Part 23: OWNED By Dan, the Bandit Man!OWNED By Dan, the Bandit Man!
Welcome back! Last time on ATOM RPG we killed Cap - er, Uncle Hook for no real reason other than it officially ended our tenure in the less-than-dreaded Sewer Mafia. Today we're going to be entering the wonderful world of Soviet elections...which I suspect is a thinly veiled political commentary, but that can't be, because the devs told Xander77 and me that there was no resemblance to real world events in this game.
There is a surprising amount of loot in the Tourist Tunnel, and most of it is kind of a waste of time. It's a recurring problem in this game that there is almost no sense of character progression thanks to the abominable perk tree and outright boring loot - especially if you're playing a melee character who basically gets their most powerful weapon by midgame - so you end up sorting through shit like empty containers the devs put on the map to waste your time while vowing angrily never to pay any money for Trudograd.
Hmm...Mushrooms resembling those we found in the lab. This would be good if the game was actually dedicated to going full Pynchon or Dick and committing to the paranoid conspiracy atmosphere, but while it is present the game is not nearly as good at channeling the spirit of paranoia as it thinks it is.
I really need to reiterate that the main character is an outsider with no real need to do anything, while most of the competent authors' conspiracies actually affect the main character in some way. Even Prokhanov has his protagonist be motivated by the conspiracy offering something the protagonist would like to actually do. Even if we accept the idea that our Russian protagonist wants to resurrect the USSR, there's no indication that whatever General Morozov found can actually allow us to do that.
The drugs do a number on my system, so I manage to fuck it up and get killed.
I figure, ok, I can rest off the strength penalty and take all the loot to some random merchant and unload it. Unfortunately the game pops up a little message that you need to make a camp, so now we have to click the button and load an entirely new fucking map.
So do I whenever I play this game!
Resting spawns an ambush, which hilariously we only get warned of by the log in the lower left. It's kind of hilarious, you click the rest button and suddenly we're in combat mode with Hexogen getting headshot.
Of course, I'm fully encumbered and can't drop my bag because what do you think this is, Outward?
I fuck up and skip my turn trying to make the boringest combat end faster. Reload!
This sure is a special encounter.
I want to point out that he just displays the normal walking animation once we talk to him, thus the game's narration jumps in to explain that no, actually, we can't trust our eyes and he's like super exhausted, mannn!
Now, if the game were actually committed to its paranoia conspiracy schtick it could really use the dissonance between what the game displays and what the words tell you to really get the player distrustful of what's real and what's illusory.
: Just look how much clothes you're wearing. That's why you're thirsty, bro.
: [The man is looking through you, then he flinches and smiles as if everything suddenly became clear to him]
I assume this man murdered an editor as well because good lord is this painful to read.
This is probably a reference, but at this point I don't give a shit.
: How did you get yourself in this trouble?
: [Silently follow the man with your eyes]
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Despite this man walking normally, I am here to tell you that he looks super exhausted so that the ATOM animators don't need to do more than the bare minimum and can work on more edgelordy quests featuring sexual assault.
: Water! You must be a mirage...fuk thinking!
: Dude you're super overdressed brah, probably overheating.
: At last, I will reveal myself to the world! Free naked time!
: How the hell did you get in this situation?
: I must leave!
By tricking this guy into stripping off his clothes we get crappy early game armor and a duffle bag, which is actually pretty sweet and we'll hang onto it in case we get another party member.
Yea, never fight these guys, they're usually extremely heavily armed and in open terrain. Fortunately we are rolling in speechcraft so we can escape EZ.
I forgot how much speechcraft was needed to hook up with Dunya, so I get Bear high on weed to raise our personality to 8.
So have the fuckup dialogue!
While Sasha doesn't know the true power of Cossack Steel, we'll drop this and go harass Dan for our next assignment - after we ask Dunya how things at the factory are going.
Oof. Oh well, let's talk to Dan the Bandit Man.
: I'm ready. Tell me what it is.
: [Dan takes out his notepad and quickly checks some mysterious piece of information. Then he hides it under his shirt and pensively locks his fingers over his belly]
Oh man, the true test of our loyalty as a double agent!
