Forget America, if you want a truly innovative first person action game look no further than Eastern Europe. The former Soviet Bloc has become a hive of game developing activity over the last decade, and is now home to some of the most exciting shooters around. The latest one to catch our attention is Xenus, and we tracked down Ukranian developer Deep Shadows in the Developers Pavilion at ECTS this morning to get a closer look...
The Big Country
Xenus begins with your character heading down to Colombia to search for his sister, an investigative journalist who has gone missing in the country while researching a story. Starting out with nothing but a pocket full of Yankee dollars, it's up to you to find out what happened to her.
Although at first the game looks like a fairly traditional shooter, Deep Shadows are describing it as an action role-playing game along the lines of Deus Ex. The scope of Xenus is far more ambitious though, giving you a vast open-ended world to explore. Rather than splitting the game into self-contained levels, each with its own individual mission, the developers have recreated a huge square slab of Colombia in full 3D, stretching some 25km along each edge.
Inhabiting this world are six factions ranging from rebel forces to government agents and the CIA. As you make your way through the game you will end up working for some of these factions and fighting against others, with your actions determining how they respond to you in future. For example, if you've done something to annoy the CIA, the next time you talk to a character who is part of that faction they'll probably be rather rude to you.
Man On A Mission
Although your overall objective is to rescue your sister, additional missions are provided by in-game characters. For example, sometimes when you ask a character for information they'll offer to help you, but only if you do something for them first.
You can also act as a mercenary, with factions hiring you to carry out jobs such as stealing documents from a rival faction in exchange for money or aid. Any cash you earn this way can then be used to buy new weapons and equipment, with everything from knives and pistols to sniper rifles and grenades available. About twenty weapons should be included for budding commandos to get their hands on.
Naturally with such a large game world to explore, vehicles also play an important role. A wide variety of cars, humvees and trucks will be included for players, with the developers comparing their handling to that found in Grand Theft Auto 3. There's even talk of helicopters and small planes being included, although neither was present in the demo build we saw.
All of these characters, locations, weapons and vehicles are rendered by Deep Shadows' own in-house graphics engine, which is looking very impressive at this early stage. The team behind Xenus includes many of the people who worked on the flawed Codename Outbreak, but this new game marks a huge leap forwards in graphics and (hopefully) gameplay compared to their first effort.
The jungles of Colombia are some of the most impressive you'll find this side of Soldier of Fortune II, with expansive rolling terrain packed full of trees and other plants. Dotted throughout the huge playing area are several towns and cities linked by cracked tarmac roads and dirt trails, and if you search around you'll also find rebel and government camps made up of huts, watch towers, trenches and other buildings.
The game uses multiple textures blended together to provide a varied and immersive environment. There are no obvious tiling artifacts or repetitive textures here, every wall of every building in even the largest town looks subtly different, while tracks and roads blend smoothly into the surrounding countryside rather than having sharp edges where the textures meet.
Let's Work Together
The game's multiplayer support also shows a lot of promise, with Deep Shadows following the example of Codename Outbreak by providing full co-operative support. This will allow multiple players to work together as they make their way through the single player campaign, with the entire world open for them to roam around.
On a more modest level, ten to fifteen smaller Capture The Flag maps will also be included. In true Counter-Strike fashion, this mode will allow players to buy their own choice of weapons and armour when they enter the game. Everybody starts with a small amount of cash, but when somebody dies they leave a pile of money behind on the ground, which can then be picked up and spent on more expensive equipment the next time you respawn.
It's the single player side of things which really has us excited though, with the promise of a huge world to explore, six factions and dozens of characters to interact with, a wide range of weapons and vehicles to buy and plenty of missions to keep you occupied. The game also looks very impressive, especially given that it's only been in development for eight months and is still about a year from release. If what we saw today is anything to go by, it should be well worth the wait.