In memoriam, Donald Sutherland

You Are Empty

Moby ID: 28719
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Description official descriptions

The USSR has gradually become the world leader in science and technology, and the government has researched the creation of genetically engineered humans to serve a perfect totalitarian communist society. The experiment fails, and the city where it was tested becomes a dead zone. The protagonist wakes up in the city, having somehow managed to avoid the effects of the mutation. He has to explore the ruins, escape, and figure out how this tragedy could happen and why he is not affected by it.

You are Empty is a 3D first-person shooter set in the end of the 1950s in an alternate Soviet history. During the search, the player can collect notes that tell more about the background of the game. The entire city is in decay, with dark environments and a constant atmosphere of isolation. The mutated opponents include giant hens and rats, mutilated dogs and nurses, watchmen, soldiers and workers. There are also a few characters that provide help. The available weapons include a wrench, Mauser, shotgun, nail gun, PPSh, rifle, electric gun and molotov cocktails. Most weapons have a secondary function to zoom in or for close combat. Ammo is scattered around and health can be replenished through water stations or canisters. The gameplay is mainly action-based, with a few minor puzzles that involve switches and keys. The level path is entirely linear.

The game uses the in-house developed DS2 engine, reminiscent of Valve's 3D Engine: Source, with a similar graphical style, and an interactive and physics-based environment for both items and characters. There are both indoor and outdoor environments, with villages, factories, large cities, underground passages, a subway, a canyon, an opera house, and a level entirely on the rooftops. In the beginning of the game and between certain levels, rendered cut-scenes are shown. These are entirely in black and white, with a few hints of red, and tell the events that lead up to the Great Transformation.

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Credits (Windows version)

82 People (61 developers, 21 thanks) · View all

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Engine Core & Architecture
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[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 51% (based on 25 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.5 out of 5 (based on 42 ratings with 4 reviews)

This game is (almost) empty

The Good
This game clearly has an interesting background story and the black and white cut scenes are very nice. Some of the levels have an interesting design and the enemies are quite good modeled. I like the idea about an emerging plot, where you find notes and such that tells the player what has happened.

The Bad
Unfortunately the game totally lacks atmosphere, the levels feels just like dead objects without any soul. It's too far between plot revealing notes and they have committed the (in my opinion) unforgivable sin of having monsters spawn right in front of the player. Another thing I'm wondering is why the player can't run? One could explain it by the fact that he was in a traffic accident in the intro, but if he is so fit as to walk through all the levels he should be able to run short distances. And where did they get those lousy voice actors? At least 50% of them were really bad.

The Bottom Line
If you want a game with emerging plot and good atmosphere play System Shock 2 or, if you have a good computer, Bioshock instead of this game.

Windows · by Tomas Pettersson (31846) · 2008

Certainly not empty, but not quite full either

The Good
Designed by a small, yet passionate Ukrainian studio, You Are Empty is one of those post-Soviet first-person shooters capitalizing on the grimly attractive aesthetics of the communist past - much like its better-known (and certainly much more ambitious) cousin. One thing is certain: it is one of the most frighteningly imaginative depictions of the infamous totalitarian regime gone even worse in the alternate reality.

The world of You Are Empty is not just beautiful: it is very detailed. Every single location is meticulously, painstakingly modeled. Whether indoors or outdoors, the levels of You Are Empty are gorgeously decadent. Everything here is dominated by decay, but this decay is proud and majestic. These are the ruins of an entire civilization, a civilization that attempted to symbolize youth, energy, belief in a better, brighter future. There couldn't be a sharper contrast than that between the official Soviet ideology and the reality of this game. The real Soviet Union already was a scary place. But here, it is positively terrifying. It is a grotesque illustration of the regime's horrors, a splendid picture of ruin and utter devastation.

The locations in You Are Empty are varied. Nothing is repeated in this game. All the levels have the same unforgettable atmosphere, but they are quite different visually. You are taken to a scary, hollow rural area; typical Soviet depressing apartments and backyards; solemn, "totalitarian" city center with "Stalin buildings"; famous Soviet subway stations; opulent opera house. Indoor and outdoor locations replace each other at a good pace. The scenery is constantly changing, yet absolutely homogeneous.

