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Space shooter Boundary is Call of Duty in zero-G

(Image credit: Surgical Scapels)

Finally, a game brave enough to answer the question on all of our lips: "What would happen if there was a gunfight on the International Space Station?" This multiplayer shooter tackles its pleasingly silly premise with a surprising seriousness, kitting out its astronauts with plausible near-future tech and maintaining a clean, NASA-appropriate aesthetic.

Crudely speaking, this is Call of Duty in zero-G—two teams of five pick loadouts, jump into a map, and shoot at each other a bunch… in space. But over the course of my hands-on I'm delighted to find that the setting is far more than just a gimmick.

A generous jetpack allows for all the freedom of realistic zero-G movement without any of its frustrating limitations. Where the Outer Wilds earlier this year reveled in the humour and challenge of struggling against physics, Boundary is more interested in the possibilities unrestricted 3D movement opens up.

(Image credit: Surgical Scapels)

Your controls are all grounded in the familiar. You're free to move forward, back, left, and right as normal. To move up, you press space, as if jumping. To move down, you press ctrl, as if crouching. You can even 'sprint'—actually a little jet boost—for quick manoeuvring. The only unusual thing is the ability to spin your body left or right, allowing you to turn upside-down—or, rather, to recognise that upside-downness is relative.

You're a little cumbersome, but in a way that's convincing rather than annoying—you feel like an astronaut. And the resulting game isn't one where speed, or even a quick aim, are always king.

Because anyone can be anywhere, there's a huge emphasis on sightlines. Hide between chunks of floating space-station, and you're relatively safe, but you'll struggle to find enemies. Fly out into the emptier space around the edges of the map and you gain a fantastic view of the action, but you're also a sitting duck. 

Each bullet is modelled with accurate physics, but in space there's no bullet drop, so there's little safety gained from distance. Anyone you can see, you can snipe, even with a lowly pistol. So the trick is in knowing when to prioritise vision or cover—and figuring out what cover even is when enemies can be above and below.

The maps play around with this core idea brilliantly. One is divided by a huge field of solar panels, obscuring one half of the map from the other. But with the environment being destructible, you can shoot out segments to create openings to peek through. In one match I stalk from 'below' before bursting up in ambush—one of the devs identifies it as 'playing like a submarine'.

(Image credit: Surgical Scapels)

The emphasis is firmly on strategy over reflexes, and it's a wonderfully mind-bending kind of strategy. Understanding not only where you should be at any given moment—and even which way up you should be—but also where enemies likely are is a constant challenge, with a real rush to cracking it. 

I'm rubbish at shooters normally, but in this strange, slightly slower world (or lack of world), I find myself ruthlessly efficient. As I hunt around spinning stations, I feel like some kind of horrible space shark, a zero-G predator out-manoeuvring my prey until they literally don't know which way is up. It's hugely satisfying.

So 'Call of Duty in zero-G' is apt, but it turns out removing one of the essential forces of the universe from the equation makes more of a difference than you might expect. While the gunplay is nothing new, it's entirely recontextualised by the movement and the areas you're traversing—and the result is the most compelling multiplayer game I've played all year.