Part 24: The Election... of Apathy!The Election... of Apathy!
Welcome back! Last time on ATOM RPG, we agreed to Dan's nefarious plan to hold an illegal election for Otradnoye that he didn't care who won because the winner would have to join his weird bandit feudal lord adventure. The bureaucrat running the illegal election decided to give us the opportunity to pick the future candidate, and goons decided that we didn't actually give a fuck who won the election.
: It doesn't matter all that much to me. Let the villagers decide for themselves.
: [Ivan Ivanovich throws up his hands]
The devs have cleverly switched the order so that if you're dullingly absorbing this content to get to the...whatever the hell you think you're getting out of playing ATOM,
: Yes, I'm sure. Do you need anything else from me?
: [The man slicks back his receding hair and moves closer to you]
: The elections have to go smooth as silk, by which I mean one hundred percent turnout. Like it was in the USSR, may it rest in peace. But the problem is that two men in the village refuse to vote! Worse, their recalcitrance is confusing the other villagers.
: Why not just leave them alone? If they don't want to vote, so be it.
: Ah, damn. What to do... I'll try to convince them.
: I'm glad to hear that! Ah, I do love administrative work.
: Yeah. All right, I'll be off.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: This is totally sick! We can rig this election of this insignificant village however we want! As the Factory representative, who do you want to win?
: Who cares?
: Come on, man!
: Nah, this is boring.
: Well, ok, but I need you to speechcraft at two guys so we can get 100% turnout.
: Sure, why not.
We speechcraft at Semyon and he agrees to vote after we continue whining that everyone has to do their part.
Yan is the same.
We speechcraft at him, but even the game realizes that this is a waste of time and that you're just randomly trying bullshit until it works.
We need to pull off an intellect to check to reveal the true problem - both candidates suck.
We tell him that Katya is actually very smart and then browbeat him and he reluctantly agrees to vote.
Now, he might have more of a personal interest than us but who cares, we're getting cash. You have to go around convincing everyone and I think you can skip it by siccing Dan's goons, but I've never done that and don't plan to play this section again.
: Everything is ready. I completed all the tasks.
: [Continue listening in silence]
: I can't believe you didn't prepare the paper yourself.
: Well, you better believe it! Even the best of us make mistakes sometimes.
: [The man looks at you very solemnly for a moment, but then bursts into laughter! His bodyguard pitches in with a crooked smile]
It's early 2000s "fetch quests bad!" humor! This is not helped by a yet unseen quest requiring 500 pieces of paper. This would be funnier in a better game, but as it stands the joke that this time you don't need to do tedious bullshit is actually not that funny.
: Well, what do you know. Never thought you'd turn out to be such a joker.
: You were wrong. This work isn't a lot of fun so I like to mix things up from time to time.
: Fine. Jokes aside, we need to get the show on the road!
: [Ivan Ivanovich slaps his bodyguard on the shoulder and he makes his way out]
: [Wait for the voters to arrive]
AAAGH! Look, I get this is an indie game because ATOM's marketing materials will not shut up about #indie, presumably to lower your expectations. I'm told it's bad etiquette to compare games, but I'm gonna do it because I'm a rude dude. Highfleet is an indie game made in Russia, and instead of boring black text it incorporates beautiful art during cutscenes. We know they have people who can make this stuff, because the game opened with a bunch of demons in the woods that the developers literally will not explain.
This could be funny if handled better or if we knew the fisherman. Hell, you could throw all of this up on one screen.
"We just saved on the art budget for the quest we railroaded the player into doing even if they opposed the bandits!"
"I know! I'll put a Free Willy reference in the next quest!"
: Well, it doesn't take a math wizard to know the result.
I really want to point out that this dull cinematic realism adds nothing and detracts by showing that the ATOM devs were in a medium that COULD have shown this but didn't. A lot of good RPGs do this, to be fair, but those games have redeeming qualities that makes it bearable.
: The youth won, by which I mean the charming Katya. Interesting. Never thought this crowd wanted change so badly. Perhaps the old patriarch's ways weren't to the people's liking after all.
: Huh! The fascinating world of a nascent democracy. What now?
: I'll be sure to do that. Good luck on your journey, Ivan Ivanovich.
: [The official nods to you, gathers his things, stands for a few moments at the door, and finally leaves. A minute later, you hear his car starting up outside. Ivan Ivanovich has left Otradnoye.]
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Ok, I brute forced the dialog with speechcraft and intellect. What now?
: Now I need you to do me a tedious fetch quest and collect 30 pieces of paper.
: No! I'm joking! It's funny, because Baldur's Gate 2 made jokes about fetch quests being tedious and that game came out decades earlier! Isn't this funny? Lol! Lol! Election time!
: Here are three empty black screens with dull realist narration! The last screen aspires to be funny, but is incompetently written and lost all your goodwill through this game being unfunny and disgusting!
