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You Are Empty (Windows)

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Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181697)
Written on  :  Aug 04, 2010
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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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.