You Are Empty is good at emphasizing the survival aspect of first-person shooters. This is not one of those games in which you are a super-powerful badass who mows down legions of enemies. There are no epic, large-scale battles here, but plenty of moments when enemies suddenly begin to pop out from different places - one maniac shooting at you from an open window on the opposite building, another charging at you madly with an axe in his hand, a third calmly side-stepping while pouring out lead from his machine gun, etc. Survival is difficult, danger awaits at every corner, and your nerves are liberally wrecked.

I found the enemies of You Are Empty very scary and disturbing. I heard complaints of a brain-dead AI, but what do you care for their AI when they are about to kill you, brutally and mercilessly? When they attack you, you feel intimidated. Those enemies are vicious, and they are completely crazy. So they might run around in circles sometimes, but they would also suddenly leap at you, shouting maniacally, and trust me, in that moment you won't think about their AI. The most frightening ones were probably those mutated hens in the farm. I died many times there, simply because I was paralyzed by fear of those creatures.

The weapons of You Are Empty are well balanced. Every weapon feels differently, has advantages and disadvantages. You'll probably like some of the weapons and hate others, but that's part of what makes it interesting. Of course "pistol is crap", but what to do when there is no ammo for other, more powerful weapons? Gunplay dynamics change depending on which weapon you use and against whom. Machine gun will probably be your weapon of choice, but ammo is very rare - unless you fight against the soldiers, who are equipped with it. The rifles feel great; I was really looking forward to those "Red Army skeletons", to lay my hands on their rifles. Shotgun is as satisfying as ever. In short, I had fun with those weapons, which is more than can be said about some FPSs.

There isn't much of a plot in the game, but towards the end you'll be able to uncover some information that explains the strange events you've been witnessing. The movies that tell the cryptic story are very interesting. The unique, "distorted" speed of the film, the camera work, the usage of colors (black-white with a bit of red) provide a gradually building, irresistible suspense.

The Bad
It's a real pity that what lies beneath the beautiful facade is a depressingly simplistic first-person shooter without any distinguishing gameplay-related traits.

Essentially, this is a game in which you walk (yes, you can't run at all) around and kill enemies. There is nothing else. That may sound like the perfect description of an FPS, but even prototypical games like Doom had various extras, not to mention gameplay refinements introduced in Duke Nukem 3D and others. From the point of view of gameplay, You Are Empty is bare bones; it feels like an ancient relic with archaic, rudimentary mechanics. Yes, the levels are beautiful, but they are mere decorations. There is nothing to interact with. There are no inventory or any tasks at all beyond simply pulling the trigger many times.

You Are Empty is completely, utterly linear. Compared to this game, Half-Life 2 feels like an expansive sandbox. Once you finish the game there is nothing else to see; play it again and you are guaranteed to have the exact same experience. No wonder it feels stale and artificial when you attempt to replay it and see you've literally seen everything it had to offer the first time. Now, shooters like Half-Life can disguise their linearity, offering a variety of tasks and setpieces that enhance the experience. You Are Empty is fully scripted, but not in an interesting way. There is no excitement in the never-ending routine of encounters with enemies that are triggered by walking in the right direction. That's why the game feels so static and underwhelming. Just a little bit room for breathing, a few optional areas, some exploration would have done it a great service. Alas, there is none of that here.

Well, and it also has one of the worst video game titles I've come across recently. You Are Empty? Who on Earth came up with this name?..

The Bottom Line
At its best, You Are Empty is a visually appealing, atmospheric shooter with a well-developed survival aspect. At its worst, however, it is an astonishingly simple game with a dreadfully linear gameplay that quickly becomes too predictable. It's worth checking out for its artistic merits, but as an FPS it is merely average.

Windows · by Unicorn Lynx (181769) · 2015

Great art + clunky mechanics = ?

The Good
I like You Are Empty a lot.

Whether you like this game or not will depend on two things:

  1. How much its visuals grab you (Have a look at some screenshots)
    and
  2. How much its gameplay faults detract from the experience (see next section).

So I'm guessing you already know the story. Alternate history 1950s soviet Russia - strange experiment - something goes wrong - Communist utopia becomes lunatic-infested hell - leading to a solid chunk of traditional FPS gameplay with you as the only sane man left.

