The year is 2005 and a games development team sits around a table to discuss ideas for a new war-themed first-person shooter. The general consensus seems to be that the genre is fiercely competitive, so as well as fantastic game play it is imperative that the story used to both anchor and push the game along must be original and inspired. And then someone suggests the story be set in Nazi Germany. There, the German military are experimenting with genetics in order to form an elite army of soldiers with unrivalled manpower who are both fearless and ruthless in battle. Men killed in battle are taken in for experimentation where eventually they will be programmed into zombie-esque individuals, brainwashed into nothing but upholding the Nazi cause. The soldier you play is one Karl Stolz, an individual who miraculously awakens from his state of deadness to discover that he isn't actually conditioned in the same way as his fellow men. He shares their superhuman attributes but knows that he does not want to be a part of the Nazi's evil plans. As such, he - an UberSoldier - takes it upon himself to single-handedly destroy the regime that he was once part of. It's certainly original but does it detract a portion of the realism that you might have expected from a wartime FPS?
Only one level was available in the preview code and this, presumably the first level, started underground in a prison base guarded by the Nazis. The main mission objective involves working your way upward toward the surface, killing anything that gets in your way and neautralising any potential harm to yourself. You begin in artificially lit computer hubs in the bellows of the Earth, claustrophobic in nature and often making enemy-spotting a difficult task. Of course, this adds to the feeling of anxiousness as you play and is nothing but deliberate on the part of CDV and Russian software developers, Burut.
In fact, enemies lay waiting around nearly every corner and they're never afraid to make their presence felt. Even on the easy difficulty setting, if you as much peep into their firing range than you can expect a quick barrage of bullets before you notice and duck for cover. The level remains dark and oppressive even as you rise through the upper-lower floors, requiring some desperate close-combat gun fighting. These encounters are intensified by the linearity of the maps which while marking out every little cupboard and office in the building, never guarantee you entry to them. At one point a manic group of prisoners bursts onto the scene in a narrow corridor and it is only after being killed by them as you desperately try to open an impassable door that has been 'painted' on to the wall as scenery, that you realise there is only one exit and you have no option but to take every prisoner out before getting to it.
Reaching ground level brings you into a courtyard that appears deceptively quiet. Your instincts prove true as the scene explodes into a confusing mass of an 'everyone versus you' encounter. Men shoot at you from all directions and vantage points, from behind trucks to second floor windows. Then of course there are those who couldn't care less, the soldiers who charge, firing towards you with no intention of stopping. There is a little more opportunity to explore in this first open air environment, but you'd be best sticking to where the map is telling you to go, (back inside for some more environment-restricted combat) because any deviation will ultimately result in a quick and untimely death.
At this stage UberSolider isn't looking bad at all. The graphics engine provides an experience that makes you feel part of the scenery, not just superimposed upon it. This is the reason you might get confused by impassable doors that look almost the same as those which are meant for use, but also impresses in the fact that every inch of wall and floor looks meticulously added, not just a copy and paste job of the same textures over and again. In addition, shadow and lighting effects are also neatly done. Every character is convincingly complex in appearance, something which is compounded by a physics engine that is satisfyingly well executed. Watching a fellow Nazi being flung through the air as a result of your well timed grenade attack never fails to bring a smile to your face. One last point worthy of note is the explosion and fire effects which are lovely to look at, from their blazing colours to the clever inclusion of the heat-created haze that emits from burning barrels and the like as you peer through the flames.
While on the whole quite impressive, there are areas in UberSoldier that need marked improvement ahead of the launch. Firstly, the AI isn't fantastic as things stand. The enemies seem not to react to their surroundings as one might expect. For instance, killing a Nazi enemy standing in a booth just yards away from his comrade does not spark the other's senses and motions into action. Despite the gunfire noise, glass smashing glass and screams, he'll often be far happier to wait until you hunt for him instead of making a move himself. In addition, in a whole level's worth of play there was only a couple of different faces to the enemy soldiers. And, in mention of the group of manic prisoners once more, every single one of them had the same face. Whether it was the genetic experimentation from the Nazis that extended to cloning or a design issue in the game is questionable. Perhaps most disappointing is the lack of a multiplayer option which is bound to put off many an FPS fan, but since UberSoldier is set for a budget release, this might not be too much of a problem if the twelve levels in the main game come up trumps. We'll keep you posted as a full product release at the end of March looms.