Martin Korda prepares for war in Germany's answer to Counter-Strike

Question. Why has nobody ever managed to develop a game that can come even close to dislodging Counter-Strike from its lofty perch atop the strategic online shooter pile? Answer? Because no-one has ever tried taking the CS template, retaining all that is good and adding in an original slant, that's why. Well, at least not until now they haven't.

Created by fledgling developers Acony - a team formed from an array of industry veterans - Parabellum seeks to infuse the Counter-Strike template with more strategic and tactical depth by linking a series of missions together to create one massive, objective-driven online battlefield.

Intrigued, I jetted off to Germany to take a look at the game, though nearly didn't make it after the PR guy got us lost in the Black Forest. We eventually stumbled across Acony's offices by sheer luck, but only after several futile attempts to communicate with a bemused German woman in a petrol station, largely by shouting at her in English and pointing at a crude hand-drawn map. Luckily, the tribulations proved well worth it.

Powered by Unreal Engine 3, Parabellum is already looking mightily impressive in the visual stakes, despite being a year or so off completion. Once you dive into a level, your first task is to join either the highly-trained US anti-terrorist Delta team or the despicable Black November terrorist faction, intent on turning the Big Apple into a charred core with a fat-arsed bomb.

"There's a 20-megaton nuclear warhead somewhere in New York City that's been planted by a terrorist group called Black November, which has an ex-military background," explains Frank Trigub, director and game designer at Acony, who's presenting the game to me. "Opposed to them is Delta, a real world counter-terrorist unit."

Once you've pledged your allegiance, the clock starts ticking, and it's up to you and your team-mates to either find and defuse the bomb before it goes boom or to stop the counter-terrorists from getting anywhere near it.

"We've broken New York down into 12 sectors," continues Trigub. "Across these sectors we want to show all the different faces of New York. There'll be skyscrapers, backyards, residential areas, parks, airports and subways.

"When we were looking at most of the multiplayer games out there, we realised that they're just a collection of unconnected maps. We thought, wouldn't it be cool if all the maps in the game connected together? In Parabellum, each level is just part of
a bigger picture as we're building a city out of these levels."

From a top-down 3D strategic map, you and your compadres will be able to see a tactical breakdown of New York, packed with honking cabs and towering skyscrapers. This tactical overview will contain up to 12 interconnected levels, one of which houses the aforementioned nuclear device. Whenever Delta team wins a level, they'll be given a hint as to the location of the bomb.

"In this mode, called Public Warfare, Delta team can vote for which level to play next," explains Trigub. "So you might get the choice of going through the subway or through the backyards, depending on what your team's strengths are."

"But surely that's not fair?" I hear you cry. If the CTs get to vote for which map to play next they'll have a massive advantage, right? Well, that would have been the case had Acony not already been way ahead of us.

While Delta team members can vote for the next map, Black November players have the opportunity to second-guess their opponents by voting for maps in which to set up ambushes. If the map that Delta selects is the same as the level chosen for an ambush, the terrorists will be given several precious seconds headstart in which to get into position and prepare a nasty welcoming committee for their counter-terrorist friends.

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