Standing out in a deluge of post-apocalyptic stories is hard. Too many towns and cities across the fictional landscape have been overrun by zombies, nuked by severe radiation poisoning, or destroyed by natural disasters. What caries a story forward when we have seen the same images of death and destruction over and over again? 35MM answers that question, proving that there will always be something to pull from the ashes of the popular genre.
35MM might start off at a slow pace – a really slow pace – but under-the-radar character and story development, and unsettling action sequences build to a climactic revelation that will make you feel sorry for even thinking about not finishing the game. Your journey begins in the Russian countryside, where you and your travel companion have just finished searching an abandoned shack for supplies. The human population has been nearly obliterated by an unknown illness. Most who didn’t immediately succumb to the illness pillaged and murdered their way for survival. And here are the two of you. No names. No idea of how you got there. Nothing.
You don’t speak much to your companion. The lack of interaction between the two of you suggest that you are strangers, yet there is something innately trusting about him. He has your back when a bear tries to eat you, when a gang of hooligans beat you up and kidnap you just because they can. While you may be strangers, your relationship is built on something much more tragic than sharing the same hell-hole reality. With four different endings, you’ll discover how you came to know your companion and whether or not he’ll continue to be a presence in your life.
The entire narrative rests on the ending. This is not a bad thing in itself, but you’ll need to have patience to get there and tenacity to endure a pessimistic story. The phrase “life sucks and then you die” totally applies. I got the most pessimistic of all the endings, but it left me satisfied. Sure, the developers could have added more dialogue between the characters. Sure, the developers could have written a straight-forward plot. But if they had done that, the ending would not have made an emotional impact. The strength and grace of 35MM is the absence of traditional storytelling methods interjected with brilliantly composed cut scenes that give the game a high cinematic quality.
While I am grateful for the English subtitles, the translation from Russian to English sometimes made it hard to understand what was being said. This not only broke the immersion, but also made me question if I was deciphering a plot point correctly or if I was reading a character’s emotions correctly. The dialogue read like it was run through an online translator, which are not the most accurate tools in the world, depending on the languages. There were instances of words like “backboneless” (spineless?) and odd phrasing like “It is not so easy to take the rest of free paces.” In that case of that sentence, I assumed the voice over the radio was speaking about the overcrowded hospitals; they had no more space to take in sick people.
However, the dialogue and other written items you’ll find throughout the game (newspaper articles, flyers) only serves to give background information necessary to understand the context of the world. Each of the four endings are told almost entirely through visuals, transcending any language barrier. In fact, I bet most people would be able to figure out what was going on even if they did not speak Russian or English. It’s the post-apocalyptic landscape, decimated corpses, and bleak tone that contributes to the context of the world. You don’t necessarily need to sort out the translation machine-dialogue to understand main characters’ journey.
There are also several flashbacks that help to explain the characters’ backstory, giving you a glimpse into what their lives were like prior to the end of the world and how that affects their motivations.
There were a couple of awkward interactions with other characters, one being a guy who gives you the lock pick that allows you to complete the final step of your journey. It felt out of place to randomly come upon a stranger who first tells you to stop breathing down his neck, then tells you how great batteries are, and then offers you a lock pick if you do a favor for him. Before this, you’ll run into another man who recognizes that you aren’t from that area and basically tells you to watch your back. Both interactions contradict one another, yet the foreboding man has a more realistic disposition in this world than the guy that gives away free lock picks.
I ran into one particularly frustrating moment when I entered the room with the statues (which, by the way, had awesome, intimidating battle-ready music) that I attributed to a glitch. If I ran out of ammo for my machine gun and then picked up some more, my character would not reload; it was as if I was still out of ammo. The only way for me to get around this was to let the statues beat me to death so I could restart the chapter, collect all the ammo in the room first, and then kill the statues. The entire time I was worried about running out of ammo because I also could not switch between the weapons in my inventory. If the mechanics at this part of the game were set like this on purpose, the reasoning behind it is lost on me.
35MM may not grab you at first. The English subtitles may be confusing, and you may say to yourself “what’s the point of this game”? Just ask yourself “what’s the point of life”? You might be surprised how close your answer is to the game’s.
There are no heroes in 35MM – just the cold hard reality of life for the average man trying to make it in a screwed-up world.
35MM was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer/Publisher: Носков Сергей | Genre: Walking simulator, Post-apocalyptic | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: NR | Release Date: May 27, 2016