: Well, Katya won. I guess people wanted change and didn't like the old patriarch, despite having absolutely no problem with him earlier. Oh well, she's smart. I'm off! Look me up in Krasnoznamenny if you need more quests!
As we enter the tavern, Kovalev wants to talk.
Why not? We're nominally his double agent, except he used Bear so badly that he legitimately got kicked out of office by us at his behest.
: Sure thing. I need a rest after my journey. How's life? Need any help around here?
: [Comrade Kovalev thinks something over, then begins to speak in a quiet voice...]
: There's a lot of cars in the Wastes. No miracles needed.
: That's almost correct. There are trucks, but light passenger cars like Ivan Ivanovich had. Nope. Never seen one after the war.
: I see. So what do you want from me?
: So I was thinking, maybe you could help me out? You're a capable person. Perhaps you've seen a decent car somewhere in your travels?
: I'd take a car in any state of disrepair. My hands still remember the tools I used to fix up my old bolt bucket. And the village would sure be glad to have a working car on hand.
: I don't know if I can help you, but I'll definitely try.
: Okay. I'll tell you when I learn something new.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Man, that Ivan dude had a car! I wish I had my old car! If you find any cars, let me know and I will fix them so we can go VROOM VROOM!
: Sure why not.
We can try talking to him again but he just asks about the car.
Katya has taken over her father's old house.
: Hey, and I'm... uh... here.
: [She shows you the documents with a powerless smile]
: And I came to congratulate you on your victory!
I don't think we ever saw Kovalev with any paperwork, he was too busy issuing secret murder orders.
: Thank you very much!
: Listen, can we maybe talk someplace private? Drink some tea, shoot the shit, you know.
: I... Um...
: [The girl looks like she's trying to remember a catchy new phrase she learned]
TheGreatEvilKing looks like he's trying to figure out a new way to convey irritation with time-wasting ineffectual descriptions.
: [Personality] Maybe they'll make a comeback for me?
As far as I know this is as far as you can get with Katya. People on reddit claim you can romance her, but there are a ton of guides out there written by weird dudes about how to bang Dunya or whoever and the consensus seems to be here is that this is as far as it goes. You don't even get an ending slide together or any of that shit.
The saddest part is that this is the closest to an actual romance the game gets, at least if you're a guy. You can hire various prostitutes, hook up with random women like Zhanna whom you abandon forever who have nothing more to say, and star in Horny Hussars but you can't actually have anything resembling an actual relationship or characterization, it's pump and dump all the way down!
: Fine. Let's change the subject.
She doesn't give us the money IIRC, and even if she did money is worthless in this game.
: Let's talk about the village. Any juicy rumors?
: What can you say about Otradnoye, now that you're the boss?
Riveting. None of this is shown in the game.
: You hang in there, Katya. Another question.
: Is it hard to be the boss in these parts?
: [Katya sighs]
: I see how it is. Well, I won't bother you anymore. Bye.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Wow, I'm way in over my head right now.
: Congratulations on the win!
: Wow, thanks, I am holding up a sign that says "I am attracted to you!"
: Hey you wanna like, go on a date or something?
: Katya looks sad! But suddenly she looks like she is repeating a catchphrase!
: I hear you, but I have taken the oath of celibacy required of all Russian mayors.
: But it's me, Bear Bearovich!
: She would really like to, but do you trust these developers to write a romance?
: Uh...I want to...look, I'll let you know, ok?
: Do you have time for a dull infodump about this village that has nothing of interest to the player?
It's time to report back to Dan.
Holy shit! Is something actually interesting going on in this game? I was shocked to see on loading into the Factory map actual music that didn't sound boring or shitty. I wouldn't call it remarkable, but compared to the questionable combat music it's an improvement.
: I don't recommend going into camp right now. Dan and Shishak had a fight recently. We all knew there would be trouble sooner or later. They disrespected each other and now they're literally at each other's throats! The men's loyalties are also divided - some continue to follow Dan, some sided with Shishak.
I continue to be thoroughly baffled by every line of "streetwise" dialog.
: [Personality] So if things are fine you're with Dan but when the shit goes down you abandon him like a coward?
Remember that wording, "eerily quiet".
: Dan was a good boss, but I'm not ready to die for him. When things settle down, I'll come back. Bye.
: Fine! Walk away! Coward.
The game immediately thrusts us into battle. You might notice the absence of Fidel, Hexogen, and Dhulzibars. They just decided not to participate in this fight, mostly because they move slow as shit. It's fine, we didn't need more than 1/4 experience for such helpful interjections as "I would like to ride in the car, Bear Bearovitch".
This game is dogshit at pacing so we need to spend several turns running into the factory to see what's going on. Note that this is with the perk that gives us a second turn at half AP and maxed dexterity, I can't imagine what a newbie's character would be doing here.
