An occasional taxi or bus motors down a boulevard as people wander aimlessly among eerily vacant buildings. Soon, black helicopters loom overhead and armed soldiers close ranks on the streets below.
This isn't your run-of-the-mill video game: "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" is based on the best-selling "Left Behind" book series about the apocalypse. But it's the apocalypse without dismemberment or graphic bloodshed, though the game has an element of violence that some Christians argue is counter to teachings of the Bible.
The game's creators say they hope to wriggle into the multibillion-dollar mainstream video game market by offering a real-time strategy option for serious gamers. Yet, they believe the faith-based theme is important, too.
"What we've decided to do is embed our message in a game so that it's not overt but it is in the game," Left Behind Games president Jeffrey Frichner said. "We're not ashamed of it. There are Scriptures in the game, and we're faithful to those Scriptures."
The overall video game software market, including consoles and portables, was $6.1 billion in 2005, based on U.S. sales, according to The NPD Group research company in Port Washington, N.Y. It does not track sales for Christian video games, which is a tiny niche.
Analyst Michael Pachter, who follows the industry for Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc., has played "Eternal Forces" and said it probably will be well-received.
He estimated it would sell between 250,000 and 1 million units, likely far more than any other Christian video game, because of its high quality.
"They did a nice job," Pachter said. "In order for the game to hit the higher end of that range, I think they have to attract mainstream consumers who just want to play the game because it is a good game.
"The question is, will the game be perceived as too preachy for the mainstream and I just don't know. We'll see."
Set in New York, the game begins with smoldering landscapes, the eerie streets and wandering nonbelievers and evildoers. The object is to convert nonbelievers and ultimately prevent evil forces from taking over the world.
Left Behind marketing manager Greg Bauman won't be specific about how to achieve victory because the game won't be officially released until later this year; however, a demo of the game available free of charge on the company's Web site provides some clues.
Players, as commanders of the forces of good, need to make sure their people are housed and fed, nurtured with prayer and armed to defend themselves for eventual battle.
Players recruit people to battle evil forces while taking control of buildings for medical clinics and housing. They can send people into battle but lose points by killing evil soldiers or by failing to meet the spiritual needs of the troops. Want to ward off evil? Hit the prayer button.
Every person depicted has a name and a history, which emphasizes the human cost of battle, Frichner said.
Along the way, players find clues to Bible mysteries and other information. Christian rock groups provide background music.
In the single-player mode, the player battles evil forces. In the multiplayer mode, players may choose to represent evil or good. Gamers also can play each other online.
The PC-only game cost between $3 million and $5 million to produce. It will sell for $49.99.