Part 35: A Miracle HappensA Miracle Happens
Welcome back! Last time we sworded a bunch of Mushroom Cultists, learned that the Mushroom Cult basically ruled Krasnoznamenny and that we couldn't actually beat the conspiracy. Today we're going to encounter...some actually decent writing! I know, I'm shocked too!
Ugh. Narration aside, it's time for some actually competent writing!
: Hey chav! Wow, that's a neat trick you pulled here, you son of a whore!
: [You quickly recognize this man to be Alexander, your fellow ATOM cadet. You trained together, and later on you both got briefed on the disappearance of General Morozov]
Alexander is actually kind of an interesting character.
: I still remember you being so young, a tiny baby who's dirty ass I used to wash in then Bahchisarayn fountain! And now look at you, being all tough, making new settlements all over the place. You were your mom's biggest mistake, and now you're the pride of all Wasteland!
Alexander is kind of like a Shakespearean fool except he's a buffoon himself. But, being a buffoon spouting random dumb shit, he occasionally hits on insights the other characters refuse to contemplate.
: [You and Alexander are of the same age. Plus, the Bahchisarayan Fountain isn't a real place, since it was made up by the Russian classical poet, Alexander Pushkin. These two facts make you somewhat alert, after you listen to Alexander's tirade...]
: Hello, cadet. Did not expect you to visit this place.
Fidel doesn't respect him at all - he never refers to the player as cadet. The bit where Alexander is constantly lying and stealing valor isn't as funny a bit as the developers think it is, but we're not to the important bits yet.
: Oh, wow! Hey there, Fido! So, you got tired of hanging out at that bar you had?
: You could say that. Duty called me into the Wastes.
: Wow! I'm really glad to see you, Alexander. I have so many questions...
: [Alexander smiles softly, and then delivers a strong punch straight into your gut]
: Damn it, son... it's like hitting some of that syrup mom made for her famous Georgian pies... But anyway! I like your style. Remember how they taught us to ask at least 4 questions to anyone you meet? Sure seems like you do. Go on...
Look, I promise, the conversation is going to get better. I may have been a little hasty here.
: What brings you to Red Fighter?
: The land, it's filled with rumor. Soon as I heard some nut-job was rebuilding Communism in some wacky settlement, I ran straight to the place. Took me a while, but still... Here I am! Greet me with gifts of vodka and pies!
Well we have vodka, and does that horny Praskovia Pie woman count for the latter?
: We Marines are a dying breed, so we should hang on to each other. It's brother for brother, even if your brother is some chav.
Buddy, Bear could kick your ass in one round right now.
The Blue Beret is actually an item, it's the beret of the Soviet Airborne forces and gives +1 endurance. It's symbolic. More in a bit.
: Do you know Gozhin? He is one of us, too.
Also probably the smartest person in ATOM, but that's another story.
: That dick! He pisses me off! I was trying to be funny, so I hid in his place to spook him. But as soon as I jumped out, he grabbed his gun and started fanning it! Bullets all over the place! Shooting someone, who nearly died for his sorry ass in Afghanistan? That's just low.
Charming man. Sit through this.
: What are you even doing in the Wasteland?
: [Alexander smirks and knocks himself on the forehead]
: Come on, bub. What are you, stupid? Hello, dumb-dumb! Idiot-boy! Did you think they only sent you to look for Morozov? That would be like sending my old hag of a mother! She would even do better, I think, since all you actually do around here is playing with the local politicians, killing ants, and solving the troubles of local peasantry.
In other words, they sent the dumbest and most useless people they had because they weren't supposed to succeed. Remember, ATOM is thoroughly infiltrated by the Mushroom Cult. We still don't know where Morozov fits into all this, but we can assume he left with the Cult loyalists as they were the only ones to escape the bunker.
: But since our ATOM leaders aren't sociopaths, they didn't send my mother out. But they did send me...
The narration contradicting the dialogue is fine and does what I've been saying it should do, which is create doubt. Of course, it's still kinda omniscient so the uncertainty and paranoia that is essential to this narrative is not created.
: So, what have you learned while researching the case?
: I'm not telling! There are ears everywhere... Have you seen those mutants, who live in dumps such as Krasnoznamenny? Eyes too close to the nose, small chins, tiny biceps...
Alexander is supposed to be funny here, but he's also onto something - all of Krasnoznamenny is controlled by or tied to the invisible conspiratorial forces. He's the only guy who's put it together, but he's also terminally stupid so no one takes him seriously.
: So, how long since you made contact with the base?
