One of the most disheartening things about the PC games market is that it often seems like all of the truly original gameplay ideas have already been taken. Fortunately, every now and again a game like Sub-Culture comes along and shows that there are plenty of creative opportunities left for companies with the courage to tackle something new. Combining breathtaking graphics and sound with a storyline both novel and captivating, the designers at Criterion have put together a unique game that has the potential to bring the previously behind-the-scenes development house into the PC games spotlight.
As one of a race of ultra-tiny humanoids, you are confronted with a problem of truly epic proportions. Choked with human pollution and toxins, your ocean home is quickly becoming uninhabitable. To make matters worse, your people have been divided into two warring factions, the Trads, who base their lives around agriculture, and the Techs, who favor a technology-based economy and constantly plot against each other. Your task is to bring unity to your people, and then to stop the human poisoning that threatens the race. Armed with a miniature submarine, you must face dangerous sea life, marauding pirates, and jealous competitors in your quest to clean up the seas.
Using its own RenderWare software, Criterion has created an undersea world that is nothing short of spectacular. Real-time lighting effects, brilliant lens flares, and silky-smooth animation create an atmosphere that is both realistic and absorbing. More than just a static environment, Sub-Culture's ocean is filled with detailed objects that range from hungry fish and underwater cities to bottle caps and cigarette packages. Sound effects are equally impressive, complete with gurgling underwater washes and the eerie cries of twisting metal. The overall effect is truly amazing, and will spellbind all but the most jaded gamers.
Even with all of its great looks, it's the depth and realism of Sub-Culture's gameplay that make it a game to watch. Much like Microsoft's Flight Simulator or Looking Glass' Flight Unlimited, Criterion has used real-world physics in the design of its motion engine. Your tiny submarine pilots exactly like a three-engine craft should, and is affected by such factors as currents, drag, and impacts in a completely realistic fashion. Your challenge is to complete different missions from each of the factions, and use the money you earn to improve your craft with objects like missiles, grappling hooks, and mines (which will help you complete other missions). Missions range from simple recon (finding pollution sources) and aid sorties (helping the Trads with their fishing) to the more intriguing rescues (helping a stranded sub) and collections (recovering pearls or human artifacts).You can choose which missions you accept, and missions logically update depending on the player's past actions. Be careful though, if you accept too many missions for one side or the other, your favoritism could have very negative results!
If you were a fan of open-ended adventures like Firebird's Elite, or Origin's Privateer, then you owe it to yourself to keep an eye on this new adventure. In the end, it's companies like Criterion - balancing marketing know-how with creativity and skill - that will have what it takes to bring gamers into new and exciting worlds.