A year ago, news of a highly innovative first person shooter reached my ears through SteamFest: this news was regarding Studio Surgical Scalpels’ Boundary, a tactical shooter set in the final frontier of outer space. In the demo, I found a remarkably engaging title that made full use of its environment to provide a novel experience, one in which players must be mindful of, and capitalise upon, a full six degrees of freedom in their movement to flank foes and complete objectives. Amongst the complex structures, and occasional wreckage of semi-futuristic space stations, players duke it out in an environment unbound by gravity. Ultimately, I found Boundary to be a remarkably unique experience; the game mechanics are polished, with movement handling in a fashion consistent with what one would expect from a space shooter, and moreover, the aesthetics in Boundary are on point: if the world had suddenly invested vastly into space exploration and defensive forces in space, the installations and technologies seen in Boundary appear feasible within a few decades’ worth of progress. In particular, the weapons look amazing and feel like contemporary firearms adapted for use in space. From a gameplay and art design standpoint, Boundary is very playable – in fact, the game had been quite ready for launch since last year. However, Studio Surgical Scalpel has instead taken the past year to ensure that the game is at its absolute best when it does launch, and the most noticeable changes in the game have been the redesigns to the maps. Although their fundamental layouts remain the same, some of the maps have been given overhauls and sport a very different look. The planets in the skyboxes are no longer barren-looking Neptune-class planets, but instead, they are now Earth-like worlds with well-defined surfaces. While Boundary still doesn’t have a story yet, it’s not difficult to imagine different factions struggling for control of precious resources as they strive to keep their operations going, or mercenaries fighting on behalf of corporations.
Beyond the cosmetic adjustments to the maps, Boundary‘s other changes include significant improvements to the UI and UX. Menus are now easier to navigate than they had been previously, being intuitively laid out. Players have easier access to their progression, and this makes one’s next unlocks far clearer than things had been in older builds. The in-game HUD has also been improved: player velocity and status are now denoted as a part of the compass, reducing visual clutter without reducing the amount of information available. Moreover, a radar is now present, giving players a rough sense of where nearby foes are. Certain actions, like engaging one’s thrusters or firing one’s weapons, will increase one’s presence, and one can automatically spot enemies by firing in their vicinity or using special ordnance, putting them on the radar. The addition of a radar provides players with improved spatial awareness, and further encourages tactical play – it is not always feasible to leave one’s thrusters and jet across the map, and similarly, certain classes may employ gadgets to decrease their visibility on the radar, or even remain impossible to spot altogether. The inclusion of a radar alters gameplay, forcing players to make split-second decisions: during a match, one might ask themselves of whether or not risking being spotted while rushing across the open to reach a capture point is better than equipping a class that can sneak around at the expense of survivability, and act accordingly. Threat indicators have also been improved, no longer taking up a large portion of the screen. While Boundary has seen considerable changes that bolster quality of life and makes gameplay smoother, there remain a handful of issues. Boundary is generally smooth, but there have been a few moments where the game stutters, and connectivity has occasionally been spotty – I’ve been forcibly dropped from a match on a handful of occasions, and the earliest symptom of this is seen when friendly and opposing players both suddenly freeze in place. Beyond this, Boundary is in an excellent state – if the game launches with enough content (namely, weapon, map and mode variety), it could end up quite successful. So far, we’ve seen a fair selection of weapons, reasonably varied maps and only a handful of game modes; if Boundary could improve on map settings (asteroid bases hold a lot of promise, for instance) and add a few high-stakes modes (like bomb defusal, survival or extraction), there could be enough to keep players entertained.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The last time I played Boundary, it was last year’s SteamFest, and I vividly recall it being an especially busy time because I’d been in the process of moving house. Workdays were actually the more relaxing times of week for me because those days were relatively structured, and in evenings, I was always guaranteed time to unwind. On the other hand, weekends were very busy: I would spend afternoons driving over personal effects, books and the like to the new place, as well as doing some preliminary cleaning. While it had been quite hectic, it was also a good experience overall; moving was something I ended up looking forward to.
- At around this time last year, I was in the process of getting my internet services set up, as well. We’re a year into the term now, and I’ve been very satisfied with the service, which has been, admittedly, a little more powerful than I actually need. A gigabit fibre connection is spectacularly fast, and my ISP has excellent upload speeds, as well: the theoretical maximum data transfer rate is 120 MB/s. In practise, however, I’ve found that most services only reach 30 MB/s with any consistency, and while I’ve seen EA’s servers push 90 MB/s, for the most part, I actually don’t need a connection that powerful.
