Archive for the ‘KGB’ Category

No comrade, I’m Captain Maksim Rukov, Moscow KGB. Golitsin was a former KGB agent and his death is naturally of some interest to us.

KGB is a memorable adventure game from the DOS era that has never managed to escape my hard drive. It’s a focused and non-formulaic adventure game that is plot and dialogue driven, to its benefit. In a game about spies and conspiracy, it’s good to have a certain amount of complexity and intrigue in the plot line, plus some action, and not too many goofy item puzzles. KGB follows through on all counts.

The flip side to the complex plot is that it’s very confusing. The game ends abruptly without answering all of the questions you might have about who was doing what in the game. Little is explained to you, and you’re expected to figure out the situation for yourself.

It’s an example of an older style of game design that expects the player to take notes: if the player does it, it’s more immersive, but the cost is strongly limiting the audience. There are better ways to handle the complexity.

The complexity isn’t limited just to the story. Despite its low emphasis on silly item puzzles, I still can’t play through the game without dying, and I’ve beaten it multiple times. This game is so tough that it may actually be more fun to play with a walkthrough handy than trying to blunder through it, and for an adventure game, that’s really saying something.

You can get all the way to the end of a chapter and lose the game because you did something wrong earlier on. You can get to areas where you don’t have the right item and have no way to retrieve it. You can waste all of a consumable item. You can overwrite your save with an unwinnable state. This is not just once or twice, but frequently.

In one of the more gratuitous excesses in the history of adventure games killing off the player, you can actually get shot for missing plot points.

On the plus side, most of the puzzles are very intelligent, and with some exceptions my standard response to losing in KGB is “Wow, I really did mess up. I never realized they’d think of that!” That’s very impressive and rare for me in an adventure game. They usually do a good job of telling you exactly what you did wrong as well. The screenshot above is an exception.

The sense of intelligence extends beyond just the use item puzzles, which are probably a minority of the actual puzzles in the game. A lot of the game is negotiating conversations, and what you say matters. You don’t just go through a dialogue tree clicking all the options to see all the content in this game: Many people remember what you say, and it has ramifications into the future; saying the wrong thing to the wrong person can even get you killed. Even if the consequences aren’t so severe, having the game enforce consequences for the dialogue effectively gives a sense of importance to the player’s choices about what to say for the entire game — even when it doesn’t actually matter behind the scenes.

Given how intelligent the puzzles in the game are, it would lighten the difficulty significantly if players could reason freely about the situation and come up with several alternate solutions to the problem.

Although the solutions are fairly linear, the game does tolerate varying degrees of success. I usually don’t care about score in games, but in KGB, some things are unnecessary to win but are still cool, like handling an interview particularly well, or spotting someone that’s spying on you. I feel that these actions that don’t contribute to victory but are still in character should be rewarded with extra points to reinforce good play and encourage completionists. The game Blue Force, which is a light police procedural, is an example of this in action, rewarding you with points for non-crucial procedural elements.

KGB stands out because its flaws are common in its genre and time, while its strengths are unique. Their focus on dialogue-driven adventure stands out most, and it serves the game well, and acts as another testament to the principle that people are fundamentally interesting.

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