Russian Video Games
What’s The Deal with Despair?
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
In a world where video games advocate nothing but the ‘innocent’ slaughter of the undead, the disdaining of anyone not American (Hua!), and even the acceptable brotherly act of shooting your best friend in the face (it’s called ‘friendly’ fire), Mother Russia is keen not to be outdone and to play a part too.
Apart from the profound message embodied within the annals of Tetris, Russia doesn’t give us very much in terms of interactive entertainment.
The few titles that do come out of The Motherland, though, have some sort of air about them that chills me to my very core.
So, what exactly IS the deal with Russian games?
Your friendly neighborhood S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
I’m going to make myself clear: not all of these games are wholly Russian, but come from neighboring countries and are all Eastern European; it’s just easier to have them under the Russian title for the sake of conversation.
With that out of the way, our first order of business is of stalking. No, I am not discussing the act of tailing a person home and/or being attacked by their pit bull.
I’m talking about special mercenaries that traverse the wide, radiation-ridden Ukranian expanse known as The Zone, with a clear code of life to describe them: Scavengers, Trespassers, Avengers, Loners, Killers, Explorers, and Robbers.
If you have never engaged in any of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. titles, you are either someone without a capable gaming machine, or someone who is habitually depriving themselves of one of gaming’s most enriching experiences.
For those who may not know, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is the quintessential open world game on the PC, and the only true RPG for “real men.” Each game starts off differently, but the core ideas are the same: get into The Zone and its surrounding areas, make friends, make enemies, and just survive.
An open world structure truly brings the game world to life, and a loose quest system ensures that things are always interesting, but never detracts from the simple entertainment one can get from just traversing the wild world ahead of you.
Atmosphere is something that can only be trumped by the next game in our discussion, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R. easily vies for the position of most atmospheric Russian game. What exactly brings this world to life?
Is it the solemn characters; the acceptance of their dismal lives? Is it the mutated creatures that people consider commonplace to participate in an everyday battle with?
Or is it the pure viciousness of all the people you encounter – that rugged will to survive by any means necessary?
S.T.A.L.K.E.R., while a fantastic game, does need mods to make it that much more enjoyable, but that just goes with the Russian lifestyle; if it runs on paperclips and bubblegu-erm, Vodka, then it works!
To the Metro we go!
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. may be the poster boy for much of the ‘Russian’ market, but Metro 2033 is a close second. If you looked up the definition of atmosphere in the dictionary, you’d get something about cirrus clouds and how Al Gore punches the ozone layer in the face.
But if you checked the RIGHT dictionary, you’d see a standing ovation to Metro 2033. A massive sleeper hit from early 2010, Metro 2033 is a first-person survival horror title in which players assume the role of Artyom, a man who has lived his entire life in an underground metro to avoid the horrors of nuclear holocaust.
Beneath this obliterated, future depiction of Moscow, all is not well… mystical, mysterious entities known as the Dark Ones are beginning to attack, and the remnants of armed forces that remain stand no chance against them.
Metro 2033 wrote the definition of atmosphere. Well, I’m not fluent in Ukranian, so I can’t say I deeply interpret its direct meaning, but understanding is the least of your troubles; if you play this game at night, and if you play it with headphones… prepare several pairs of backup pants.
There’s something buried deep within its design that evokes urgency and necessity. You never want to stay in one place too long, yet you’re never fleeing for your life – okay, you actually do that quite a lot, but not to an extent of game-breaking madness.
The characters are grave, austere; the environments drab, dull; the enemies ugly, terrifying; the ammo few, far between… you can see where I’m going with this.
It’s so difficult to describe, but there’s just an air about the game, and the brilliant atmosphere only contributes to this. Anyone who has played the title for even a minute can attest to this.
Like applied communism, it cannot be clearly explained…
If you play either of the two titles mentioned or any others in their respective category, you’ll instantly know what I mean… but what exactly do I mean?
Maybe it’s the psychological effects of living near the residue of a disaster site that influences the themes of these games. Possibly, it’s the effects of a disillusioned people living in a far-from-perfect world after the fall of communism and mad rush into capitalism.
Even more peculiarly, these games all have similar design and superficial notions: serious characters, all-or-nothing survival aspects, limited ammunition, fantastic[ally terrifying] creatures and balls-to-the-wall, dark, sombre atmosphere combined with subtle storytelling.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 will transform my life whenever it decides to release and I’m looking forward to Metro: Last Light (uplifting title!) too.
Until then, my friends…ponder for yourselves: what IS the deal with Russian games?