Make no mistake. You Are Empty is a standard first-person-shooter. But what makes it special is its art.

I've always viewed games as a kind of virtual tourism. Even in more graphically primitive times, a good game with a well-developed world could transport you into another place - somewhere you might remember long after memories of your real-life family camping holiday had mercifully faded. One of my main reasons for playing FPSs is not to shoot a million bad guys but to wander round an interesting environment. I play these games slowly, looking at everything there is to see. And though You Are Empty (abbreviation: YaE) has restrictive level design, it still lets me experience an amazing place.

A small team of artists spent two years sculpting a world from millions of polygons. They used a work-in-progress engine that didn't support bump-mapping and other enhanced features so they went to incredible lengths to add physical (polygonal) detail everywhere they could. They modelled beautiful and period-accurate architecture and then (as this is a ruined world) they broke it. Again, beautifully. Just wait 'til you get to the city. Ornate public buildings with high balconies and spires... proud statues of model workers... then ripped up streets, cars and buses half fallen into chasms, toppled lamp-posts, scattered debris.

Elsewhere there's the hospital, the factory... the five-storey building by the river with its face completely torn off... the massive conveyor at the farm... the creepy theater and best of all, the rooftops level - with its awe-inspiring views across the city.

You might look at the screenshots and think that this isn't the most pleasant place to take a vacation, even a virtual one. You might be right. It's a question of personal taste and for me, there's an undeniable appeal to the stark gray world with its elegant sense of ruin.

The atmosphere of the game is similarly bleak, cold, lonely and oppressive. Why should this be appealing to me? I don't know exactly. But it is. I like the feeling of being the only person (well, the only non-insane, non-mutated person) walking these quiet streets that would normally be full of chatter and movement. I'm obviously not alone in enjoying this kind of lonesome, end-of-the-world atmosphere, or these visuals - Look at the success of (inevitable comparison) S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Or Fallout 3.

But of course, you're not alone in those streets or even climbing around on those roofs. So far, I haven't mentioned one of the most important things in any shooter - The enemies. It has to be said, YaE's enemies, the city's deranged citizenry, are a mixed bunch and an odd one. They don't share the same realistic style as the environment - Instead, they're rather cartoony. The contrast seemed jarring at first (and I still think the nurse looks too silly), but the more I played, the more I liked this cast of loons. The gasmask-wearing firemen are flat out awesome. When you first meet one, he'll run at you, yellow eyes bulging, grunting madly and swinging his axe. Later, in a twist of ridiculous yet brilliant irony, these guys are carrying flamethrowers. There are also pickaxe-wielding roadworkers, engineers in welding masks who fly around using a sort of personal helicopter backpack, giant mutated former 'athletes' who hurl manhole covers at you and later on, some really bizarre enemies like the electrical... thing and the corrosive-bile spitting toadman.

The enemies have very simple AI. They mostly run right at you or stand and shoot. But the game does a good job of highlighting their madness through some nice little pieces of scripting. It's great to see a nurse getting headbutted by a mental patient and chasing him off in a rage. Follow them into the hospital basement and you'll find she's killed him and laid him on a slab, ready to go into the incinerator.
It was fantastic to encounter a roadworker, furiously smashing a milk-churn with his pickaxe, sending it rolling across the road, then chasing after it. It's something as simple as that, that seems genuinely crazy and that adds a bit more 'life' and depth to these characters. Although there are quite a few incidents like this in the game, I still wish there were more.

YaE has a slow pace and it's rare to encounter more than a handful of enemies at a time. Your character, in contrast to the manic protagonists of Doom or Serious Sam, is a plodding fellow. In fact, this may be the slowest FPS you'll play. And while this is not necessarily a good thing (see next section) and is going to annoy some people, it does add something to the feel of the game.

Weapons-wise, you have a very standard set including a wrench, pistol, shotgun, machinegun, sniper rifle, etc. More interestingly, there's a fast-firing and accurate nailgun (my personal favourite) and an experimental energy weapon that you get late on in the game and is a bit less practical. All weapons are nicely modelled, period-accurate (with obvious exceptions) and thankfully, ammo is low - so you'll find yourself needing to switch between them at the most inopportune times.