: [Alexander scowls at you]
: Who are you? Communications specialist Vasily? What if I never made contact? What then? Will you make me eat boiled eggs for a month, like last time? Huh? I'll have you know I wasn't even issued a radio. Plus, I don't know what to report.
Come to think of it, we never had a radio at the beginning of the game either. Yes, it's funny that Alexander is a stupid, lazy idiot, but he's not wrong that we aren't actually expected to report back. It's almost like this was a token effort to appease the people in the lower ranks who didn't know about the Mushroom Cult. Note that Bear and Alexander don't get along and weren't ordered to work together or form any kind of team. For all we know there were others and the Mushroom Cult turned them, who knows!
: Amin's Palace in Afghanistan? You were not even born, when it was destroyed...
Bold words for someone in Cossack Sword range.
: Know anything on the subject of our mission?
: [Alexander gives you a mysterious smile]
: I might not know anything, but I sure know of someone, who might be able to help you out... But we'll talk about it later. I'm not done testing you, see? Oh yes, for this chat we're having is actually a test, that only smart and strong people pass, usually!
This is why I think this section mostly works. Alexander is 100 percent correct here! Bear hasn't figured out what's going on, even though the game has dropped a ton of hints if you go through it with a fine-toothed comb. We know in this thread that everything is a big conspiracy designed to maintain power over the average Wastelander, but Bear is being lectured by a guy who's even dumber than he is and who has figured some of this out.
: [Personality] Oh come on, tell me what you mean!
You need a Personality of 6 to pick up Alexander as our last party member. No, on the conventional route there are no women in the party, why do you ask?
: Hey, Alexander... Why are you constantly making shit up as we speak? What's up, buddy?
: [Alexander's constant half-smirk disappears from his face, making way for a solemn expression. The man looks you straight in the eye, and sighs]
It's about to get good, folks!
: Who will I blab to? Calm down, bro. Your secret is safe with me.
: Meh, on the other hand, I don't care. Go ahead, tell my secrets to your stupid new friends from Otradnoye or something! It won't change anything, you gossiping cunt!
We're about to get metaphorical.
: Anyway, listen up. Once, I found a bottle of vodka near some woods. So, naturally, I presumed it was dropped there by General Morozov. It was clear as day to me - Morozov got lost, drank himself silly, and went into the woods to hang himself. Or, you know, gather some shrooms.
: I don't like the sound of this...
Earlier in the game posted:
: Why? You know the place I'm talking about? I'm not interested, don't reply. Anyway, there I was, strolling knee-deep in poo gas and shit water, when I heard something move above me, on a tree branch. There I found a funny looking worm. I placed him on my shoulder, thinking he'd make a great pet and an awesome supper.
Earlier in the game posted:
: We spent the night at Old Lady Nadia's cabin. She's a great old crone, you know, even though she's crazy about cats. She told us a story about a new kind of mutant, haunting the local swamp, the Leather Worm, it's one hell of a beast. Looks like a thin snake, or a large worm.
: If one of these critters sneaks through your ear into the skull - it's the end of you. He'll possess your brain, and your whole body will be his. And he'll do it so well, no one can tell the difference. The biggest clue would be this - the possessed person begins to mix up names, and to forget small events from the past.
We've seen that Alexander is terrible with names - he calls Fidel "Fido" - and is making up all kinds of new and dumb fictional events.
: He was so damn cute, too! Orange tail, black tummy, eyes on fat little antennas. Walking around on ten stubby legs, whistling a show-tune, if I remember correctly. I grabbed him, and placed him on my shoulder, like a pirate would a parrot. What could go wrong - I thought... I'll have an elite pet, and if I get hungry, I'll have a ready caught breakfast.
: But as I walked further, imagining how tasty the little guy will be after I roast him above a freshly made fire, he started crawling into my ear! And when he managed to get half-way in there, despite him being so fat, he started eating my brain! Chomping on it, ya know! Now if I wasn't dead at the next moment, I'd try and grab him... But nope.
: Hold on. What? You died?
: [Alexander smacks himself on the forehead]
: What do you think? I did mention he ate my brains, right? Ate them all, like a snake would an egg! First, I lost control over moving my limbs, then I became blind, then my whole life flashed before me... And it became all dark.
This seems like sci fi shit but it's also allegorical. Bear with me.
: Some time later, I awoke. But I wasn't myself, exactly... I had weird memories, you know. Half of them are of me training to become an ATOM cadet. They other half of them are of me wriggling along tree branches, waiting for humans to come around, so that I could gobble their brains up.
Now we're just getting really meta here as Alexander talks about all the references and doing the same shit we're doing. Wait a minute...
: [Intellect] So, we're dealing with a parasitic organism that is somewhat beneficial to the people it clings to... But to what extent does the worm take over the host's personality?
