Weekly: Arstotzka Film Presents

For the past few weeks, I’ve mostly kept babbling about Fallout 4 and how much I’ve enjoyed playing it so far. Now it’s time to change it because a real miracle happened: a film adaptation of a video game which is more than decent.

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Disclaimer: since this is my first attempt to write a film review, you have to know that I’m not even trying to be objective. Not only because I love this game, but also because I’m biased against American film industry and culture in general while having a soft spot for Russian films.

Maybe it’s dangerous to use such big words in the age of post-sincerity, but Papers Please is a masterpiece for me and nothing will ever change my mind. When I learned that a short film based on Lucas Pope‘s game is about to be released, I felt mostly two emotions: awe and trembling. As a dedicated fan of his work, I was more than happy, but as a fan of video games in general, someone who watched Super Mario Bros. and Assassin’s Creed, I was also afraid of a disaster – after all, most films based on video games are forgettable crap. My anxiety dropped a little after further reading when I learned that the incoming short film was being made not by a big Hollywood studio but by a small Russian team lead by the director Nikita Ordynskiy.

Thus, when it was finally released on Steam, I pushed the ‘play’ button with a trembling finger…

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Due to its length, the film’s plot is simple. It starts with The Inspector arriving at work and having a short conversation with the guard Sergiu who asks him for a favor. Then the day starts and he has to process the people trying to cross the border, facing heartbreaking dilemmas, taking difficult decisions and paying the final price for them.

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Acting is convincing enough, and Igor Savochkin seems to have been born to play the main character with his sharp features and deep-set eyes. When he struggles to hide his conflicted emotions, it feels like looking at someone who desperately tries to get out of a very deep trap pit, but also reminds the viewer that The Inspector is as much an oppressor as a victim of Arstotzka‘s system – I’ve crossed a few Eastern European borders in my life and I remember the same stone-cold faces and piercing eyes of border officials checking my passport. Another remarkable role is played by Antonina Kravcova. If you’ve ever rejected Eliza in the original game, you’ll remember her sad eyes and resigned voice for long.

20180323232630_1.jpgAdmittedly, the film treats the source material seriously and only manages to capture its original tone but even incorporates the interface and mechanics, and does it seamlessly. The camera repeatedly zooms on the passports when The Inspector looks for discrepancies, at one point he receives a printed order from the Ministry (I swear, the dreaded printer sound made me jump) and, of course, there’s the ominous red stamp. Of course, there are minor alterations, for example the protagonist has a Makarov pistol instead of a rifle in his safe, but they don’t change the overall impression at all.

The only single criticism I can bring is the film’s duration, obviously. It should be at least one hour longer, with long shots and lots of silence, to match the game’s atmosphere and make the plot look less simplistic. Beside that, this is how an adaptation of a video game should look like and I can certainly recommend it to anyone, even they never played Papers, Please or even if they aren’t interested in video games at all. If you hear that your favorite game is being put on the silver screen, be sure to bomb the screenwriters and the director with links to Ordynskiy‘s film so they can learn how to get the job done.

Glory to the New Arstotzka!

(sorry, I had to finish the post like this)

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Soundtrack: Five Songs For Dystopian Settings

The problem with video game soundtracks is that either they become too repetitive after you play for a while or they’re not so good, to begin with. One of my favourite pastimes is finding songs which fit the game’s theme and mood, becoming a new custom soundtrack. In fact, I already wrote a few posts about it in the past. This time, the topic is dystopian totalitarianism.

So you want to be a resistance hero fighting oppressive regimes in the grimdark future? Or maybe just impersonate an ordinary citizen trying to survive the boot stomping on his face, forever? Since one of my earliest childhood memories is attending a Labour Day parade and waving a  tiny paper red flag towards some fat Communist Party officials standing on a balcony, I may be the right guy to do the job and recommend you five songs which will get you into the Orwellian mood.

Our sons will be born with their fists raised up! An anarchist classic from the times of the Second Spanish Republic and the civil war. Recommended for stories set in Latin America and the Caribbean, like Just Cause or Red Dead Redemption, but also for the few games portraying the Spanish Civil War. Unless you want to feel ironic and listen to it while playing Tropico and executing those pesky revolutionaries.

