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E3 2001 - Fishtank Interactive

Preview - we take a look at Fishtank Interactive's E3 line-up, including Aquanox, Etherlords, Call of Cthulhu and more!

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

German publisher Fishtank Interactive has only been in existence for just over a year, formed as an off-shoot of board game and jigsaw puzzle company Ravensburger, but already they have made an impression. Their first release was the excellent 3D role-playing game Evil Islands, and their line-up for the next year includes a number of promising titles.

Aquanox

Top of the list has to be Massive Development's underwater action-adventure game Aquanox, which is due for release this autumn and looks set to be one of the first games to take advantage of the GeForce 3 graphics card. In fact, NVIDIA are so taken with the game that they have been using it to demonstrate the full potential of their new baby.

Needless to say then, it looks nothing short of stunning, and it has to rank as one of the most atmospheric games we've ever seen. Sunlight breaks through the ocean surface far above and beams drift down through the water, producing shifting shadows and dappled pools of light on the sea floor amongst the vast buildings that make up the underwater cities. Fast moving submarines leave vertices and little trails of bubbles as they pass overhead, while plants gently wave in the currents and plankton floats through the water.

But what about the game itself? Well, it's a follow-up to Archimedian Dynasty and sees you taking on the role of mercenary Emerald Flint in the oceans of 27th century Earth. The expansive plot takes in pirates, military experiments and unleashed forces beyond your comprehension™, and includes around thirty missions which will take you across several thousand square kilometers of underwater terrain. Yes, it's going to be Massive. [You're fired - pun Editor]

Etherlords

Fishtank's first release was the work of Russian developer Nival Interactive, who will be returning this winter with Etherlords, a turn-based role-playing strategy game. It seems to owe a lot to the Heroes of Might & Magic saga, but this is no bad thing considering how addictive the better entries in that series are.

Etherlords is set in a fantasy world split between four magical races, each with its own unique graphical style. For example, the Chaots live in a barren world of ash and rock, all moodily lit by the inevitable pools of bubbling lava, and their armies are mostly made up of orcs and kobolds. On the other hand, the Synthets have a biomechanical feel that wouldn't look out of place in an HR Giger painting, with creatures that are a bizarre fusion of flesh and metal. And all of this is being brought to life by an impressive looking 3D engine, capable of juggling 50,000 polygons around your screen at any one time.

Nival are promising four unique heroes for each of the four races, with over 120 incredibly detailed monsters to command, and somewhere in the region of 300 spells to cast. There's even a diplomacy option which allows you to build alliances and trade agreements with your neighbours, when you're not beating the living daylights out of them. Throw in a pair of single player campaigns and full multiplayer support, including co-operative play and an internet ranking service, and it looks like Nival could be on to another winner.

Call of Cthulhu

Inspired by the eponymous cult classic role-playing game and the works of HP Lovecraft, arguably America's greatest horror writer, Call of Cthulhu is a deeply unsettling first person action-adventure title from Birmingham based developer Headfirst Productions.

Set in the sinister fishing town of Innsmouth, uniquely the game experience will mirror the mental health of your character as he gradually becomes unhinged by the horrors and supernatural events that he witnesses. As your sanity seeps away your character will begin to suffer from schizophrenia, vertigo and terrifying hallucinations, all of which will be simulated in the game with a combination of edgy visual and audio effects. Your sight may blur and warp as you stare into a deep chasm, making the drop look more terrifying than it really is, while whole scenes can shift and shake as you completely lose your marbles, making it hard to even tell what is real and what is not.

While battling your sanity, mind-destroying monsters and the not-quite-human inhabitants of Innsmouth, you will visit a range of locations from an insane asylum to labyrinthine catacombs and a submarine, recording all that you see (or think you see) in a journal. All of these locations are lovingly rendered in real-time, with an impressive level of detail in characters and settings alike. Meanwhile moving light sources cast spooky shadows on the walls, and the sound of your own rasping breath echoes in your ears as you run for your life. If Headfirst can pull it off, it should all add up to one of the most scary games you're likely to find this side of the other side.

Arx Fatalis

Developed in France by Arkane Studios, Arx Fatalis is a first person role-playing game in the mould of Ultima Underworld. Set in a dark fantasy world (literally - the sun has vanished), the game takes you deep underground and tasks you with stopping an evil cult from summoning an ancient god.

Along the way you will encounter a wide range of monsters, from traditional orcs and goblins to undead creatures, humanoid rats and snake-women, as well as the human inhabitants of the dungeons, crypts, caves and cities which you must explore. To protect yourself a wide range of armour and weapons will be available, including all your medieval favourites from chainmail and axes to swords and clubs.

Unusually the game will use a "mouse sign recognition system" for casting spells, which appears to be similar to the gesture system used in Black & White recently. The graphics are perhaps not the most impressive we have ever seen, but the spell effects are already looking good and the artwork is quite nicely detailed, particularly when it comes to the monsters and characters. With the promise of the traditional epic storyline and requisite side quests as well as an online version of the game, Arx Fatalis is one to keep an eye on.

Beam Breaker

And now for something completely different... Breaking out of the crypts and caves into futuristic New York, Beam Breakers is an action-racing game from German group Similis, rather obviously inspired by the police chase scene from Luc Besson's bizarre sci-fi movie The Fifth Element.

While most of the city's vehicles are locked into a fixed series of three dimensional traffic lanes by guide beams, you are part of a gang taking part in dangerous illegal races - a beam breaker. Cue mid-air mayhem as you dodge amongst the streams of traffic, locking fenders with rival gang members and the police in a battle for domination of the streets.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game is the city itself, from the vast towering skyscrapers and landmarks to the gridlocked aerial freeways of the future. The developers claim that up to 400 cars can be flying around you at any one time, with traffic ranging from ambulances, buses and rusty old trucks to sleek flying cars and taxi cabs. The graphics are certainly looking promising at this stage, with bustling streets and grimy looking tower blocks adding to the atmosphere.

Last year's disappointing Crime Cities showed that flying cars alone don't necessarily make for a good game, but Similis seem to be on the right track so far. Expect to see the game appearing on the PC some time around November, with PlayStation 2 and Xbox ports also planned.

RIM - Battle Planets

The latest 3D strategy game to emerge from Germany, RIM was actually released over there two weeks ago but won't be appearing in English speaking countries until later in the summer.

Set on the outer rim some time in the distant future, what starts out as a straightforward expedition to explore the ruins of an apparently dead planet soon turns into a full-scale battle over a powerful alien spaceship. Before long six different races are getting in on the action, giving you plenty of variety over the game's thirty missions, and settings will include everything from barren deserts and meteors to ice planets and fortresses.

Mixing turn-based and real-time elements, the game's turns are split into three phases, each of which are played out in real-time and simultaneously with your enemy. Exactly how this works out in practice remains to be seen (unless of course you live in Germany), but with a wide range of units to command and support for up to eight players to battle it out online, it could well be worth a closer look when it is released across the rest of Europe later this year.

Conclusion

Fishtank seem to have got off to a flying start (quite literally in the case of Beam Breaker), and their initial line-up is certainly impressive for a new publisher - titles like Aquanox, Call of Cthulhu and Etherlords in particular could follow in the footsteps of the highly enjoyable Evil Islands. And we haven't even had time to mention the downright bizarre looking pigs against rabbits strategy game S.W.I.N.E., or the more mainstream-oriented business simulation Car Tycoon. All told, Fishtank plans to release up to seven games in Europe and the USA by Christmas. Quite an accomplishment for their first year in publishing.

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Aquanox preview (March 2001)

Evil Islands review

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