- In about eleven months, I’ll need to decide whether or not it’s a good idea to step down to the 300 Mbps plan. I’m not sure if Boundary will be fully released by then; the game was originally scheduled for a 2022 release, but a year following my trial of it in SteamFest, the game remained in “coming soon”. This isn’t to say the developers shouldn’t take their time with it – Boundary has received some incredible updates in the past year. The UI/UX is especially improved, and I have noticed that the quality of life has also gone up.
- From a gameplay perspective, reduced muzzle flash and improved reticules make it far easier to keep track of a target. On-screen, the status of a player’s space suit is now denoted to the left, and velocity and state is given on the right. Players also gain access to a radar that gives a rough indication of where foes are, as well as how easy it is to spot them. An actively moving or firing player will emit a signal, while stationary players have a reduced presence. Firing at a player with a high presence will 3D spot them for a brief period of time.
- This aspect of Boundary addresses a problem the game’s 2022 build had; because Boundary chooses to render sound realistically, players can only hear their own weapon fire, any impacts to their suit and their own thrusters. Players of first person shooters typically use sound to help them track a foe, and whether it be the report of gunfire or footsteps, sound is an integral part of spatial awareness. By eliminating sound to fit the environment, players have one fewer tool they can use. Although the players’ space suit will emit a sonar-like pulse for detecting nearby enemies, this feature does not give any information on where one’s foes are precisely.
- Thus, the inclusion of a radar means that players now have one additional tool to help with locating foes. This is especially useful in close quarters environments, especially when one is capturing a point. In the domination game mode, capture points are located inside a space station, and the narrow confines of a space station’s interiors mean that depending on one’s loadout, one must be careful in how they approach things. Boundary‘s latest demo gives players access to three classes: assault, sniper and close-quarters.
- Armed with the GSW-PSR or GSW-DMR, longer-range weapons, for instance, I would not feel comfortable rushing into a control point and capturing it, at least, not without knowing if anyone were present. On the other hand, a long-range rifle is ideally suited for picking off foes from across the map. A well-placed headshot is a one-hit kill, and here in Boundary‘s latest build, the emergency inflatable capsules that deploy when a player is downed have been removed from most modes. Players reported that these capsules looked a little strange. While from a world-building perspective, they make sense (a suit that suffers enough damage will deploy these until a friendly player can repair the suit, equivalent to reviving a teammate), modes that don’t have revive mechanics don’t technically need this visual element.
- During this year’s Boundary trial period, I’ve been scoring multi-kills with a nontrivial frequency. A year ago, I managed the occasional double kill, and owing to how medals are displayed in Boundary, I only showcased one of these moments in my post. In this post, I’ve got numerous double kills, and a handful of triple kills, as well. While difficulty in capturing screenshots resulted in a similar situation, I was doing well enough in matches so that there were more moments to try and capture screenshots from. Here, I managed to score my second triple kill (the first of this post) using the GSW-SG, a shotgun that excels at close quarters combat.
- Overall, I believe that my experience in Boundary now is a consequence of my returning to PvP after almost two and a half years of stepping away. Since Battlefield V‘s final update, I drifted away from playing PvP games and, during the lockdowns accompanying the global health crisis, I focused primarily on single player experiences. The reason for this was primarily because after that update, I migrated over to playing The Division 2 and began The Warlords of New York. By the time I’d finished the Faye Lau hunt, I picked up DOOM Eternal and also had spun up my own private World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Litch King server. By the time Battlefield 2042 released, I’d been quite removed from the multiplayer scene, and had little incentive to return simply because by then, it had become clear that I wasn’t going to get playable frame rates in a PvP environment from my previous desktop.
- Even The Division 2 was giving my old machine some trouble; I found myself frequently crashing because I was running out of RAM. My machine was simply not able to keep up. However, in the month before my move, I decided that, especially in response to rising tensions in Eastern Europe and an increase in NAND memory prices after a manufacturing mishap, it was probably a better idea to build a new PC there and then, versus waiting for better hardware. I believe my decision was a fair one: between inflation and other factors, building a computer in the present is costlier than it’d been a year ago, even though there have been improvements in the hardware, and moreover, building a new computer last year meant that I’ve already gotten a year’s worth of mileage out of my current build, versus struggling with decade-old parts for another year
- The differences are night and day – my gaming experiences have been much improved and I’m not dropping frames. This had been the biggest problem I previously faced: low frame rates makes it significantly to track what’s happening in game and respond accordingly. In Battlefield 2042, choppy movement meant I was seemingly dying to nothing, and firing on what my client thought was an enemy player gave the impression I was doing no damage whereas in reality, I was shooting air. Having said this, when I played Boundary a year ago, I was running the GTX 1060, and the game was reasonably smooth, but the additional frames the RTX 3060 Ti was noticeable, enough for me to score multi-kills with a much greater frequency.
