Part 5: The Cormac McCarthy ZoneThe Cormac McCarthy Zone
Last time on ATOM RPG, we infiltrated a dangerous bandit camp that nonetheless was filled with juvenile attempts at referential humor. The bandit leader Dan gave us an assignment to go figure out what happened to three brothers he gave a debt collecting assignment to.
Dan has a pretty swanky office considering the setting. Sadly we don't get to see Dan play guitar. He has one, it's just blocked by the UI.
I forgot to talk to Kosoy last time, so we're gonna chat him up a bit here. I'm gonna try to cut out most of the tedium and get to the important points.
: Tell me about yourself.
: Tell me about Dan.
Dan and Kosoy kind of hinted at us, but we'll be learning about the vision in this update. Back up the tree!
: Tell me about this place.
See, the bandits are the good guys because they protect the villages...or something.
: And here I thought we were the bandits around here.
: Wow, now that's true heroism! I smell something fishy!
Back up the tree, one last time.
: What's news around this place?
So Kosoy saw the good General's expedition. Moving on!
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: No, you see, we're GOOD bandits! We're only robbing the villagers to get weapons to protect them! Dan is cool and good!
Off to "Maiden Spring" farm!
This was not very threatening when we had a brick.
Our new knife two-shots all of these losers. We get a bunch of rat meat and wasp parts for fishing.
These guys will be useful for a later quest (maybe) but they usually don't have anything worthwhile so I skip em. I'm sure half the thread is about to tell me there's a 1% chance they have an experimental laser weapon or some shit, but we have a knife and a shovel. We're good.
This is not a good sign.
: Hold your fire, kid!
: [The guy looks around in fear and lifts his rifle slightly. It's hard to understand what he aims at... The heavy barrel is dancing in his trembling hands, pointing to your chest, then to your head, then under your feet...]
"Dancing" is not the right word to use here. It implies grace, artistry, and control. This kid can't aim the weapon because he's so terrified.
: [Speechcraft] Because I am a simple traveler and wish you no evil!
I knew I should have pumped that skill higher. Nuts.
: No, you listen to me! You have to let me in!
: [Strength] Because I will pull this gun out of your hands before you have time to pull the trigger!
Uh oh. Well, I'll skip ahead a little back to where we select our skill checks...
: Some guys have sent me here to ask around about a group of missing people...
: [The guy looks around in fear and quickly turns back to you]
: I'd like to make sure myself.
: [The rifle bolt clicks as the guy makes sure it's loaded and ready for action]
: Okay. I'll tell that to the gang that has sent me to search for them...
: I think I'll do just that. Bye.
Now we talk to the old farmer.
: Why so angry? I ran across your farm and thought, why not pop in and have a chat.
This is going places, kids.
: [The farmer stares at you for several long seconds, then casts a quick glance towards the shed, where a rusty scythe leans against an unfinished wooden door. After a quick calculation, he speaks again]
: I'll be honest with you. I was sent here to find someone.
: [The farmer looks at you, emotionless]
: [Intellect] I said I was looking for "someone". How did you know it was more than one person?
Wait, what? I had to go over the dialog again in editing to notice this, but none of the farmer's dialog implies this in any way.
: [The farmer shudders at your veiled accusation]
: [Speechcraft] Still, I think you misspoke and not guessed, friend. Listen, let's be honest.
: [Failure][The farmer shrugs]
: Let me be blunt. I'm looking for three brothers. Criminal folk. They were coming to visit you and then disappeared without a trace.
My...what? Huh? When did we become that close?
: I've never even seen them. It's Dan who's bothered.
: [The name of the criminal boss from the abandoned factory startles him]
: Why, he's the one who sent them here. To collect some money from a debtor.
: [Beads of sweat appear on the man's forehead]
: Did he? Did he indeed? So he... for me? He sent... to collect... and...