: [Continue listening in silence]
: ... and the best way to get rid of him is the peaceful one. Especially now that there is an opportunity.
: Does he have the right to call an election?
: The villagers may disagree with it.
Now, this is on one hand a joke, but it's worth pointing out that Garry Kasparov in his book Winter is Coming points out that Russians soured on democracy because even Gorbachev and Yeltsin ran it as a corrupt pile of shit to benefit various oligarchs. This would almost be something interesting to talk about, which is why ATOM is going to handle it in the most dull way possible.
: Who are our main candidates?
: I'm glad you asked. From what I know about these peasants, the best candidate will be either Superintendent Grankin or Katya, the pub owner. It should be possible to influence either of them so I don't care much which one wins. Although Grankin is preferable. He's more eager to cooperate.
This is true, incidentally. While Katya is secretly Kovalev's daughter per the pacifist run, she will buckle up and do whatever Dan's bandits needs doing.
: All right, what do you need from me?
: Go to Peregon and search for that official I mentioned. I suspect that after settling affairs with the local crooks, he'll be wetting his beak in a bar. He's got a beard and looks presentable. His name is Ivan Ivanovich. Tell this Ivan Ivanovich that it's time to set our plan in motion.
: The key question is whether I can run in the election.
: Second, I need a man in Otradnoye who appears to have no connection to me. I'm sorry but after all the tasks you've done for me, you don't fit the profile.
: Third, I need someone who's lived in Otradnoye for a significant part of his life, or at least has a permanent residence permit there. Initially I planned to nominate Grishka, but now that he's not in the village anymore, I have to make do with what I've got.
Well on one hand you have a dumbass who literally tells everyone he's a bandit, and your fallbacks are the local infrastructure bureaucrat who provides clean water and the hot pub owner for whom NPCs all across the Wasteland won't shut up about how they want to dock their Soyuz capsule with her Mir station. I think you're better off.
: That sounds interesting. I'm ready to start my task.
: Right, let me mark Peregon on your map if you haven't been there yet.
Was this really necessary?
: There you go.
: [Dan nods, takes out his notepad and starts jotting something down. Then he stops writing and looks up at you]
: Well, why are you still here? Chop chop! You've got your task: find this Krasnoznamenny official, Ivan Ivanovich, in Peregon and tell him it's time to hold the elections. After that, go to Otradnoye and make sure everything goes smoothly. Go on, the elections aren't going to hold themselves.
: Yeah, I'm going.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: You ready for your next assignment, Bear Bearovitch? We gotta get rid of Kovalev...peacefully, lol! I got a bureaucrat guy in Krasnoz who's gonna have a big election!
: Wait, he can just randomly do that? Holy crap!
: Ha ha it's totally not legal but who gives a shit?
: Lol its democracy bitch!
: So who are our candidates?
: Grankin, the guy you barely interacted with at the beginning of the game except that he yells at you when you want more money for fixing the water tower, and Katya, the woman based off a hot Russian celebrity and who is your possible love interest like thing. I slightly prefer Grankin, but I don't care as either one of them will work for me. Anyway, you need to go to Peregon, find Ivan, and bring him to Otradnoye to start the election.
: Can I... can I be a candidate, too?
: Lol fuck no.
: Ok, bye.
Now we have to go back to Peregon. Peregon still sucks. But wait, we were supposed to be a double agent, right? We better warn Kovalev. If the election is illegal maybe he can file a complaint or something, right? He's literally across the street from a guy who used to be part of the Chamber of Commerce, maybe that guy still knows how to gum up the works.
Or hell, we just bribe Ivan.
: I have something to tell you about the bandits.
: Comrade Kovalev, it seems someone wants to oust you from your position.
Is all of our secret double agent work like the murder of those farmers going to pay off?
: Yeah, well, we'll see how it goes.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Comrade Kovalev! The bandits are planning to replace you! As your double agent, I'm here to warn you! Should we do something?
: Meh, whatever.
What a complete waste of time and money.
The traders at Peregon have a Simpsons reference. Member the Simpsons? Member?
This man at the bar is not Ivan.
