The Kyiv studio Frag Lab was founded in April 2017 by people from the Crytek Kiev studio. Part of the Warface team, led by Maks Dembik, managing director of Crytek Kiev, left the studio to start their own company. At the beginning, Frag Lab had about 100 people, during the development of Shatterline the studio grew to 210 employees. The team members include both industry veterans who have worked at Crytek, Ubisoft, GSC Game World and 4A Games, as well as talented young people for whom Shatterline is their first game project.
For the new project, which was supposed to be a cooperative/competitive PvE/PvP first-person shooter, the developers chose the Amazon Lumberyard engine. Perhaps it happened because it’s based on Crytek’s CryEngine, which the team has been familiar with since Warface. In addition, behind Amazon Lumberyard was Amazon’s powerful network infrastructure, which is very important for a multiplayer game.
Frag Lab quickly found investors and a publishing partner for the new project. And if the studio does not disclose the names of the investors, the publisher is well-known to Ukrainian players – it’s Wargaming, which seems to be not Belarusian any more. But Wargaming has abandoned the Shatterline project (see official comment below). Apparently due to the curtailment of all operations in the post-Soviet space, although it would be interesting to know the real reasons.
Wargaming’s official comment: “Wargaming and Frag Lab completed their collaboration in August 2022 as part of the optimization of the company’s product portfolio. For several years, Wargaming financed the development and acted as the publisher of Shatterline, which allowed the Ukrainian studio to grow from 70 to 200 employees, developing and improving the game all the while. According to Wargaming’s decision, all developments and technologies remained with Frag Lab. We thank the Shatterline team for cooperation and wish success in the development of the game!”
According to our rather conservative estimates, over 5.5 years, the development of Shatterline cost at least $15 million, and most likely more. Which makes it one of the most expensive Ukrainian games in history. It would be interesting to see the real numbers someday.
Shatterline is the story of the invasion of Earth by an alien semi-intelligent crystalline entity, a galactic plague that reshapes planets to its liking. The invaders do not know pity, they do not negotiate, but simply digest everything around them, making them part of themselves (this reminds me of something…). In 2028, Earth is gradually turning into a crystalline world, and only a small number of people immune to crystalline are resisting and trying to figure out how to deal with this influx. They created the Shellguard organization and became its operatives to give scientists a chance to study the alien monster and inflict a blow in return.
But crystalline creatures that were once people and animals are not the only enemies of the Shellguard, there are also fanatics: The Strafe Witnesses, or Strafers, who want to subjugate Crystalline, believing it will help them move to a new stage of humanity’s evolution.
Most of Shatterline’s lore and plot is presented in co-op missions and during briefings, or in cutscenes like the intro. There is something interesting in the descriptions of operatives and excerpts from the Codex, which can be seen when loading missions.
During the first season, which began with the release of Shatterline in Early Access, Frag Lab decided to introduce new missions to players gradually, changing them every week. So as of now, we’ve seen the introductory single-player tutorial mission, the Expeditions mode, and the first co-op story mission.
Expeditions is an open world co-op with roguelike elements. A group of three operatives must complete three random tasks in three random locations to gain access to the Emissary’s chambers and attempt to defeat this boss. During Expeditions, which usually last 30-45 minutes, you receive random weapons and skills from supply containers; the more containers you find, the more prepared you will be for the final battle.
On the other hand, the more time you spend in the Zone, the more hostile the enemies become and the more bonuses they receive. Some of these negative player bonuses are very powerful. When the maximum level of infection is reached, the group needs to be evacuated immediately, but the departure point still needs to be cleared of enemies. Again, after completing each intermediate task, players can vote to evacuate, saving valuable blueprints for crafting.
The open world of Expeditions is actually not very large and is assembled from several standard elements. There is a coast with a lighthouse and an abandoned ship, there is a sulfur swamp with some machinery, there is a Strafer base near a large dam, a town swallowed by Crystalline, a plane crash site, an area near the Emissary’s chambers, several other areas. They are all randomly selected for each task. However, the Zone is changing and will continue to change in the future. For example, I only saw the Stone Labyrinth after completing 15 Expeditions.