: [Alexander makes an expanding gesture around his head]
THIS is where the game lays its cards on the table. The worm and Alexander are metaphors, where the worm is all the disgusting conspiracy bullshit and Alexander is the Soviet Union. We know from the earlier worm encounter all three of the men were possessed by the worm. Alexander has been pointing out that we don't see the truth, that everything really is out for us - and we know this, because everywhere we turn there's this vast conspiratorial power struggle that's going on in the background.
The truth is that Alexander never existed. Let's take a look at our symptoms again, from the prior encounter - people mix up past events. What was Alexander doing when we first met him?
First meeting Alexander posted:
It's the exact same crap he just told us about his mother being from Georgia! How does this relate to the conspiracy crap? All of the conspiracy crap is directly descended from the Soviet government.
Earlier in the game posted:
Mycelium is the direct descendants of the original government forces that occupied Bunker 317 during the war.
The Krasnoznamenny government is run by a General Secretary and is all in on USSR cosplaying.
Dan is an ex-KGB agent.
The Secret Cartel is Soviet postmen.
This stuff was always here, it's just more out in the open in the post-Soviet world, but it's not like being in the upper echelons of the Soviet government didn't entitle you to stealing crap.
: We weren't too close before... How should I know whether you changed or not?
: [Personality][Alexander chuckles and slaps you on the back]
: Well, if neither of us has a clue, nobody ever will. Maybe there really is no answer. I can't now[sic] that.
: But maybe the final decision is up for the world to decide? It's actually a good idea. For example, if I stay with you, I'll become more human than worm. Maybe will even help you find that Morozov bastard. Yeah... After that, I'll 100% become good old Alexander! You better start welcoming me into the team...!
: We'll see about that...
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: What up, my dude!
: You suddenly realize that Alexander is lying his ass off using Pushkin references.
: Hello, cadet. Wasn't expecting you.
: Sup...Fido? You leave that shitty bar?
: Duty called.
: God damn Alexander lies a lot.
: Have you made any progress on the mission, or reported to the base?
: Nooope. What are you going to do? They didn't even give me a radio! I've been looking out in the woods while you've been doing random quests! Besides, everyone in Krasnoznamenny is spying on me anyway! Also, expect metaphors!
: Damn Alexander is lying about his past a lot.
: You don't get it. You only see random, disconnected events, while I see a vast conspiracy, where Dan's Bandits report to Ivan Ivanovich who's a member of the Mushroom Cult.
: Alright, just tell me what you're talking about.
: Maybe I'll join your party.
: Ok, come on dude, why are you constantly making up shit about being in Afghanistan?
: Let me tell you a story. Keep it secret! Or don't, I don't give a shit, no one will believe you just like no one will believe you about the conspiratorial forces. I was walking near a gas station...
: Oh fuck it's the one with the Yeerks from Animorphs!
: Oh, you know about it? Doesn't matter! There I was, trying to follow General Morozov's trail as he looked for mushrooms, and I saw a worm! He looked pretty sick! So I went "man, it would be cool to have this worm as a pet, then I can eat him if food is low" and picked him up and put him on my shoulder. He looked totally awesome and cute! So there I am, fantasizing about eating the worm, and he burrowed into my ear like the Yeerks from Animorphs! He ate half my brain too, and I died!
: Wait, you fucking died?
: BITCH THE WORM ATE MY BRAIN! Yea I fuckin died! Now he's in my head, and I have two sets of memories... one as the heroic cadet Alexander, and one of the worm chilling on a tree looking for people to eat. It's a metaphor, bitch! The worm is the conspiracy, and my brain is the USSR! Also I've given up smoking, I don't drink unless there's radiation, I eat meat raw to avoid the loading screens and cooking dialog, and everything in my life is some kind of shitty unfunny reference! Also, I have tons of one night stands. Ring any bells?
: Oh, so there's like, a parasite in your head?
: Look, stop with the sci-fi shit, it's allegorical, ok? Who am I? Who are we? Am I what remains of the noble ideals of Communism, where all men are brothers? Or am I just the corruption spawned by the Soviet government?
: How the fuck should I know?
: Well, I guess we'll never know, huh? Anyway, I'm joining the party, Maybe we can find that Morozov dude and we'll have some answers?