: Pardon me. Am I interrupting you?
: [The bearded gentleman and the hoodlum raise their heads at the same time. The bearded man speaks first. He's polite, but his voice betrays a slight irritation]
: Oh, my manners! My name is...
I don't even know.
: Bear Bearovitch!
: Ivan, is it? Are you Ivan Ivanovich by any chance, the official from Krasnoznamenny?
: [The man's eyebrows jump up in surprise, and he exchanges a glance with his hoodlum guardsman]
: You fit the description.
: Your mate Dan from the Factory.
: [Ivan Ivanovich slaps himself on the forehead and gestures for you to sit down]
: Why did you decide to help Dan?
So, yes, Kovalev - and to a lesser extent, Bear - got completely played. While we were out fucking around with mutants, Dan solidified himself as the legitimate government of the area by allying with Krasnoznamenny - which already controlled Otradnoye to some extent as their technicians were installing propaganda televisions all over the Wasteland.
: That's nice. In that case, it's time for you to be on your way. The village elections must be held.
: What, is it time already? Well, what's to be done - I said I would help and so I must do it.
: [Ivan Ivanovich and his bodyguard get up from the table]
: Let's go get the car ready. If you guys need a ride as well then come along. There's still room in the car.
I sure am glad I drag those two useless chucklefucks along for riveting interjections like this.
: We'll think about it.
Now, you might be thinking that we'd be given the option to just pick a dialog option and get in the car and it would fade to black. You clearly haven't immersed yourself in the perspective of the ATOM developers, and so we must slowly toddle across the Peregon map and follow Ivan to the car.
The guy in front of the barricade is the contact for the Death Gang quest, which I am putting off for...reasons.
: Yeah, all right. I'm not in the mood to walk all the way back.
So we cram six guys and a dog into this car. Safety last!
If "nothing special" happened why are you wasting our time with this narration? Or is this a cheap ploy to hide the loading screen?
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Are you Ivan Ivanovich?
: Maybe I am? Maybe I'm not? Maybe I'm going to waste 4 dialog screens being very mysterious, mmm? Who wants to know?
: Dan. The Bandit Man.
: Oh, yeah, Dan! Darp!
: Why are you doing this?
: Well, Dan is the law around those parts, as his gang is now an official Krasnoznamenny army and as a Krasnoz bureaucrat we gotta support him.
: It's time to go!
: Already? Well, if you want you can ride in the car, we can fit 3 men and a dog EZ!
: I would like to ride in the car and go VROOM VROOM!
: It's time to slowly walk across the screen, bitch!
: Would you like to get in the car and go VROOM VROOM?
: Oh boy! It's nothing special, but I have three entire screens of narration about riding in a fucking car! VROOOM VROOOM! Car go fast! VROOOOOM!
Look, I get it, it's the post-apocalypse and our characters might not have ridden in a car ever (although it's not unheard of seeing as there are a bunch of random caravan drivers with trucks), but this is all just dull realism. Again.
Fidel sucks and I will never not make fun of him at this point. You can at least characterize Hexogen by his overblown psuedo-intellectual dialog which while it's not particularly funny I can see why some people might find it amusing. Fidel is just kind of there. He doesn't really have anything to contribute, characters don't react any differently to his presence, and there's not much that having him along actually opens up. Off the top of my head he prevents you from getting extorted by a guard from Krasnoznamenny, and you get his wacky affair with the widow so you can awkwardly ask if they fucked. He points you to the mushroom cult if you don't figure it out from the medallion and that's probably his greatest impact on the plot, but he's not interesting, his presence doesn't open up alternative solutions to problems, he's dogshit in combat, and he steals your XP.
Whatever! On to Otradnoye!
I...what? Look, Katya has been characterized throughout the game as the woman that all the lonely men of the Wasteland want to hook up with while she turns them down because she has real standards. The whole "wow she's really hot when she puts on makeup" deal doesn't really matter here, because she was already a beautiful and widely desired woman. Her portrait is literally a Russian TV star, Natasya Samburaskaya. The protagonist expressing surprise that this woman can make an impression sure is something.
: What are your chances of winning, though?