Cooperative story missions take place in separate, predetermined locations, in addition, here you will not get random weapons and have no skills at all. But you can choose the weapon that you like more and that fits the situation. The first story mission Red Lake turned out to be both interesting and very picturesque. Hopefully, these locations will appear, at least partially, in the Expeditions mode.
Shatterline’s 6v6 PvP modes are a classic. Team Battle, Capture, Escort and Blast, which in the Ukrainian version is called… Bavovna Mode.
But there is one nuance. All operatives are predefined classes. Everyone can use any unlocked weapon, but the skills – two juniors and one super skill – cannot be changed. So Shatterline is still a bit of a hero shooter, where some classes are better suited to multiplayer, while others are unlocked during co-op.
PvP in Shatterline turned out to be very fast, almost reactive. It is somewhat close to PvP in Call of Duty, but seems to be even faster. Plus there are many, even very many, tackles. It seems that all the players almost all the time move only in the tackle. At first it’s a bit surprising and even annoying, but you get used to it pretty quickly and you start moving like that yourself.
As much as I don’t like fast-paced multiplayer, Shatterline won me over. And it’s not as bad for me as in Call of Duty, so I like to play 5-10 games every day. Team Battle is not my thing, although sometimes it turns out not bad, but Capture and Escort are just that. We haven’t seen Blast mode yet, it will be unlocked next week.
Another PvP mode that was active last week is something new: the popular Ukrainian game Build a Barricade. In Barricade mode, battles take place in a large hall separated by a partition. For the first 30 seconds of the round, players from both teams can build their own barricade from the cubes, then in two minutes you must fight in these “new buildings” to destroy the entire opposing team. The game goes to 5 wins. Interesting, fast and really original mode.
Hopefully it will be added to the standard PvP quests.
So far, there are not many multiplayer maps. For example, there is only one map for Escort and what seems to be five maps for Team Battle and Capture. Hopefully, by the end of the season additional locations will open in the zone.
Operatives, weapons and leveling
As of now, Shatterline has 8 operatives. Of course, in the future, the developers will add new fighters. Currently in the game, two support fighters are medics, indispensable in co-op; two multipurpose stormtroopers; two fighters in exoskeletons that can knock down doors, paving new routes in PvP or opening caches in PvE; and two scouts who can get to places inaccessible to other players. Each operative is leveled up during the game, opening bonuses to skills, most often this is an accelerated charge or additional use.
As for weapons, there are currently 25 weapons in the game, which also need to be upgraded. First, the cumulative level of the entire armory is upgraded, which opens access to more powerful weapons, and secondly, each individual sample is upgraded, which gives access to modifications that significantly improve the specifications. In Expeditions, you can get weapons that are not yet unlocked, in multiplayer you can only take what is already unlocked. The first level of the armory is opened immediately, the second can be opened in 2 days, but for the third upgrade you’ll have to wait for several weeks. It’s scary to even imagine how long it takes to open the fourth and fifth levels.
In addition to modifications, Shatterline has an even more radical transformation of weapons – mods. They are obtained from Season Pass levels or crafted from blueprints. Blueprints can be obtained in Expeditions (12 Blueprints for all 4 tasks), or by completing daily and weekly tasks. Immediately after the release of the game, one mod cost 450 blueprints, which you had to spend about a week on “mining”. Of course, the players were not satisfied and Frag Lab listened to them, reducing the price to 300 drawings. On the other hand, weapon mods are really powerful transformations, so the high price makes sense here.
Graphics and optimization
As we mentioned earlier, Shatterline uses the Amazon Lumberyard engine. It is a good driver, but games are not lucky on it. Almost the only noteworthy Lumberyard game that made it to release is the MMORPG New World. In addition, it is this engine that uses the greatest long-build in the history of games – Star Citizen / Squadron 42. All other games either failed resoundingly or were canceled. And later, Amazon abandoned Lumberyard, handing it over to the Open 3D Foundation, under whose leadership it turned into the free open-source engine Open 3D Engine.