All the bandits are... shooting each other with guns!
A Few Seconds Ago posted:
How the fuck is this gun battle "eerily quiet"?
This is all the tedium of ATOM combat with the fact that we have a bunch of NPCs fighting. Dan is in the back actually fighting himself, and thus Dan actually wins the award for "best leader" by risking his life for his men.
The bar is really low.
We finally make it into combat, but we're down an AP from withdrawal and have to randomly target a body part instead of going for the eyes like we usually do.
We dispatch the last two guys and the fight ends. I should point out that half the bandits are shirtless and punching, while Dan has his machine pistol and another guard has some kind of long rifle. We talk to Dan, because...
Sure! We can't actually talk to him right now. There's also nothing in his office that we could steal either. Oh well!
The car is right next to where we could convince Dunya to canoodle in sin with us, so we can report to Kovalev.
: The car looks pretty good. But I won't be able to fix it on my own.
Anyway, we leave the factory map and come back to Dan's office.
: Yes, it's me. I see you haven't been bored while I was gone.
I know the thread mentioned that Dan has a picture of himself behind his desk and now I can't look away.
: [Dan unwittingly nods]
: He had accomplices outside the camp?
This is nearly as bad as the mustached man who had a mustache.
: I'm sure of it. I saw a lot of new faces among his followers. Not my guys... Too bad they all died or ran away. Would've liked to interrogate one of them.
I do not understand how this happened as standard operating procedure seems to be that Dan personally interviews everyone who shows up at the gate. My guess is that this quest is supposed to be Dan's arrogance biting him in the ass - when you tell him you hate sadists, Dan agrees but says he can use Shishak for his dream of being a third world dictator. The narration at least conveys Dan is losing composure but then he collects himself in the dialog.
You used pet twice, this just doesn't...argh!
: Sure, but first you could pay me for these election shenanigans.
: Oh right. How did it go?
: It went well. Katya won.
: Katya? From what I've heard she's a smart giel, which means she'll deal with us. We're their only hope in the world, whether Otradnoye likes it or not.
: Fine, hold on. I'll get your money.
: [Dan retrieves a hefty envelope from his pocket]
He's not wrong, but we have 144 speechcraft.
: [Speechcraft] Dan, you're an honest man. I helped you out with the mutiny and everything, yet my reward is so little!
In a better game this would be a hint that Dan is still not completely in control and recognizes his precarious position. He can't afford to piss off any more of his followers right now as he had to put down an outright mutiny, so while you'd never get away with it before you can hustle him now.
: Fine, here's more money. But don't ask me for a raise again. Just take it.
So now we can be a dick to Dan for no real reason. Remember how our original assignment was to help Kovalev defeat the bandits?
: Nice doing business with you.
This actually works by showing how much Dan is struggling to control himself here. Before he never really fucked with his mustache, he just wrote cryptic notes down in his little notebook.
: Anyway, you were talking about some kind of job? What was that all about?
: So nothing is concrete, but you have your suspicions? Fine. Where should I start looking?
: That's not an easy question to answer. Although it's hard for me to admit, I'm not entirely sure. Go to Peregon and visit the catacombs under Kraznosnamenny. I'm pretty sure the answer is out there somewhere.
It's more conspiracy bullshit!
: Hold up a sec. I want to mark these places in case you've never been there before.
: Hmmm, okay. We'll see what I can do.
: Well, just some questions like always.
It's kind of amazing. Remember, Dan is an ex-KGB agent willing to sentence people to death without remorse and he's on edge after putting down a mutiny, so of course the first sentence we get is an insipid question about feelings that could have come from any puff piece.
: So how does it feel - to survive the mutiny with your head still firmly attached to your shoulders?
So we have a bandit mutiny that terrifies Kosoy, Sasha, and Dunya so they flee the bandit camp, there are a ton of dead bandits everywhere, Shishak made a power play and Dan is ranting about "discipline" while being obviously on edge. Naturally this is the perfect time to shoehorn in a Pepe the frog joke. You know Pepe the frog? Laugh! Laugh!
: Good thinking. Another question.
: What are you planning, discipline-wise?
I hate to admit it, but this narration actually works by showing Dan using threatening body language instead of staying dissociated.
We have taken the entirely wrong lesson from this. Oh dear. It's strange, because from Dan's own narration it wasn't his men who defected, it was the men who showed up with Shishak and I think we are to believe they made a special appearance for this event? Except Kosoy claims the men are divided? Either way, it doesn't matter, it's not like either one of them did anything for the dying bandit we had to go get Doctor McCoy to save. This is the kind of crap that seems like a good idea but is actually counterproductive - even Julius Caesar "allowed" himself to be talked out of decimating his legions and as a result of showing mercy to his men they all followed him over the Rubicon. This is the kind of crap that gets people killed for making mistakes, which means people don't learn and just as importantly, people don't try new things. The game even shows people permanently deserting like Sasha and Dunya, yet despite this...well, just wait until the ending.
