It's hard to imagine how anybody could make the Stalin-era Soviet Union less appealing than it was in reality, but You Are Empty sure does the trick. However, it's not the game's setting in an alt-history 1950's USSR "overrun by mutant communists" that pulls off this nifty trick; it's the gameplay itself. This painful exercise in shooter stupidity from Moscow-based Digital Spray Studios is as pleasant as a gulag getaway, an atrocity that will make buyers wish that their wallets had been empty when they took this package up to the cash register.
At first glance, it seems as if the developers are just ripping off the fine folks at Croteam and People Can Fly, who made Serious Sam and Painkiller, respectively. If this game were a Manson cult member, it would have "old-fashioned shooter" carved into its forehead. The concept is certainly dumb enough to fit the bill, with the plot set in a Happy Days-era Moscow right after Uncle Joe started an experiment that turned everything with a pulse into a mutant. You have to crib the above from the box flap, though, because the game itself doesn't make a lick of sense. Translations from the original Russian are atrocious. Crazed coots who look like they were beamed to Russia from the Ozarks rant and rave insanely ("Here you go! Now! Now! Give me your iron piece!"). Cutscenes are so surreal that they seem like shreds of a fever dream. A soldier gets hit by a truck. Crowds mill about in black-and-white video footage. A cute puppy bashes its head against a pet-store window. A little boy grimaces in pain. Concussed third graders could concoct a more coherent story.
So, how was this guy mutated? Did the commie plague cause him to grow a really bushy beard and get all ornery?
Regardless, as usual with arcade shooters, the premise is just a flimsy excuse to throw outrageous monsters at you. Here you get the usual array of freak-show refugees. Giant hens peck and kick like velociraptors. Bug-eyed harridans swing scythes. Pinheaded lunatics in straitjackets poke away with pointy sticks. Axe-wielding firemen glare with smoke-burned eyes. That sort of thing.
But as zany as all of your foes are, there is a lot of monster repetition, and few of the creeps in You Are Empty are the slightest bit original. All of the weirdest creatures have been swiped from other games. Not a level goes by without a couple of "Hey, I remember that guy from Doom/Serious Sam/Painkiller!" moments. Digital Spray has at least been a little creative with its theft, in that it has gone outside the shooter ghetto to steal ideas from the likes of the Silent Hill franchise, but there is still too much of the sincerest form of flattery going on here. Also, a lot of baddies seem to be generic shooter hicks. The scythe-toting women at the collective farm, the jumping galoot in overalls, and the old guy with a grizzly beard, deer-camp hat, and shotgun all look like rejects from Redneck Rampage. Apparently one of the mutation effects turns people into Hee Haw extras.