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Follow your own moral compass in Agartha, a game with unique survival-horror gameplay that offers you total freedom of action and the ultimate choice between good and evil.

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"Survival horror" has become a buzzword in the gaming industry. The Resident Evil series has proved, if nothing else, that atmosphere, pacing, and suspense are often just as vital as the latest graphical engine in creating a compelling, immersive atmosphere. It's obvious that No Cliché has put the lessons learned from Capcom's venerable zombie hunts into practice and has put its own unique spin on the gameplay in its upcoming DC effort, Agartha. If the name sounds familiar, it's because word on this survival-horror game, however indefinite, has been floating around for a few years now. Despite the longtime residency on release lists, though, details of the game have been (until recently) kept under a shroud of secrecy.

Agartha is a historical game set in an unassuming Romanian village in 1929 Eastern Europe. The sleepy town is far from ordinary, though; it moonlights as the supernatural gateway between Earth and a dimension of total pandemonium and malevolence. As the game begins, a violent earthquake rocks the town, breaking the seal containing the evil forces. Your character, Kirk, an aging specialist in strange phenomena, is dispatched with his sister-in-law, Juliet, to search the ruins of the town for survivors and to make a determination on what exactly has occurred. You find the answer soon enough when you uncover the entrance to the underworld, Agartha. As the game opens, you're confronted with the choice of working toward resealing the hordes of demons and undead that have sprung forth or (in a bold twist) helping the bad guys to accomplish their goals - namely the enslavement and destruction of humankind.

In the course of your adventures in Agartha, you'll find yourself knee deep in monsters, soldier monks, priests, archangels, and other demonic minions. Controlling them all is the mysterious Sentinel. Early on, you're offered the choice of working for "good" to destroy him or succumbing to "evil" to serve him. This is only the beginning of the options Agartha gives you. An online mode lets you engage others on SegaNet in old-fashioned deathmatch hack-and-slash. Also, you can download special add-ons through your VMU for the single-player game. More radical than either of these options, though, is the way the game deals with puzzles and obstacles, which have multiple solutions, depending on your approach. Agartha also offers total freedom in interaction with other in-game characters. You can help survivors of the catastrophe to safety, or you can just as easily kill them where they lie. You can even do away with main characters if you feel so inclined. Above anything else, No Cliché wants to give you control over the storyline, which continually modifies itself to suit your decisions - a concept rare enough to PC games and altogether foreign to consoles.

Visually, Agartha is unique as well. Character and location designs are like a page out of an H.G. Wells book: fantastical, yet accurate for the time period they represent. Characters don white bio-suits trimmed with brass piping and other gearlike gadgetry. Environments vary too, from foreign landscapes of Eastern Europe, to the dark inner sanctums of Agartha's underground hell. Unfortunately, screenshots show that much of Agartha's forbidding catacombs are of the typical industrial anonymous-warehouse variety, with plenty of decorative bolted plating and nonfunctional steaming pipes that we've seen since the days of Quake. It all looks enticing enough, though, as the world of Agartha is detailed and dark. Excellent lighting, in particular, helps underscore an atmospheric uneasiness - a must for any survival-horror game.

Agartha strives to turn the typical survival-horror game on its head with a massively open-ended plot and multiple conclusions. Unsurprisingly, No Cliché isn't in any hurry to rush the product to store shelves; instead, the company's taking its time to focus on fine-tuning its ambitious and unique gameplay. Whether or not it succeeds in letting you dictate your own course in Agartha is what will ultimately separate it from the other imitations and clones in an increasingly crowded genre.

Look for more information on Agartha as it nears its release date in the second quarter of 2001.

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