Have your heard of Gray Matter, the developer of The Condemned? Probably not. But this 10-year-old company may become the next "overnight" success. "We are aiming to create something that will make a big impression," says company president and founder Chris Gray. "Soon, when people ask us if we've had a big hit like Quake or Doom, we hope The Condemned is it."
While not a big name in the PC game development community, Gray Matter is well-known in the video game publishing industry. It's created titles for just about every set-top device and for many major players including Electronic Arts, Acclaim, Sega, Sony, and Nintendo. And despite some minor hits like NHL All-Star Hockey, NBA Action, and Ren and Stimpy: Veediots! they've had no blockbusters. That may soon change.
"The Condemned is the most ambitious title we've developed," says Gray. "It's aimed to be fast-paced, very intense, visually exciting, wrapped in a unique story line and will offer a tremendous amount of flexibility and replayability."
Think MechWarrior meets Mad Max. It's 2073, the world's gone to hell, and rich people and politicians live "off-planet" on resort asteroids. The once overcrowded and underfunded penal system now supports itself by televising battles-to-the-death among convicts driving weapon-laden custom vehicles in man-made biospheres on Ceres, a remote asteroid.
It's the No. 1 show in the solar system and makes stars, role models and even political leaders out of its convict survivors. Unfortunately for you, your space cruiser to a vacation asteroid mistakenly dropped you off on Ceres. Your only way home: take on the cons.
First, outfit your SCAR - Self-Contained Armed Response - vehicle. Select a drive system from wheels, human or spider legs, tank treads or hovercraft. Add a customizable cab, shields, and power system. Then choose your weapons from the 50 offered. If you can imagine it, The Condemned probably has it, from flame throwers and howitzers, to plasma cannons and nuclear bombs, to tasers and parasites.
Gameplay takes place in multiple environments including avalanche-prone mountains and lava-spewing volcanoes. Your weapons allow you to alter the environment: destroy buildings that get in your way, dig tunnels to hide in, or blast trenches to trip up opponents. In later battles, you can level entire mountain ranges.
The fully-texture-mapped look and feel should be spectacular. The weapon fire will cast its own light, there will be real-time shadows, plus beautiful water effects and multiple levels of terrain and SCAR damage including bullet holes and wobbly legs.
You can go solo or take on a slew of baddies using a LAN, modem to modem, or the Internet Gaming Zone. There will be 10 multiplayer levels and nearly 50 "missions" with objectives from a "capture the flag" style game to knocking out power stations. In each instance, your primary focus will be to increase your popularity among viewers. Ratings rule, and style is a major plus. Don't just blast your opponents to oblivion; first taunt and humiliate them with the built-in messaging system, then hobble them or shear off their weapons one at time, and finally obliterate them to gain favor among viewers and earn special mention from the show's host, comedian Joe Flaherty, of SCTV fame.
"We're trying to provide a tremendous amount of excitement and variety, and a high level of technology that really knocks 'em dead," says Gray. "We're hoping to kick some very big titles off the top ten list."
The Condemned seems to have it all. Apparently the only problem is fitting it into a gaming niche. Microsoft insists The Condemned "will compete well in the Mech category," says spokesman David Hufford. "Mech gamers are very passionate about their genre and our goal is to deliver new, compelling gameplay features that will reinvigorate their thirst for mech-style action."
Gray takes a different tack. "Don't compare us to MechWarrior," he says. "The Condemned is more an action game with more variety in environments and vehicles. And it's more intense."
Whatever. You should be able to blast SCARs to smithereens by this summer.