- Between better framerates and a renewed mindset for playing PvP, I found myself performing much better than I did during the last SteamFest. Although I’m fond of saying how a skillful operator will beat out someone with superior hardware, I admit that having better hardware makes a considerable difference. With this in mind, there were a few moments in Boundary where I landed in matches that had me on the ass end of an ass-kicking, and I found myself wondering if those players had a hardware advantage over me: 1080p is still a decent resolution in the present, but I’m running monitors with a refresh rate of 60 Hz, meaning that the maximum frame rate I effectively have is 60 FPS.
- Monitors with a higher refresh rate can give an advantage by displaying things more precisely, and similarly, 1440p and 4K monitors provide a shade more detail than their 1080p counterparts. Folks with sufficiently powerful hardware see noticeable gains with more expensive monitors – higher resolutions and refresh rates provide more detail, and in a game like Boundary, this could be helpful because the astronauts blend into the wreckage. A 1080p monitor may render a distant astronaut as a couple of blurry pixels, indistinguishable from the scaffolding of a space station, but at 1440p, that same distant astronaut may stand out just enough for one to determine it’s time to aim down sights and fire a few rounds off.
- Before going any further, I’ll explain the page quote: it’s a poem from the Chinese calligrapher and writer, Wang Xizhi, and in English, it reads “Looking up, I see the immensity of the cosmos; bowing my head, I look at the multitude of the world. The gaze flies, the heart expands, the joy of the senses can reach its peak, and indeed, this is true happiness”. For most matches I played, Boundary did inspire happiness: I had fun more often than I experienced frustration. Overall, Boundary is in an excellent state, and it does feel like the only things that really need to be addressed is server connectivity and the occasional bit of stuttering. Beyond this, the core of Boundary‘s mechanics are solid, and this allows the developers to focus on adding new content and modes.
- During SteamFest, Boundary offers players with a sizeable collection of maps, featuring different space stations over different planets. There is a decent amount of map variety even though all of the existing maps have been set around the concept of a single space station, but there is a lot of potential for exciting new maps. Following in the footsteps of Shattered Horizon, there could be maps set on a single, large hollowed-out asteroid that’s home to a mining facility and complex tunnel systems, or a cluster of smaller asteroids with communication outposts. Orbital elevators could provide opportunity for vertical gameplay, forcing players to think in new ways as engagements occur on the unorthodox z-axis. Ships parked in a large orbital dockyard, whether it be a space terminal or construction site, can be used for symmetrical game modes, and some maps could even be set in the cavernous interiors of large ships under construction.
- The possibilities are actually quite varied, and with the right creativity, Boundary‘s maps could be revolutionary. Similarly, one other thing I’d love to see are more creative environments. A binary or multiple star system could create a scene with interesting lighting effects, and fighting for dominance in orbit over a gas giant, or in orbit surrounding a planet with a ring system creates atmospherics that are quite unlike what we are familiar with. In conjunction with a greater variety of maps, there’s no real limit on what’s possible; a good art team could easily bring these environments to life, and good map selection alone would make Boundary enticing as a long-term experience.
- On weapon variety, Boundary‘s demo has proven quite promising. So far, there’s two clear families of weapons: firearms inspired by Soviet Bloc designs that have been adapted for use in space, and the more futuristic-looking GSW line. Both the Soviet Bloc and GSW weapons are fun to use and reliable. Here, I’ve unlocked the GSW-PDW for Spike, a speedy class intended for close quarter combat. The shotgun was a fun weapon to use, but overall, I prefer having an automatic weapon for medium range engagements.
- Although I’ve gotten a triple kill with the shotgun (its stopping power at close ranges is undeniable), and the sniper rifles are similarly viable, during my play-through of the demo, I found that the GSW-AR, an alternate assault rifle for the assault class, proved to be an incredibly versatile weapon: even with just the iron sights, I was able to consistently hit distant targets with confidence, and the GSW-AR’s hipfire was quite reliable. During one match, I spawned in with the aim of testing this out, and quickly found myself stomping the server. While hovering around the central module, I scored a triple kill. However, moments later, I achieved I’d thought to be impossible for a player as unskilled as myself.