: There's truth in your words.
: I think you have a solid chance, but I can't say more.
: [She winks at you and chuckles softly]
: No need. The main thing is you believe it's possible. Thank you!
: You're welcome. Well, I gotta go!
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Somehow, you are surprised that the woman who looks like Natasya Samburaskaya, an extremely attractive Russian actress, is totally hot in makeup and clean clothes!
: I'm super into this election! Poor Kovalev, though. Do you think I can win?
: Uh, yeah, sure, whatever.
Kovalev is sad. If only he had some kind of double agent who warned him about this...
: [Sit at his table] Some day, right?
: [Kovalev nods but does not look up from his glass]
: Everything all right, Comrade Kovalev?
: [The man lifts his heavy gaze and sighs]
Symbolically dethroning Kovalev puts him in the same position as the rest of the villagers - the pub, instead of separated by his house which has the only functioning television.
: It's hard to say what's right and what's wrong.
: Right on!
: [The man nods and suddenly perks up]
: Keep your chin up, Comrade Kovalev. Bye.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Kovalev is very sad!
: Pretty nuts, right?
: Eh, it's totally fine, for real. I guess I'm old, so I'm gonna pull a no country for old men and just give the hell up now that the merciless tyrant will rule the village uncontested. Maybe I'll start a garden!
: Do it!
: Retirement, FUCK YEAH!
That's really how we're ending our role as a "double agent". Kovalev just gives the fuck up and lets Dan take over the town uncontested. Yes, he does want you to pick his illegitimate daughter as the next leader, but the ending slides - spoilers - tell us she just works with Dan anyway as Dan predicted she would. Now, this works in No Country for Old Men because Anton Chigurh represents Death and there's not much anyone can do about it. Dan is just a human tyrant who is very much fallible if undefeatable by incompetents like Kovalev.
In the greater scheme of things, one of the running themes of the game is that our idiot protagonist really doesn't have any choice. I'll elaborate more on this at the ending, but our options are usually either not to do the quest or that by doing the quest the bad guys (Dan's bandits, the Postman Conspiracy, Kruul) always triumph and there's nothing we can do about it. The developers claim the game is about having to live under authoritarian regimes, but this runs into the problem that the only thing the writers are capable of conveying are a series of references. They can't even write a coherent plot where you discover Grishka is a bandit, so he has to tell you. They want to be comic absurdists, but are held back by unimaginative realist narration they insist on saturating every conversation with. It's no surprise that their attempts to convey the constraints of working in an authoritarian system come across as heavy-handed insipid railroading, because almost every idea in this game is incompetently executed.
Dan also sent these two guys in case we can't convince the voters. It's a completely forgettable conversation, but I will leave you with this:
God damn! "Here is a picture of a man without a hat. We feel the need to call out he doesn't have a hat. This doesn't affect what you have to do, and there's no real thematic, artistic, or plot reason to call it out, but I am paid by the word and need to buy more heroin!"
We are of course rigging this election for some reason even though both of the candidates will jump through whatever of Dan's hoops he needs jumped through.
: Play our cards? How's that?
: Right, and who are our candidates? Apart from Comrade Grankin.
: [Ivan Ivanovich smooths out his collar and speaks in a low voice]
: Apart from Grankin, Katya Radchenko, a local pub owner, volunteered to run in the elections. Denis Denisovich foresaw this. It won't be a problem.
: [He lowers his voice even more, almost to a whisper]
Decisions lie before us!
Who are we supporting in the election?
Grankin: He's going to be more pliable in Dan's hands, and ultimately Dan is paying us and not Kovalev. He's a boring old bureaucrat, sure, but we did get a slight preference.
Katya: Katya is an intelligent businesswoman who Dan would be ok with, and is also our friend slash default love interest like thing. Also, she'd really like to win.
Who gives a fuck?: This village has nothing we want and no intelligence or resources to advance our goals. Dan legitimately told us he does not care who wins the election as long as it's one of these two people, neither of the leaders have anything to offer us in our quest to find loot, XP, or General Morozov, and this is still a tin shack shantytown which will be dedicating all available resources to supporting Dan's army of bandits.