This brings me onto the slight 'survival horror' aspect of YaE. Because you are slow and unwieldy, and because ammo is in short supply, you'll have to hunt for bullets and be careful with your shots. I really like the 'hunting for supplies' aspect in games. I like the thought that I might run out of bullets at any moment. I like shooting my last couple of shells, then having to run madly up to an enemy and bludgeon them to death, then finding a bit more ammo so I can carry on. You'll have to hunt for health too, but unlike ammo, there are 'health drinks' all over the place, as well as vending machines that will supply a free revitalizing drink. I would've preferred less of these.

One last thing to talk about in this section: The cutscenes. What can I say? YaE happens to have some of the best cutscenes in any game. And they're totally unique. The work of artist and animator Anatoly Lavrenishin , they are an incredibly stylish blend of live action, hand-drawn work and computer animation - all in black and white with just a dab of red. They tell their short slices of story without the use of words; they're cryptic, brilliantly realized and always left me with all kinds of questions. The storytelling style is ingenious and very non-standard. And yes, it all makes sense in the end. I wish there were more of them in the game (they appear only sporadically), but every time I finished a level and another cutscene started to play, it felt like I was opening a Xmas present. One thing you don't expect with your FPS experience is arthouse storytelling that is emotional and makes you think - but YaE has it.

The Bad
There's a lot that can go into this section, unfortunately.

YaE has been critically bashed to pieces in many reviews, and though I love this game myself, I can understand the vitriol.

It looks nice, yes (Ignore the fools who bash its graphics). But it is CLUNKY.

Slow pace. Braindead AI. Absolutely standard FPS gameplay with no innovations whatsoever. And the engine can't handle it too well.
There's a reason there aren't too many enemies on screen at once: It would slow the game down too much. There is only one section that throws a largish group of bad guys at you (The second part of the farm level) and I think your framerate will start to chug, no matter what spec machine you have. There is also slowdown at various random points and, annoyingly, there seems to be some kind of slowdown when using the shotgun. I never quite worked that one out.

What else? Absolutely linear level designs. The dev team made a beautiful and intricately detailed city, but you're not allowed to explore it. There are no deviations from the set path and I don't know why. There aren't even any 'secret' or 'bonus' areas, really. Well, there are three or four optional rooms that you can get to by crawling under or climbing over barriers, but when I say three or four, I mean it. That's it. And all you're going to find is another health drink or a couple of bullets.

I'm okay with the plodding speed of the player character. Does it add to the feel of the game? Kind of. Would the game be better if he was faster? Maybe. Could the engine handle it properly? I don't know.
But I did feel disadvantaged when side-stepping is so slow and the enemies are so quick to fire off their shots. I learned to adapt; I got used to it; but it never seemed fair.

Also tied into the linearity is the scripted nature of every encounter. It's so obvious that no enemies exist in the world until you walk over 'trigger points' and they spawn in round the corner. In fact, on one occasion, I found that I was able to jump up a wall and squeeze through a gap, thus bypassing part of the level. I clearly wasn't meant to be able to do this, but the devs hadn't thought I'd be able to, so hadn't put one of their magic invisible barriers in the way. What did I find when I jumped down the other side, though? No enemies. I'd bypassed a trigger point, so there was no-one for me to fight. I ended up going back and taking the correct route, because my exploration had only broken the experience. Pity.

And believe me when I say I was constantly pushing boxes around, jumping on pipes and bashing my head against ceilings, desperately trying to get to places I wasn't meant to go and always finding (except on that one occasion) that my hop was just a couple of inches too feeble, or there was a gosh-darned invisible barrier in the way. However, my behavior is a testament to how much I liked YaE: I just wanted to see more of it. And I kept trying, even though I knew it was probably futile. And when I did catch a glimpse of another street, over the top of a fence, it was a little reward for me, strange though that sounds.

Alright, more bad things: Lots of little bugs, glitches, rough corners everywhere. The engine and shooter dynamics are rough, raw and clearly unfinished. The enemies have been shoved in at their pre-appointed spawnpoints without decent AI and even when they do show glimmers of interesting behavior, it doesn't add up to much (The flying guys' ability to perch on various pieces of the architecture looks cool, but serves no useful purpose).

There are far too many health drinks, even on the highest difficulty level (though things are balanced out better there), which sort of spoils the 'survival' aspect.