- This is the coveted “Quadra Kill” medal, awarded for the equivalent of a quad kill, or in classic Halo terms, a killtacular. After the demo last year, the only instance I’ve seen of anyone getting a killtacular was in a demo video of someone who’d been using a weapon resembling the AMHR, which I’ve never unlocked. To put things in perspective, even YouTube players like LevelCap and JackFrags were not shown getting anything higher than a triple kill in their videos. Granted, it is much tougher to get a multi-kill in the other modes, and TDM’s inclusion in Boundary means a larger number of players are in closer proximity on some maps.
- An interesting element in Boundary‘s 2023 demo was the fact that players now have a maximum of twenty available slots in their loadout, and different items occupy a certain number of slots. In this way, one can equip a range of equipment and weapons to fit their play-styles, but otherwise, cannot just fill all of their slots with the best weapons available. This forces players to be mindful of what they pick. For instance, if I chose to equip two primary weapons, this prevents me from carrying a second piece of equipment. On the other hand, if I equip a sidearm, I can run with both a smoke launcher and EMP charges.
- The choice of what to bring into a match thus matters: depending on the game mode and map, certain setups might be more viable than others. In the domination and invasion modes, equipping the explosive launcher or EMP would be a good idea, since it allows one to soften up capture points before closing in and capturing it. Conversely, in elimination and TDM, smoke or a decent primary weapon in one’s second slot would be a better choice. The slow weapon switch times mean that this act is actually one that requires a bit of caution, but on the flipside, being able to carry a marksman rifle alongside an assault rifle can prove handy.
- The space M53 Mosin-Nagant was one of the most iconic weapons of Boundary during its demo last year, and it was quickly unlocked for players to use. This bolt-action rifle is modelled after its real life counterpart, which was originally developed in 1882 and entered service in 1891. Becoming one of the most widely-produced rifles in history, the Mosin-Nagant is still in use today despite being superseded the AK and SKS rifles. Boundary‘s M53 doesn’t hit quite as hard as the GSW-SR and its muzzle velocity is slower, but it has better handling and a higher rate of fire, making it a suitable choice for maps where there are more close range engagements.
- Over the course of the demo, I also ended up unlocking the SVD, a space-ready variant of the Russian Dragunov rifle. As a marksman rifle, the SVD is an excellent medium range weapon, and shortly after unlocking it, I scored a double kill with it. While I made fair progress with the classes in Boundary during this demo period, I was unable to unlock the GSW-AMR, a powerful anti-materiel rifle that was featured in the previous demo. Also absent was a light machine gun that the support class had access to. These weapons were quite entertaining to use, but at the same time, they’re also more situational; the available weapons in this demo period were more versatile.
- It should be clear that in a year, Boundary has seen some impressive updates, and I would imagine that the developers have also accrued a year’s worth of experience, allowing them to improve the game further. In software development terms, a year is a considerable amount of time for making progress – over the past year, I learnt how to do voice recognition and synthesis using AVFoundation, and it was in the past month that I got over my apprehension about using Core Data, Apple’s persistence framework. Although I’d previously used it, Core Data has always given me the willies because the NSFetchedResultsController can be a bit temperamental – if one tries to update a table view without synchronising the table view to the managed object context, the app will crash.
- Learning to write a table view that correctly uses the NSFetchedResultsController without damaging an existing app’s function was a nontrivial task, and with this done, things have lightened up a little for me, enough for me to capitalise on the warmer, sunny weather to go grab a Flamethrower Grill Burger from the local DQ. DQ’s burgers have a distinct char-broiled taste about them, and the Flamethrower’s sauce gives the burger a pleasant kick. I’ve not had one of these burgers in quite some time, and eating one of these was a trip down memory lane: the flavours remind me of that hot summer day nearly a decade back, when I stepped out for a burger on Canada Day after spending the morning working my summer project for the lab to take my mind off the Great Flood. I recall playing Vindictus during that afternoon; I’d finished my work, but I still found myself wishing I could go out to the mountains despite the knowledge that the bridges had been washed out.
- This time around, things were decidedly more relaxed, and I found contentment in enjoying lunch under perfectly blue skies. On the topic of the Great Flood of 2013, it is not lost on me that we are approaching the ten-year mark to the day that things in Calgary, and there are some thoughts I’ll be looking to share as we approach June. Back in Boundary, the double kills I got on this map here are one of the most cinematic: I absolutely love the play of light on the golden solar panels and the sun illuminating the planet below. The scene has a distinctly Gravity-like vibe to it. In the double kill above, I equipped a holographic sight on the GSW-AR, while here, I decided to have another go at using the SVD.