Every time I about a Western rock star or another celebrity doing something supposedly brave, risky and controversial, I immediately think about Yanka Dyagileva and then just sneer. Wanna see a real punk rock rebel? The Russian songwriter and singer was a member of an underground music movement during the final years of the decaying Soviet Union. Of course, being a subversive in that time and reality could get you into real trouble, including harassment and torture by the Communist police, and all this reflected in Yanka’s lyrics. The song above is particularly haunting story about a couple of young lovers getting arrested and murdered by the StateSec for the grave crime of having a walk down the tram tracks. It works very well if you want to immerse yourself into the world of Papers, Please.

The enfants terribles of Slovenian music scene have recently gained some notoriety in the news after playing a concert for the North Korean regime, including the Glorious Leader himself. Even before this happened, they’ve been always known for using Fascist and Communist aesthetics, supposedly to mock the modern popculture and the mindless masses bowing before their music idols, or so the critics claim. Geburt Einer Nation is typical for their work: they took a cheerful song about peace, unity and understanding, and turned it into a cover mixing 80s disco with a marching song. Including a video clip which would make Leni Riefenstahl swell with pride. All this seems perfect for the new Wolfenstein games.

Since I used an image from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, it’s only proper to include a clip from that film featuring a musician who suffers from a mental breakdown and starts to impersonate Sir Oswald Mosley himself. Weed out the weaklings. A song tailored for We Happy Few.

Our courage wants to laugh. Our anger wants to sing. Lonely struggle of individuals against oppressive powers is the constant theme in the work of the Luxembourgian artist Jerome Reuters. Frankly, I have no idea which particular game to recommend for this one, but you’ll like it if you’re a wannabe rebel anyway.

How about you? Do you have any favourite songs which would sit well with games set in dystopian settings? If your answer is yes, then the comment section is waiting for you.

Weekly: Nothing Changes On New Year’s Day

Do you have a song which makes your skin crawl? Do you feel a confusing mixture of emotions when listening to it? Here, let me share one of such songs with you.

All is quiet on New Year’s Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you, night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day

Under a blood-red sky
A crowd has gathered in black and white
Arms entwined, the chosen few
The newspaper says, says
Say it’s true, it’s true
And we can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one

“New Year’s Day” was written and recorded by the former rock rebels and current rock celebrities in U2 in 1983 as a commentary on the political and social situation in Poland after the introduction of martial law. Luckily, I was born too late to remember that period, but collective memory is a harsh mistress and the song still fills me with dread and sadness every time I hear it. Now, I have it stuck in my head because I decided to celebrate the first week of the new year by returning to Papers, Please.

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Winter in the glorious country of Arstotzka has the grey colour of armed concrete. I’m sitting in the inspector’s booth, scanning some innocent soul’s passport for the tiniest discrepancies and quietly wondering what is my worst fear: my superiors, the so-called resistance which keeps blowing my colleagues into tiny pieces, or simply not having enough money to feed my family. Suddenly, I discover that there’s a tiny typo in the passport. “Darżewski”, it says, while the ID tells me that he’s called “Durżewski”. With a silent sigh, I reach for the big red stamp. Entry denied. Sorry, my friend, you’re not coming in today. No, I don’t care about your wife waiting behind the barbed wire.

Perhaps this should be my greatest fear: that one day I will begin to think that this is okay and my life isn’t that bad.

When one of my Polish friends asked me to describe Papers, Please in one sentence, I answered: “It is a very wise game”. That’s right, Lucas Pope didn’t receive all the applause and rewards for simply making a satire on Eastern European communism. As simple as it may appear at the first sight, this game is incredibly profound and offers a unique experience, especially for someone living in the former Soviet Bloc. Actually, I finished it a few years ago, reaching most of the game endings, but when I saw it on the Steam sale in the last days of December, I simply couldn’t resist buying. Maybe I should write a longer post and explain why I consider it a masterpiece. Before that happen (and if it ever happens), I’m planning to revive my Soundtrack tag and make a list of songs which make playing games with dystopian theme more immersive. So, now I have a goal for this week.