I had to go through a bunch of steps just to get the game running properly (Hint: Install all the drivers and codecs it asks you to) and even then, I had a few crashes to desktop (especially on the last level) and crackly sound in a couple of places. I had missing sounds before I reduced the 'sound acceleration' setting in Windows.

Voice-acting is appalling (though there's not much of it). The audio overall is a weird one, a mixed bag. It's generally too sparse and the monster sounds are amateurish and often silly - though they sort of grew on me. The music is pretty good, but it's not used very effectively. There are atmospheric tracks that work well but they seem to appear and disappear at odd times. Then there are upbeat pieces that don't fit at all with YaE's slow pace and just pop in for a couple of minutes at random moments. That said, I own the soundtrack and find it makes good mood music. But its usage in the game needed some work.

There are also some really weird problems with a couple of the weapons. The shotgun sometimes didn't fire when I first pressed the button. And the experimental sci-fi weapon is bizarre: Sometimes I fired it at an enemy and it vaporized them entirely. Other times, I could unload a whole clip on someone with absolutely no effect. Plus it kills you if you use it at close range.

And then there's the game's ending. The final cutscene is (obviously) brilliant, but...
1) You're given a 'choice.' Two options. But you can only take the first one.
2) The ending employs a totally unexplained plot device which really doesn't make sense.

The Bottom Line
As I said before, your opinion of this game will depend on what you're looking for in a shooter. What's most important to you? Do you need a slick, fast-paced experience or do you just want to visit an interesting place?

For me, it's all about the scenery and the atmosphere. I can put up with clunky game mechanics (even when they're as clunky as YaE's) if the setting grabs me.

And even after viewing Half-Life 2's City 17 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s radioactive hunting grounds, YaE holds its own in visual style. It still looks beautiful and it still looks unique. It has an odd atmosphere that yes, could've been more scary or menacing, but is constantly bleak, unsettling and strange. It has odd enemies whose appeal grew on me the more I played. It lasts a good while, with plenty of variety in the levels. And it has a decent story, made wonderful through those cutscenes.

When I finished it, I felt satisfied. I felt sad that it was over. I wanted more. I felt that I had been on a journey, I had been drawn deeply into another world, I'd had to fight to survive and I'd enjoyed myself. Though the game has glaring faults, they hadn't conspired to spoil it for me.

And to this date, I have a lot of affection for You Are Empty. While I've played any number of first-person-shooters that are slicker, faster and more intense, they don't stick in the mind or provoke such feelings of nostalgia as this one. I had to go back and replay it on the highest difficult, and it's rare that I replay games, even the ones I love. And if I'm not careful, I'll find myself installing and playing it again.

So that's it. End of the review. You Are Empty: Messy, but I love it.

(Additional note: I interviewed one of the developers, Yaroslav 'Cray' Singaevskiy, a while ago. He talked about some of the problems faced during development. If you're interested, you can read it here.)

Windows · by xroox (3895) · 2009

[ View all 4 player reviews ]

Discussion

Subject By Date
How do I get rid of these graphic bugs? chirinea (47516) Sep 5, 2011
New interview with designer Yaroslav Singaevskiy xroox (3895) Sep 1, 2008
What does this mean? (Russian safety poster) xroox (3895) Apr 16, 2008

Trivia

Cut content

Several things changed during the game's 3 year development period. Previews stated that your character would run the risk of turning into a mutant himself. You'd have to find antidotes to stop yourself from going completely insane. Also, you could gain superhuman powers that could be used to your advantage.

Early builds featured additional gameplay elements, like the ability to hide bodies (for more of a stealth-based style?). There was talk of boss battles with adaptive AI, and a general focus on AI over scripting.

A few enemies didn't make the final cut including an imposing-looking butcher (who can be seen in screenshots and trailers). A brief look at the game's files suggests that all the assets for these enemies are still there... but they don't appear in any levels.

Two weapons (a heavy machine-gun and a 'stick bomb' style hand-grenade) don't appear in the game but are accessible via console commands.

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Sciere.

Additional contributors: xroox, Alaka, Dimitriy Dyachenko, Victor Vance.

Game added June 23, 2007. Last modified May 24, 2024.