- The SVD handles similarly to the GSW-DMR – these weapons have a longer range than the assault rifles, but don’t have the same muzzle velocity or damage as the sniper rifles. They’re excellent options for the assault class, although as a sniper, I find that equipping a sniper rifle and becoming comfortable with the sidearm is the best option. During the course of my time in the Boundary demo, I came across a number of interestingly-named opponents, and while rolling with the SVD, I encountered one player that had an uncanny ability to continually reach my team’s spawn points despite only mere seconds having elapsed since I took them out.
- I will yield that Boundary‘s demo for this year’s SteamFest does offer several mobility-enhancing aids, including a grappling hook and afterburner, allowing players to accelerate across the maps on very short order. I didn’t make extensive use of these abilities, but players with greater familiarity for these tools could capitalise on them to move swiftly around the maps. I respect the highly mobile play-style, since it represents a willingness to play for the team’s sake, but admittedly, there is also some merit to the practise of camping in a tactical first person shooter: if one is already holding a capture point, it makes more sense to stick around and defend it. In Boundary, camping on an objective can be countered with the explosive or EMP grenades.
- Towards the end of my time in this year’s SteamFest Boundary demo, I ended up playing one final game of TDM. By this point in time, I had a decent set of sights for the GSW-AR, and this match, I completely shredded, going 28-18 and ending the round as the MVP. Throughout this match, I continuously slaughtered a player by the name of “Octavia Melody”, which helped with my performance. During the course of my time in the Boundary demo, I didn’t run into anyone that was a streamer, unlike last time. It does feel as though interest in Boundary during this SteamFest was diminished, resulting in a quieter experience all around.
- I’ll conclude this revisit of Boundary with my second killtacular, which I scored after shooting Octavia Melody in the helmet and reflect on the suddenness of this year’s SteamFest. Like last year, the window to give Boundary a whirl came up unexpectedly: I had originally planned to publish a post today on Lycoris Recoil, which I’d just finished. My thoughts on this series, a contender for best anime of 2022 (but a claim I disagree with), will be published at a later date. My original plans to write about Kokoro Connect remain unchanged, and I aim to complete this post just in time for Valentine’s Day. In the meantime, I do believe that now, when one does a search for Boundary and what the elusive Quadra Kill medal looks like, one shan’t be disappointed.
The biggest question on my mind at present is whether or not Boundary is something that enters my library. On one hand, the game has proven very enjoyable and shows great promise: it represents a step into an environment I’ve always wanted to try ever since seeing 2009’s Shattered Horizon, and moreover, represents an instance of zero-G combat done well. While there are minor inaccuracies with movement to ensure the game is enjoyable, the aesthetic and general attention to detail means that Boundary feels immersive. The gameplay itself is consistent and compelling, and every match is filled with the thrill of uncertainty. On paper, Boundary should be an easy decision, and the developers absolutely deserve the support. However, there is one main factor that precludes my immediate decision to pick things up: as with all of the games I look at, how things handle post-launch is usually what impacts my choices. If a game has a solid launch, with a good balance between quality of gameplay and variety in its content, then it is worth picking up. In the case of Boundary, the demo is known to have consistent and engaging mechanics, so all that’s left is to iron out the minor performance issues. The other factor is variety in content: the demo has already shown that there’s a fairly extensive progression system, and while we’ve only seen space station maps, the space environment offers plenty of potential. If the full game brings out asteroid bases, orbital elevators and shipyards, there’d be enough content to keep experiences novel and exciting. After launch, I’ll have a chance to see how Boundary‘s handles, and provided the game both handles well and has a good selection of content, I see myself picking up Boundary. With this being said, thought SteamFest, I’ve been fortunate to be able to try Boundary out not once, but on two separate occasions: Boundary‘s gameplay is engaging and innovative, providing an alternate experience to the more conventional first person shooters I current play. I will require a bit more information about this game before I can make my decision, but this time around, armed with a combination of renewed familiarity with PvP and better hardware, I was able to focus on improving my game, as well. I like to think I’ve fared a little better this year – in a title where the setup pits five players against one another, and as someone who’s still rusty with PvP, earning a pair of killtaculars (quad kills, or here in Boundary, Quadra Kill) isn’t bad by any stretch.