You can sum up Sub Culture in three words: miniature underwater Elite. "Why miniature'?" you ask. Well, the people who make up the populous of the two warring sides in the game are very small indeed - thumbnail size in fact - so nuclear Armageddon in their world would fail to register as much as a whale's fart in ours.
In the unfolding drama you play a mercenary submariner working for either or both of the two sides. Life in this small-enclosed universe is harsh. Eels, rogue traders and discarded tin cans all make up the various obstacles to overcome in making enough credits to upgrade your ship and eventually get through a series of rather limited and boring missions.
And that's the other reason Sub Culture is diminutive compared with other trading/combat games. Apart from cooing at the fabulous graphics and atmospheric sound, there isn't much else to do in the game. Upgrading options, trading and opportunities for exploration are all limited. With a little extra effort, so much more could have been added: more ships, more terrain and better thought-out missions. As the saying goes: great graphics (and they are great, by the way) do not a great game make.
Every Now And Then A Game Comes along completely out of the blue, with no hype or bullshit, and turns out to be an unheralded classic. Sub Culture could well turn out to be one of those games. (Except, I suppose, that I'm just about to start hyping it...)
It's set underwater in a miniaturised submarine society - the subs are supposed to be about an inch long - that exists alongside humankind, suffering from the pollution and shit we pump into the seas. The game mostly takes place in the peril-fraught shallows, where tiny types can be crushed without warning by a giant foot or a drifting tampon, or pop to the local shops only to sail down the end of a used condom in a one-way ticket to oblivion.
You play a prospector who returns home one day to find your home crushed beneath a casually discarded tin can. Convinced that there is life above the surface - a heretical thought in your society - you set out on a quest for the truth. But you also have a more immediate need: survival in a hostile world. The result's an open-ended, mission-based game with a plotline that weaves in and out of the action. According to Marcus Lynn, the game's team leader Elite's the only game that we'd actually say inspired us, because of the similarity of style in the trading and the mission aspects. There were no other games we could think of that had the same sort of freedom within an environment.
Most of the missions will involve a number of hazards. As Mike Williamson, the storyline editor, puts it: "The Frontier's a harsh environment with warring factions. The first of these is the Bohines, who are a bit like hippies. They have tumbledown architecture with rust everywhere. They build stuff up out of old parts, a bit like the Wombles. They're at war with the Prochas. who are completely the reverse - they've got tidy, brushed metal architecture, and much better technology. You're still basically a prospector, though, so besides the missions, a large part of the game is to do with exploration of the environment, finding bits and pieces to take to the Refinery, where you can turn junk into more usable product to trade off in the cities."
Get yourself connected
The landscape itself isn't just boring old sand banks and floating turds, though. The seabed was first created as a height field of 80.000 polygons, onto which 3D objects were added, such as a can, old boots, a ribcage from a dead animal, a cave network and even an abyss. The cities of the two sides are distributed throughout the environment, and there are possibilities to play the sides off against each other. You can change sides as often as you like, running missions for either - although one of the sides may get a bit fed up with you always working for the enemy, and start to react with more hostility towards you.
During the game each side keeps in touch with you via e-mail systems, so you know what's going on when you get to a city. There are also news stories of what might be coming up, and while on a mission you'll be bombarded with information from the other submarines which hail you and tell you the state of play while you're at sea.
The lighting effects in the game are superb. Marcus Lynn says, "We wanted many lighting effects to give the undersea effect. For instance, we have a proper day and night cycle - the sun actually moves across the top of the world, so it gets dark and you have to use your lights; we have a lens flare that emanates from the sun; rays of light that come through the water's surface, and a dappling effect on the seabed as the light refracts off the waves. In the caves we have flares and strobes that the player can use to light his way."
But it's not just the lighting that makes the underwater setting so convincing. The subs really appear to be moving in water. A lot of maths went into it. "To create a realistic environment," explains Lynn, "we had to physically model all the objects, applying linear and rotational velocity, mass and gravity. The subs' engines have forces applied to them to make them move as if underwater. Among the tools you'll have is a magnet, linked to the sub via a chain, and all the physical properties of a magnet and chain are applied to the sub when you use them."
Your sub is very manoeuvrable. The engines rotate, so that you can go up and down, backwards and forwards. There are ten different types of sub, each race having three or four that vary in style. The high-tech Prochas have the undersea equivalent of BMWs, all shiny and modern, whereas the hippy Bohines' are very organic looking. If you saw them floating past you in the sea. you'd probably start glancing about for the location of the sewage outlet.
That's about all we have on it at the moment. From what we've seen, it looks like Criterion have really got everything sussed. Sub Cultures set to be a completely engrossing game - we'll let you know as soon as we have a reviewable version.
