Imagine if horror novelist Clive Barker were Russian. The renowned author seems to be one of the inspirations for You Are Empty, a creepy first-person shooter about a Soviet policeman who wakes up to find himself in a ramshackle world occupied by deranged humanoids. As such, you have to battle your way across a strange landscape while armed with an array of weapons.
The game is set during the Cold War, judging by all the photos of Joseph Stalin posted around, not to mention the classic Soviet propaganda paintings and patriotic music streaming over the radio. You play as a police officer who is hit by a truck while crossing a street. After being rushed to the hospital, you find yourself experiencing strange visions. Upon waking up, you find the hospital has been trashed, with gurneys and furniture barricading doors, and the screams and moans of lunatics present everywhere. This does raise an interesting question: Are you in the middle of a dream, or is this actually happening for some unknown reason?
Regardless of the nature of the game's reality, you'll still have to explore and battle your way through a run-down Soviet Union, starting at the sprawling hospital compound where you wake up. The place is infested with straitjacketed patients walking around with sharp sticks, as well as nightmarish nurses with faces that look like they've been chewed half off. Your first weapon in the game will be a trusty wrench you recover from a bathroom, but you can use it to club your opponents and also to smash wooden chairs. It's hard not to get the feeling that the wrench is inspired by Half-Life's iconic crowbar. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to recover other weapons. First up is a Soviet-era semiautomatic pistol, which is followed by a double-gauge shotgun. Health is recovered by drinking medicine, which is found in bottles scattered throughout the level.
The first two enemy types were just an inkling of the weirdness to come. Next we encountered what can only be described as something like a miner, armed with a huge pickax or maybe a giant version of the Soviet hammer. That was followed by crazed firemen armed with their axes, gas-mask-clad soldiers armed with weapons, and crusty old farmers or prospectors. They're all pretty insane, and they seem to spout some kind of gibberish when they come after you. In addition to combat, there's a small amount of key hunting or exploration to find the switch that will open a door. In one instance, you have to pull a fire alarm to send the crazed firemen your way; one of them will open up a locked gate.
As you progress through the game, you'll get subtle clues that mention something about a "vaccine" that may be the cause of all the madness. These clues are mainly in the form of short, handwritten notes that help propel you forward through the plot. You'll escape from the hospital by finding keys to a car and speeding away just in the nick of time, and though you'll be able to watch the driving from behind the steering wheel, there doesn't seem to be any actual unscripted vehicle gameplay.
You Are Empty is a creepy game and that fear factor is helped by the solid presentation. There's something about the game's environment and atmosphere that reminds us a little of Half-Life 2's City 17. Even the game's audio seems inspired by Valve's classic shooter, given that the music in the game is restricted mainly to electronic noise that kicks in sporadically to ratchet up the tension. The game makes for a potentially interesting mix of horror and action and it ships later this month.