: [The farmer lapses into incoherent mumbling before clearing his throat to continue]
: If I understand Dan correctly, he prefers to avoid violence if he can. He just asked his men to have a serious talk with you.
: [The man is silent for a long minute, then bursts into laughter]
: Mate, what? Wait! Just explain what happened.
: [The man's ox-like nostrils flare with rage. For a fraction of a second, it seems he will jump at you without wasting words, but instead he regains control. And suddenly he goes quiet, his shoulders drooping]
We're about to enter the Cormac McCarthy zone, kids!
: Those.. those three bastards killed our daughter. Sons of bitches! We lowered our guard, we were careless. We sent her to pick berries in the woods nearby, alone. That is where they...
: [The farmer covers his eyes with his hands. His broad shoulders shake silently in grief]
: Then they had the nerve to come here, to this very house. Asked if they could spend the night here. And I allowed it. Such a moron! Such an idiot! I should have been worried about my daughter, but she's done something like it before, left for the night. She would stay with Petrovich and the moonshiners. They would never touch her. They'd protect her. Petrovich told me not to let her go like that!
: [The man no longer hides his tears. Suddenly he strikes himself in the forehead with his fist]
: Such an idiot! Such a fool! With no shame at all, these scumbags asked to stay the night. They said they were heading south, to Krasnoznamenny. Said they didn't like working here, wanted to try their luck in the big city. Then they offered to sell my wife a pendant.. Masha's pendant!
: Oh, I am so sorry.
: [The farmer lowers his red, swollen eyes. He clenches his giant fists until you hear the knuckles pop]
: I killed them, all three of them, with a butcher knife. I cut the oldest guy open from sternum to groin. The middle one, I cut his throat. And the youngest I lifted him in the air and smashed his head against the door frame. Like that!
Good riddance to bad rubbish.
: [The man's fist hits his open palm with a thick smack]
: Smashed his skull to bits.
: Did you at least find Masha's body?
: [He sighs deeply and nods]
: What did you do with the bodies?
: [The man waves apathetically in the direction of the pigsty]
: I can imagine it's not easy.
: Look, I don't blame you for any of this. You did the right thing.
Holy hell, what kind of asshole would pick option four?
As an aside, googling for walkthroughs at "Maiden Springs farm" brings up far too many guides for how to hook up with either August (the guy at the gate who I hope is 18) or Betroota, the daughter we haven't seen.
: [The man spits off to the side and shrugs]
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Step back or I shoot!
: Whoa, dude! Can I try a skill check?
: No, you don't have any skills, and I'll shoot your ass.
: Just looking for some missing people.
: Ask my dad.
: Yoo, farmer guy, I'm looking for someone.
: I don't know anything about a group of missing brothers.
: How did you know I was looking for a group of missing brothers? Dan the bandit man wants to know!
: Dan? Dan the bandit man?
: I don't think he wanted any violence, just to collect a debt.
: AHAHAHA! No! Those three fuckers killed our daughter, Masha! I was such a fool! Those three raped and murdered Masha, then asked to stay the night!
: Oof, I'm so sorry. I thought this was a funny reference game?
: I heard them talking about Masha and how they raped and murdered her, so I killed ALL those motherfuckers with a butcher knife, except the youngest brother who i fucking slaughtered with my own hands!
: In the immortal words of Catherine Zeta-Jones, "he had it coming". What did you do with the bodies?
: I fed those bitches to my pigs. Pigs love scumbags!
: That's pretty much exactly what I would have done. Take care, dude.
: Well, go ahead and report to Dan the bandit man, I guess this is our fate.
