The game has one other issue that will either infuriate you or leave you nonplussed. You Are Empty differs from most shooters in its pacing—you might only fight a few enemies at a time, but their accuracy and damage make the battles tense anyway (in some ways it reminded me of Doom 3). To streamline this pacing, the developers gave the player character an uncommonly slow walking speed. You practically stroll through the levels, without the ability to sprint, run or otherwise increase your speed. I have a feeling this was done to get the player to slow down and admire the scenery—it’s certainly gorgeous in a stark, haunting way, but I still would’ve like to move a little faster.
Persian flaws aside, the enemy designs are what do the most to throw of off the game’s ambiance. Some of them are great, while others come off as cheesy. Several of the enemies look like they’ve been experimented on—they’ll be missing a chunk of a limb, exposing bare bone that is supported in metal framework. Others, however, are decidedly less frightening. The first level, a hospital, is a good example. At first you’ll be fending off gibbering madmen with your wrench, but other times you’ll be fighting comically well endowed zombie nurses. There are also random crazed citizens wielding guns and tools, so you get the sense that average people have been transformed. The enemies will also fight among themselves, and oftentimes I came across a small battle already in progress. A few of the scripted situations you find these enemies in are downright creepy, and Digital Spray has been creative in how they portray the AI. The baddies aren’t terribly smart, but they are fast and accurate with their weapons.
The problem is that half of these average-Joe enemies look downright goofy—guys in floppy hats, giant turkeys—and they have sound effects to match. A number of the voice samples sounded like the developers performed them, and consequently made me chuckle; I was really hoping they’d make the sounds scarier for the final build. The enemy design never really ruined the experience, but it was a mixed bag.
Thankfully, the rest of the audio experience is excellent. The game owes probably a third of its atmosphere to the ambient sound effects that saturate the environments. The usual cold wind sounds are joined by distant crackling megaphones and the clanging of rusted machinery. High quality, orchestrated music only shows up when it’s needed—during the action. Each piece fits the scene perfectly, with upbeat tempos, hard guitar riffs and instrumentals that accentuate the battles. A few of the pieces had Soviet marches weaved into them, adding to the game’s communism-gone-wrong style. I liked You Are Empty’s music better than Half Life 2’s, because it actually sustained the action instead of fizzling out right in the middle.
The action sequences themselves are pretty consistent throughout the game, and the whole thing will run you 10 to 15 hours, a decent time for an FPS. There is good variety between the areas and the battles, and it all leads up to some spectacular architecture at the game’s finale. The colossal transmission tower at the end is daunting, but it holds some disappointments as well. First, there is no climatic boss battle to round out the game. You get to the end and meet the main bad guy, and that’s it. The actual ending is quite clever and explains all of the cryptic cutscenes, but there’s no battle preceding it. Secondly, the villain gives you a choice, but the game doesn’t let you make that choice. In the end there is only one option, only one way to end the game. As I said the ending it great (and uncharacteristic of an FPS), but I wish they had made a second end cutscene so that the choice actually meant something.
That feeling of mild disappointment is a good way to sum up You Are Empty. It feels a little behind the times and doesn’t fully deliver in every respect, but it’s still fun from start to finish. To really get the most out of the game, you need to look past the shortcomings and appreciate the work that went into making the levels and setting the atmosphere. I’d certainly like to see Digital Spray do more with their engine—they are obviously quite talented. You Are Empty is a pretty average FPS, but its sense of style makes it much more than the sum of its parts.
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Shooters are a dime a dozen but rarely are they done with some artistic flair. You Are Empty isn’t very remarkable as a shooter, but the ambiance and mood it pulls off make up for it. The world is very well modeled and the cutscenes have a nice texture to their visual style. There isn’t a multiplayer, but if you’re looking for a decent solo experience You Are Empty is a good choice, and you could do a lot worse for $30.
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