Alexander joins as our final party member, and I'm real conflicted about this. You see NONE of this if you don't jump through hoops to rebuild Red Fighter and if your Personality is less than 6 you're shit out of luck. On the other hand, this is not a bad idea! I've been saying the entire LP that this conspiracy is actually a fascinating idea for a narrative where the character slowly learns that all of these random events are unconnected, and Alexander basically confirms this for us. Why is our life full of these random references? Because the player's been infected by the worm, just like Alexander has. Did you notice all the behaviors Alexander describes are similar to the behavior of the Cadet under player control? Did you notice that the character never really gives a damn about the Conspiracy as long as we get fat stacks of rubles, and that we've basically sold out? This is an insanely ambitious idea for a game of this type! The first reference we get is in the tutorial - no soup for you! - so is ATOM somehow infecting people with the worms? Who knows, they never come up again. Maybe they're a deeper conspiracy within the Conspiracy itself, led by that fucking bartender.
Earlier in the game posted:
: What the fuck is a reference? What are you on about?
: [The bartender freezes for a whole minute, creepy grin intact. You are about to leave, when he starts talking again, as if no conversation ever took place.]
Like I said, it's a very ambitious attempt that is utterly butchered by the developers' execution. The references aren't funny, but they come across as a desperate attempt at meta humor rather than something that's supposed to be unsettling or dangerous. The plot which by necessity must be constrained both by the worm in your head and the unopposable nature of the conspiracy is crammed into an open-world isometric RPG, where the constraints feel less like you must make this choice because you're being compelled and more that the player character is railroaded into being an idiot no matter how intelligent or capable they are. I've commented on how everyone the player character could ask for help they never do so, and while a very careful reading reveals that all of the potentially powerful people are in on it together, there's no way the player character both knows this and yet never manages to express it to anyone. More damningly, the choice of the constantly active realist narrator completely trashes any sense of uncertainty the game is trying to create. If the celebrities are supposed to be eerily familiar instead of a lazy attempt at humor or cashing in (at least THIS game doesn't have Cohh Carnage, unlike certain other Russian RPGs), why is all the narration dully describing mustaches or unnecessary physical actions that are conveyed by the dialog? The developers are on record as saying things like the Shoggoth are supposed to make the player question what is real and what is unreal, and we never confront the greatest question of all - so what? We are playing a videogame that is by definition unreal. If we're secretly playing as a parasitic worm in the head of a guy who lives in a land with actual magical gods who bless you with lightning instead of the guy, how does this change the story? More importantly, what are we supposed to do? The last few updates have revealed we're up against a vast conspiracy and - spoilers - our choices don't really matter, so why the fuck are we still here? This isn't Spec Ops: The Line where we stick around to watch Walker disintegrate and that's the horror, our character is a blank slate who could literally be an evil mutant worm walking in the skin of an American prostitute. All we've accomplished is violently achieving the aims of the conspiracy. All our character can think to do is more violence.
Why is this a game? Prokhanov's narrative at least makes sense, anti-Semitic nonsense aside, as the heroic Belosetsev tries to restore his homeland and learns that everything is corrupt and ruined anyway. It reminds me of Philip K Dick novels as well, where the main characters learn that the conspiracy cannot be defeated because the government is growing substance D or the aliens are using psychic powers to cheat the humans - but as a game what are we supposed to do at this point? Our options are to either go along with the conspiracy like chumps or lash out with horrifying ultraviolence. We just did a game that was very reactive, but ultimately the choices were illusory - Tyranny. Ultimately whichever faction you joined, you ended the game as a horrific dictator forced into fighting for power not to be obliterated by your political enemies. There is still no reason not to just fucking leave, and no reason for our character to care! Alexander told us the mission was a joke! If Morozov made it out of the purge, what do we think he's doing! ATOM didn't even give us a radio to report Morozov's location, and the people who gave us the mission are probably aligned with the Mushroom Cult and their weird psychic bullshit anyway. ATOM is thoroughly comprised, every authority figure is immoral and evil, and none of these people have any leverage on us other than offering us material goods. It's not like we can't one shot most of their enforcers with the chainsaw. This narrative needs a lot more work to function - there needs to be the illusion of choice and some reason for our character to stick around, and there needs to be some reason for our character to explore and find things like the Alexander conversation or Ivan's reveal that he's in the Mushroom Cult. This entire allegory conversation only appears if you throw thousands of rubles at a base that does nothing aside from being a kickstarter goal and it's clear that the developers were either unable or unwilling to put the work in to support it. There are a ton of factions in this conspiracy, and all you can do is get railroaded into helping the same ones. It doesn't feel inevitable or organic, it just feels lazy.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
That's the kind version. The unkind version looks at all the alt-right garbage in this game and throws it right out the window.
I'll be honest, I have no idea and limited patience. We unfortunately are not storming the Mushroom Cult building, but do you want to see The Dead City, Peregon Elections, or Kovalev's Wild Ride?