It's a pretty drastic departure from the tone of the game so far. Sure, the game starts with you getting cutscene robbed and left for dead, but then you go around and there's snakes on a plane references, derpy flirting, a ton of fallout references (if you mouse over the ruble it mentions how the proposal to use bottle caps never caught on), the village mayor references a 60s comedy show, the village doctor is Bones from Star Trek, etc. I'll even be kind and concede the game has some funny moments, like when you exorcise a demon in the name of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
Then we get hit with this, where our local bandit group goes full on and we get this sad tale that reads like something out of Cormac McCarthy. For those unfamiliar, McCarthy is an American writer who does not shy away from examining human nature in the face of brutality. Blood Meridian is an extremely gory book - much worse than what's presented here - but McCarthy is trying to use the brutality to reflect on the nature of evil. There are no funny references in McCarthy! The tone is consistent throughout as the Glanton gang slaughters, rapes, and pillages its way through the American Southwest. Hell, The Road is post-apocalyptic and has probably one of the most disturbing scenes I can think of with the people in the basement partially eaten alive by cannibals.
ATOM is going to whiplash between dorky internet humor and Very Dark And Serious Post Apocalyptic
Whatever. Let's go report this to Dan, maybe we can talk him into paying the farmers blood money.
Well, we're hungry. We don't necessarily have to make a campfire, but I'm going to click the little fire icon anyway.
This loads an entirely new map with a campfire. We got extremely lucky and the exit is easily walked to, but it's possible to get stuck in another giant map and slowly make your way out.
We cook the rat meat from the prior random encounter.
: I've come to report.
: I found out what happened to the three brothers.
: [The mobster shrugs indifferently]
: All right. Report.
: The three of them killed the farmer's eldest daughter and got what was coming to them. The father killed them all.
Now, if you are for some reason playing along, I would strongly advise you not to do this unless you want a particular achievement.
: Yes, they know.
: Wait! The villagers aren't guilty of anything. They were just trying to protect themselves!
: It's enough to have the grind their teeth during the lean years, but not enough to scare them away for good. So for all their hard work I provide a somewhat calm and peaceful life. What might scare them away however, or even worse turn them against me and my men, is a rumor that I send murderers to local farms to kill people for no reason. Dammit... if those idiots came back alive I would've publicly hanged them!
On my practice playthrough I asked for the assignment of killing the farmers with the intention of fucking off and not doing it. Dan saw right through it. Incidentally, if you claim the farmers don't know Dan doesn't send the hitmen in.
: [Stay silent]
: Understand, we don't want any ugly rumors circulating about our organization - uglier than the ones we've got, I mean. Otherwise, we'll vanish in the blink of an eye and our current problems will become irrelevant compared to the hell that breaks loose. Okay, just wait a sec...
: [Dan gestures you to be quiet while he jots something down in his notebook. Then he decides to acknowledge your existence]
: Listen here. You've completed the assignment and you did well. I appreciate that. Here's your cut.
: [The leader takes a bundle of bills from the breast of his jacket and hands it to you]
It's pretty good for this point in the game. We don't have the skills to hustle Dan yet.
: It sure ain't gonna hurt. [Take the money]
: Denis Denisovich...
: [Before you've finished addressing him, the mob leader is going through his notebook searching for something he's written. He's not even listening to you anymore. Finally, Dan nods at you and returns his notebook to his breast pocket]
: Oh, well... Fine. It's in the past, at least for now. Now I have a different assignment for you. You'll be happy to know that, unlike your previous task, this one's foolproof. Even a dog could do it.
Look, I'm not the one who sent random criminals he didn't know to do violence and then committed more murder to disguise the fact that he fucked up.
: But with something resembling a human being - at least partially - it should take that much less time. Briefly, you need to scout out a certain place. Everyone's been talking about it lately, but nobody has any useful information. I'm referring to the so-called "Roaring Forest", also known as the "Rattling Forest", or the "Rumbling Forest". And many more such names...
: I'll mark your map for you, but it's all legwork after that. When you get there look around, take a stroll in the neighborhood, talk to the locals. Find out why the Roaring Forest roars. Do you understand?
: What's the most popular theory as to why it's roaring?
: Why are you interested in that forest?