: Strict but straight. Another question.
: What future do you see for the factory?
: You said it like you meant it! Another question.
: What are the people saying? Any good rumors lately?
: [Dan chuckles sadly]
: I rarely listen to rumors, but this one got me: Turns out Kostya the Yob, a criminal legend in these parts, is still alive! Everyone who knew him thought he was killed ages ago.
: A trader I know met him on a road once. Not much intel, the guy just told me Kostya seemed like the cleanest, calmest, politest person he'd ever seen!
This is a reference to a future quest.
: My oh my! I hope I get to meet him one day. Now for another question...
We exhaust the tree and end the conversation.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Gah! Oh, it's you.
: Looks like you're having fun.
: Yeah, Shishak screwed us over but we killed his ass. Would you believe me if I told you he was part of... a conspiracy?
: Of course he is, what isn't?
: There were a lot of guys who just showed up... pretty sure they weren't my guys...somehow this got past my policy of interviewing everyone who comes into the camp and making them give me their real name...huh. They all conveniently died or escaped.
: I wrote a whole bunch of books in real life, why am I associated with this dogshit narration?
: Anyway, I have another job for you.
: Pay me for the election first.
: Here's 400 rubles, you didn't have to fight anyway.
: Aw, don't be like that Dan! I just risked my life fighting those guys in the mutiny!
: Fine, but don't ever ask me for a raise again. Now I am mad!
: So, about this new job...
: I want you to find the conspiracy behind Shishak, but I have no real leads other than "there are a lot of guys in Krasnoznamenny and Peregon", so just kinda wander around those two cities until you find something out, ok? Also I'm going to mark your map for Peregon even though I sent you there for the last quest.
: Sounds good. Now, how are you feeling after the mutiny? Cable viewers want to know!
: In the immortal words of Pepe the Frog, "Feels good man". Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go back to ranting about death squads. Tone? What's that? Anyway, now that I know my men were loyal and that the other guys weren't actually a part of my organization I'm going to clamp down harder on their loyal supporters and make their lives miserable because despite being an ex-KGB officer I am written by massive idiots.
: Heard any rumors?
: Yea, I heard that Kostya the Yob, the infamous baby killing murderer, was now an upright peasant! What the hell?
I'm trying to articulate why so much of this game doesn't work, and it's true that the foundations are flawed - sentence structure is bad, characterization is nonexistent - go on, describe Fidel, readers - and gameplay is a cesspit of awfulness, but there are enough ideas that this game should be able to evoke something. A vast conspiracy simmering below the surface is a cool idea! Adventuring in the ruins of the Soviet Union is a cool idea! There is a lot to say about the Soviet Union, the cold war, conspiracies, ex-KGB men and their legacy, and all of this... and the game just drops the ball every time. I've said this before, and I'll probably turn this into a longer effortpost, but the game is very, very afraid of exploring or committing to any of these ideas it raises or letting the player have any impact on them. The end result makes the game feel less like, say, Baldur's Gate 2 where you had a big open world to mess around in but you had a clear goal and direction and some things tied into each other than a pointless giant theme park where some things are pointlessly shoved off into their own little silos and you can't really affect the resolution short of doing something like killing Dan and the camp single-handedly (something the player is not guaranteed to be able to do). No matter which side you choose in the village, you end up working for Dan and the bandits. Kovalev will always step down. Simon Shpak always escapes no matter what you choose in his sewer mafia quest. The game is littered with these false choices that never actually affect the character you're playing, so you're a perpetual outsider, and you are never able to use your influence with Dan or Kovalev or any of these other powerful characters you are supposedly infiltrating for evidence about Morozov to actually do anything to progress the plotline. When the game actually presents something interesting or alien it immediately walks it back. There's an actual god who blesses you with magic lightning, and will never be mentioned again. Is the Shoggoth real or hallucinatory, and could we do something with this? No, because it's a Lovecraft reference in an RPG. There is a secret laboratory bunker with literally nothing of interest in it, except a useless scanner I missed that does nothing useful (it finds stashes, something you can do by holding ALT). I need to reiterate that this was a secret research lab of the global superpower that invented the space ship, and there's just nothing as Fleshwit helpfully pointed out to me on the discord. The game really feels like a deserted theme park that closed and they had to sell all the rides and props, but the buildings and signs are still there, so you go into the cowboy saloon and there's a deserted piano and a half-melted plastic six-shooter sitting on the counter. You can tell its a saloon but there's not even any booze.
Well, it's that time again goons.
Decisions Lie Before Us!
Are we going to do the Tunnel of Death, do Kovalev's wild ride, fuck around in Krasnoznamenny while looking for conspiracies, or fuck around in Peregon?