Ask most people in the industry, and they will tell you that Half-Life is arguably one of the most phenomenal and influential PC games in recent memory. Its influences on first-person shooters are still being felt today through the likes of No One Lives Forever, Red Faction, and countless other story-driven games. Slovakian developer Cauldron makes no bones about the fact that its soon-to-be-announced shooter, called Chaser, owes more than a little to Valve's masterpiece, though according to Cauldron development director David Durcak, it features "a more detailed story and [more] action." Idle boast or not, when the game launches in fall 2002 under the Fishtank Interactive label, one thing is certain: Genre enthusiasts will take note. We were recently able to visit Fishtank's offices in Germany to take a look at this early game, and while its existence has yet to be realized by an official press release, we've been given the green light to reveal the first few tidbits of information regarding Chaser a little early.
Like many adventures of this kind, you'll find that the plot falls underneath the umbrella of science fiction. At the tail end of the 21st century, humans have reached out to the heavens, with colonies already long established on Mars. Earth isn't such a wonderful place, with humankind having depleted the planet's natural resources and overpopulated every area capable of sustaining life comfortably. Giant industrial centers thrive, most people vacated the planet years ago, and local gangs control many metropolitan areas--unless they're held in check by military forces. Accordingly, human life is valued at an all-time low.
Playing as titular hero Chaser, you awaken in a clinic to find this urban nightmare a stark reality. Still more worrisome are a nasty case of amnesia and random attacks from faceless foes who wish you dead for no apparent reason. From this point on, regaining memories becomes the primary goal. Progressing through a story that Durcak describes as a "mix of movies and adventure," the protagonist will evade killer commandos, bring down criminal gangs, and become unavoidably entangled with Mafia associates. Furthermore, visits to exotic locales such as the industrial Montack City, scenic Siberia, and the Mars colonies are inevitable. "The players take on the role of a man struggling with the world around him who must uncover many mysteries about his past," Durcak explained. "There are only two things [they] can trust: [their] weapons and brains."
Imagine a grand, varied escapade with 30 locations, 30 different types of enemies, 20 supporting characters, and roughly 20 hours of gameplay built in. Your time will be spent completing multiple goals, including novel objectives like conducting coordinated assaults with allies on gang leaders' houses or maneuvering a derrick to safely deliver precious cargo. Better yet, the puzzles are logical, falling directly into sync with each situation so as not to interrupt the flow of play. While romping around Earth and Mars, you'll visit an annihilated city, various underground areas, airports, and snowy wastelands, blasting nonstop throughout. Interestingly, in-game weapons draw on real weapons for inspiration, with their partially enhanced design specs based on actual pistol, shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle, explosive, and grenade launcher attributes.
An eye for detail will also be one of the game's strong selling points. "Character animation is realistic to the point that you feel you're controlling a real human," Durcak said. "Character details are very high. Apart from minutiae like shiny glasses and creased clothes, they have facial expressions like smiles, frowns, and so on. We have created our own animation system that uses skeletal animations and can combine multiple movements so our characters can walk, talk, point to things, and shake their heads simultaneously." Similarly, special effects won't disappoint, as the engine they're based on supports eye candy ranging from smoke and mist to explosive sparks that react to dynamic lighting and particles that collide with environmental objects. Physics modeling also allows explosions to pack a realistic (and beautiful) punch. You can count on jaw-dropping moments when soldiers jump through glass windows, signal each other, and attack cooperatively or during dynamic map changes such as when a damaged rescue module crashes through houses in Montack City's outskirts.
Chaser is just five months into development, and information surrounding the project is still scarce. But with 16 people cranking away on what sounds like the finest Martian manslaughter since Total Recall, we'll be sure to bring you more details as they develop.