: Oh well, time to start working on the assignment I guess.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Hey, I figured out what happened to those three brothers. They murdered the farmer's daughter and he killed their asses.
: Well they were a bad hire. Do they know who sent them?
: They do.
: Well, guess I'll need to have them all killed. I'll send my dudes Bator and Silent Slayer, they're very experienced at killing helpless peasants.
: Dude, what the hell? The farmers were in the right!
: I'm going to explain this in small words so you can understand me. I am trying to found the new state of Dantopia, ruled solely by me. That means I need to compel total obedience from the random peasants in the area, and I must punish them for disobeying. However, I can't be seen to go too far, such as the rumors that I send out men to randomly kill people for no reason! So, to prevent the rumor that I kill innocent people I must send my hitmen to kill innocent people. Fuck! If those three brothers had returned I would have hanged them! But no, for the common good that family needs to die. Otherwise people might hate us, and seek to destroy our organization!
: This raises so many questions, but the dialog box allows me to ask none of them, even though there are probably some arguments that would work on Dan. Why not pay blood money and attempt to work on fixing your reputation with the local villagers so you can avoid these incidents? Am I to be silenced next, seeing as I could go to the moonshiners the farmer mentioned and tell them everything? If I'm secretly working for Kovalev, shouldn't I figure out who Dan is afraid of hearing these rumors, or even maybe tell Kovalev the truth so he can rally the local villages into a united militia? I guess my options are to stand on principle like an idiot or clap like a seal for the trolley...fuck.
: Anyway, new job because you maybe fucked this one up - go to the Roaring Forest and see if there's like a secret bunker or something cool we can use to build Dantopia.
: Sure, why not.
ATOM RPG! There's a lot of potential with Dan the obviously aspiring tyrant, and it's just as clear that the ATOM devs had absolutely no idea what to do with this character. I'm not going to complain about Dan being characterized as an intelligent man taking these obviously stupid courses of action like recruiting random criminals or exterminating the entire family, it's in character for a merciless aspiring tyrant to do these things. The problem is that the authors clearly have no idea what to do with the character or the ways in which one could convince Dan that it's in his best interests to spare the family, such as appealing to his fear that people will hear about it somehow or pointing out that everyone in the area hates the bandits anyway and it could be dismissed as a rumor made up by all the people who already hate Dan's bandits. There's no way to go and warn the family they're about to be killed, and the game entirely forgets that we're supposed to be a double agent for Kovalev despite giving us the "double agent" achievement the first time you take this path. There's a lot to work with here! This information could absolutely destroy the bandits if what Dan fears is true, and it's also harder to keep around the more idealistic members of the gang like Kosoy and a few bandits we haven't met yet if Dan keeps doing things like this.
Unfortunately the game is so enamored with the idea that Dan is bad, but is also keeping back even worse guys (who never appear in this game until the ending slide mocks you for destroying the Factory gang) that this just never comes up. We don't see Dan's bandits keeping back the bad! There are still tons of bandit and doomsday hat cultist wearing random encounters, and there isn't even an encounter where you run into the Factory gang fighting some acid spitting monsters and they ask you to help out fellow gang members protecting Otradnoye. It's nuts! Dan is supposed to be an ex-KGB officer, so I assume he'd understand the value of propaganda and having a good reputation. Putin certainly does!
This is ignoring the greater point, that the writer and/or translators absolutely do not have the writing chops to juxtapose this into their funny reference game. Dan is going to have no impact on the main plot, even though you might think as an ex-KGB agent and Factory gang leader with connections to the local government we could absolutely ask him for help finding Morozov's gang. He has a reason to help us because we can offer to put him in touch with ATOM, who have tanks and prewar science. No matter how many points you put in intelligence, this never crosses the Cadet's mind. The devs have a story they want to tell, and they're going to fall back hard on the wonderful trolley problem morality so common to so many of these inept RPG writers.
Oh well, I play this shit so you don't have to!