So what else is in the sea apart from your own sub. and the fighting miniatures, then? Mark Rendle senior artist, says. "Creatures in the game include stingrays, eels, seahorses and many different species of fish, all of which we tried to make as realistic as possible. We have shoals of fish in the game as well, but because there are so many onscreen at the same time we needed to make these types very low polygon. We have about 24 different types of creature in all. and each has its own texture and is animated. The programmers have given the creature artificial intelligence to move around the landscape".
For research purposes they watched a lot of videos, studying the behaviour and movement of fish. Marcus Lynn says. "Realism was important to us from the start. This means the fish have to attack; they have to flee when you try to attack them; they have to attack each other. We actually have fish that are curious, and who go around the seabed, pushing things like cigarette packets around we also have mutated fish, because of the toxic chemicals pumped into the environment by humans." All that smoking probably doesn't help, either.
The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau
Ah, Jacques Cousteau, ze mastair of sneakeng about benith zc ocean, pokeeng ma astoundaing dicovaireh: zat zere are, all around us, miniaehewer races living beneath zc sea. Naturellement, Ah 'ave been investigateeng wiz mah team of divairs, mah fancy equipment and mah magnifahng glass. Zis is whert Ah ave foung:
Ze Prochas are at ze forefront of underwatair technologic and are into 'igh-tech gadgetry in a beeg way. Zeir buildengs are beautiful, tahny odes to functionalism and minimalism. Ah lahk to think zey are a kahnd of miniaehewer Frainch people. Zey are, no doubt, witty, elegong, and incredibly good in bed. Zey are also almost certainly ze peace-lovang, innocent victims of ze aggression of othair races. Watch as Phillipe, mah chief divair, pokes zem wiz a stick... Merde! Zey ave blown Phillipe out of ze watair avec some kahnd of lasair! Bollocques! ...Phillipe!... Phillipe! ...merde! 'E 'as become a great beeg sunken pizza... Zis is very interestang, actually. I wondair what will grow on 'im in years to come...
Oh, ze Bohines. Ah despair of ze Bohines. Zey are laizy, dirtie and scruffy - no better zan 'ippies. Ze dirtiness Ah understand, being Frainch, but ze scruffiness zere is no call for. Look at zere shoes! Not un gold bar in sight. Zese people are engaged in a civil war avec zc poor innocent Prochas who unfortunalement killed Phillipe in a misunderstanding earliaire. Watch as Rene, mah reserve chief divair, pokes zem wiz a stick. Oh. Zey do nuzzing. Be careful Rene! It may be a tricque! Rene pokes zem again... still zey do nuzzing. Rene stays by zeir base as ordaired, poking zem wiz a stick for an hour. But zey are so slothful. Zey do nuzzing. Oh! What is zis? Rene is signalleeng... 'Ave zey tricked us? No, Rene is pointing at 'is throat. Are you trying to sing, Rene? Oh, it is ze airpipe at which he... Rene?... Rene... ?
What can Ah say about zcsc Refinery creatures? Zey are mercenary capitalistes, selling weapons of destruction to anyone 'oo 'as ze monnaiy. As long as zey make monnaiy, zey arc 'appy - rather like your Mr Mellor. Mr Archer and Mr Thatcher, non? Zey are no better zan prostitutes. (Unfortunalement, zey are not prostitutes or Ah. as a Frainchman, would feel obliged to visit zem to sample zeir wares. Ze fact zat zey arc smaller than mah penneess would be merely anuzzer depraved novelty for me.) Now watch as Pierre, mah youngest divair, attempts to lure zem from zere miniachewcr 'factory' by dangleeng small pictures of ze young Bridget Bardot at zere windows. Oh I Zey are not interested. Zey 'ave no soul. Now 'e tries to lever ze top of ze factory off wiz 'is stick. Ooop! Zey 'ave electrocuted 'is testicles wiz zere 'igh-tech security system! Poor Pierre - 'e is now no bettair zan a woman!... In fact, in zat diving suit 'e looks rahzer... attractive... Excusez-moi un moment...
Ze Pirates, zey are scum. Ze pirates would zink nothang ofsneakeng into anuzzer country's 'arbour and blowing an innocent ecological protest movement's ship out of ze watair. As a Franchman. zis behaviour sickens me to mah core... Watch carefully as ze pirate parents starve zere young so zat zey will be more aggressive when zey grow up. Watch now as Jean-Claude, mah YTS trainee divair. pokes zem wiz a stick. Zut alors! Zey 'ave stolen Jean-Claude's stick! Zey are 'olding him down and ramming it repeatedly into 'is... 'ow you say... jacquesie! Pauvre Jean-Claude! I thank it best we leave 'im to 'is fate... zere is no room in mah crew for un kebab...
Download Sub Culture
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode