Pariah is the next big first person shooter due for Xbox and PC, and recently got the chance to look at an early preview of the game.

Pariah comes from Digital Extremes, the same developers who bought us the Unreal series. And as you'd expect from the team that created Unreal, graphics on Pariah are top notch, producing a detailed forest environment in the first few levels got to see.

The storyline is set in the near future, with players taking on the role of army medic Jack Mason. While transporting a female patient with a mysterious disease, Mason's plane crashes into a dangerous prison region. Mason now has to find out why his plane was shot down, track down the now missing patient, and at the same time survive the hoardes of prisoners baying for his blood.

The first level of the game serves as a tutorial, taking players through the basics on how to control Mason. Controls are your typical console first person shooter ones, with the Xbox controller joysticks used for aiming and moving.

There will be seven weapons found throughout the game, although in our short preview we only saw the bone saw (for melee attacks), the bulldog rifle and the grenade launcher. While seven may seem like a low number of weapons, each can be upgraded up to three times by finding weapon energy cores throughout the game. The bulldog gun's first upgrade, for example, gives you better firing acceleration, while the grenade launcher gives you the ability to remotely detonate shells.

Regaining health is treated much like weapons in the game in that you have to find "ammo" for your health kit. Using the health kit is also similar to weapons, in that you have to arm the kit, then press the fire button to administer a healing dosage.

Pariah has avoided the traditional method of having to cycle through a list of weapons to get to the right one. It instead utilises a weapons wheels - press down Y on the controller and a wheel shows up on screen. Simply move the left joystick to the weapon or item you want to use and it's automatically equipped.

Enemies in the early levels saw were fairly weak, but they did exhibit some good AI such as using cover and attacking in groups. The rag doll effects used when shooting enemies down also looked impressive. Pariah uses the HAVOC physics engine to good effect, meaning that if you play smart you could use the destructible environments in the game to take out your enemies for you.

Pariah also has four vehicles that can be found and ridden through the course of the game, and reminded us strongly of the vehicles in Halo. The usual deathmatch and team based play are available in multiplayer, with those socially challenged still able to play on the maps thanks to the inclusion of computer controlled bots.

But perhaps the most interesting feature of Pariah is its excellent Create-A-Map mode, which allows you to easily create your own maps for multiplayer sessions. The demo we saw made it look effortless to change terrain, add buildings or turrets, and even change the weather conditions. Best of all, the maps can be downloaded to Xbox Live, where your friends can enjoy your creation, even if your home Xbox isn't turned on.

Pariah is set for release for Xbox and PC on May 17. We'll bring you a full review soon.

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