But, according to Shatterline developers, who have seen the code of some other projects on Lumberyard, the problem is not in the engine, but in the hands. And it looks like Frag Lab is fine with that. The game looks very good and stylish. Yes, it may lose to the same Destiny 2 in terms of incredibleness and craziness of locations, but the game is very well optimized and fast even on outdated PCs. The operatives look nice and detailed, the locations and opponents are stylish. The weapon and shooting from it brings pleasure. Almost the only complaint is the very simplified locations at a distance in Expeditions. They look bare.
Shatterline is a Ukrainian game and this is felt not only thanks to the chic and very colourful translation, which is simply a pleasure to read, it is felt in the details.
For example, the prettiest girl in the game is Ukrainian. Zoryana “Malva” Koval is a combat medic, and it seems that someone from the Hospitaliers served as a prototype for her. We have already talked about the Bavovna mode. Winning and losing here is “Victory” and “Betrayal”. Ready / Not Ready – “Let’s roll / Let’s not roll”. In addition, some emblems-stickers on weapons are emblems of branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The aircraft that can be seen in some locations of the cooperative is the An-225 Mriya. Some elements of operatives’ clothes and “skins” for weapons are Ukrainian pixels etc.
Well, the translation here is really good. Unfortunately, there are still descriptions of some of the tasks in English, and it would be very nice to see Ukrainian subtitles in the briefings, but let’s remember that Shatterline is still in Early Access, so glitches are inevitable.
Start of the game and further plans
Of course, there are still bugs in the game itself, but we must give credit to the developers, they fix them very quickly. Sometimes new bugs are added, but they are also fixed. Normal workflow.
Shatterline started with 12,000 players online and ran out of servers. Amazon, whose support grew along with the engine, was not in a hurry to add new ones, but Frag Labs managed this too. Yes, the game was shut down several times for long maintenance, but as we know, the developers plan to somehow compensate the players for these forced downtimes. On Friday, September 16, a week after launch, Shatterline set a new record of 20,000 players. [Ed.] Already 20.5 thousand! It’s not PUBG’s millions, of course, but it’s not bad for a game that came out without a publisher and with almost no advertising. I saw only ads of Closed testing, but it was still before full-scale war.
Like all F2P projects, Shatterline plans to make money from the sale of Season Passes and cosmetic items. Currently, the cost of premium currency is $10 for 1000 coins, which is exactly the cost of the season pass for the first season. Shatterline is actually the first game I bought a season pass for. Firstly, because I liked the game, secondly, to support the developers. They really succeeded.
Aside from the Season Pass, there’s only something like a Founder Pack on sale right now with unique skins for heroes, plus some very expensive weapon decorations, as a token of respect to the developers. Of course, the Store will be replenished, we even know that Frag Lab is currently preparing a very interesting offer specifically for Ukrainians.
Yesterday it became known about Shatterline’s release plans on consoles PlayStation – February 2023, Xbox – a little later. Of course, there will be support for gamepads, but the authors promise that auto-aim will not give any advantage to console players.
Well, Shatterline’s Early Access release can be considered a success, all things considered. The game has a lot of potential. There is a nice style, interesting and diverse gameplay, good shooting, a chic Ukrainian version. It still needs to overcome some bugs, add some content (it seems that it is already there, but not yet open) and it will be another Ukrainian hit, a game that you can be proud of.
Steam player ratings which started with 56% due to review bombing by pro-Russian users (the game was not released in Russia) and problems with servers, increased to 71% in a week. Very good progress. We’ll tentatively rate Shatterline 8/10 and, of course, rate the game again after its release in February 2023.
And I’ll probably go already. I’ll play the Expedition and Story Mission once again as well as a few multiplayer games. I think I got addicted.