Many game developers around the world are fascinated with the post-apocalyptic setting. But dilapidated buildings, rusty cars carcasses and the whole theme of wasteland on the ruins of civilization hold a really special place in Russian soul.
The USSR collapse was in many ways similar experience to nuclear apocalypse, so quite a few post-Soviet computer users took a special liking in Fallout series that was released at the end of the 90s just when Russia started to rise from the ashes. And no wonder that some of those who grew up with Fallout tried to recreate the experience.
ATOM RPG is not just one of those attempts. It’s practically a replica of Fallout dilogy. Of course with a few adjustments to the progression system (just enough to avoid lawsuits) and its own story, based on Russian culture, folklore and humor.
A Post-Apocalyptic Indie Game
Ok, if you aren’t (for some inexplicable reason) familiar with original Fallout(s), here is the basics: you wandering around a vast part of post-nuclear war wasteland, entering settlements and meeting random folks on the global map. Depending on your character’s skills you can settle your differences peacefully through dialog choices or violently by turn-based combat.
There are also some supplementary activities, like pickpocketing or repairing/operating machinery. Obviously, a probability of success depends on corresponding skills. In some cases, you can use your party members to help (then it is their skills that determine success).
As for the combat, it’s pretty simple. You, your enemies and your allies act in turn (sequence depends on each one’s Dexterity). And during your turn, you can do everything as long as you have enough Action Points (amount of AP also depends on Dexterity). I must add that ATOM developers made a somewhat controversial choice to allow manipulate and use all items in inventory without spending AP at all, but actually opening inventory each time costs 4 AP – a rather significant amount.
You can issue commands to your party members in combat, but they are quite limited. Call for cover or retreat, point out specific target or position on the battlefield, but no way to make them use a certain weapon. Unless before the fight you just take away all their weapons and armor except one, they will choose what to use and what to wear. And never give your companions grenades. NEVER.
Unlike original Fallout(s) ATOM has a crafting system. It’s also rather straightforward – you put items in four slots (each slot can hold several items of one type) and press a button to combine them. If you have high enough skill and items in the slots can be combined you have a chance to craft another item. Yes, you don’t actually need recipes and blueprints – they are just there for info.
Progression is also nothing special. He-he, get it? Never mind. Practically every sneeze gives you experience points. And after reaching the next level you can increase your skills (amount of skill points to invest depends on Intellect) and acquire some perks, that are arranged in a nice “perk tree”. Though perks require their own points and costs progressively rises – so in the late game, you will be able to get new perk only once per few levels.
Main attributes – Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intellect, Attention, Personality and Luck. You can raise them only in a few special cases. Permanently that is, there are quite a few items that increase them temporarily. And some negative states (like hunger or hangover) reduce them temporarily too.
So there is indeed some survival element in the game. You need to search for food to fill your belly, acquire medkits and other stuff (alcohol actually reduces radiation poisoning). Though that could be only a real problem in game’s early stage. Later you will find various ways to restock provisions depending on your skills – hunt, trade, steal. Luckily your party members can fend for themselves. Yes, Russians are tough people.
Back in USSR
The story indeed takes place in some Russian region around the year 2005. The area was apparently far enough from the major cities since it was only 20 years after World War III, but radiation is not a major concern. In fact, if not for some mutants and raiders, you wouldn’t really see a big difference from some late Soviet or early Russian backwoods. He-he. Get the joke?
If not – too bad. ATOM is filled to the brim with jokes, hilarious moments and references to Russian culture (and non-Russian pop culture too). Almost any character you meet can offer you some funny or scary or even philosophical long tale (or not so long, as you may sometimes discover later). But episodes, that would make you chuckle are prevalent.
And don’t get me wrong – I liked most of the jokes. After all, Fallout (especially second one) had some humor too – an opportunity to star in a porn movie (in ATOM you can do that too), meeting Brain the giant mutant rat or witnessing TARDIS departure. But those were rare cases, or even Easter Eggs, that you would probably miss anyway. When in ATOM you meet ridiculously dressed guy from the future (or at least pretending to be – that remains a mystery) asking you to make a certain couple fall apart, so their son wouldn’t become a dictator, or get a bookseller quest to deal with book-burners cult by luring them with complete collection of Lenin’ works – that happens right at the main hub. And encounters like those make you think that maybe developers just a ti-i-iny bit overdid it.
Interestingly enough, the main quest is rather serious and a story is robustly written. Just like in Fallout, you come from an underground vault, entrusted with a special mission. However, unlike Vault 13, your bunker isn’t run by some milksops, who live in a bubble. ATOM is a military organization, that has a goal not just preserve USSR values, but also rebuild the country after nuclear devastation. In fact, on your journey you’ll meet a few other ATOM agents and even will have the opportunity to secure a location for a new outpost.
Your personal assignment is to investigate Bunker 317 and learn what happened with general Morozov and his expedition there. And, of course, in the process, you will learn of a new threat to humanity that could potentially wipe out the rest of survivors. Unless you stop it, that is.
Just like in Fallout, you are free to go anywhere without predetermined order. Just stock enough supplies and be prepared for encounters. You can side with different factions, gather companions or remain on your own. Get yourself into the political power struggle, or just kill everyone for exp and go straight to your target. And good thing that, unlike Fallout, ATOM RPG has no particular time restrictions on the main quest (some side-quests do have though).
Not enough skill points
Sadly, not all developers design decisions were well thought through. As I’ve mentioned, shifts between serious parts of the story and comedic side-quests can prevent you from feeling a consistent atmosphere of the post-apocalyptic game. But that’s subjective.
A bigger problem is imbalanced character builds. For example “martial arts” skill is totally useless, as melee weapon does more damage, and fighting with bare hands doesn’t have any advantages whatsoever. And ranged weapons are superior anyway.
Some skills, like technology or tinkering are applied only in a few places. While others, like social or bartering, have their uses on a regular basis, but there is a certain threshold beyond which investing is a waste of points. And the same goes for attributes btw, Personality is sure needed to persuade many characters, but there is no need to make it really high as certain items give you temporary boost.
To be fair, this kind of nuances are a good thing for RPG and devs should be praised for making so many different quests with different ways to achieve goals. The problem is that there is no way to learn all these things beforehand (unless you read a guide) and the only way to correct your mistake is to start a game anew.
There are some minor bugs and translation errors. They not so much crashing the game, but result in unexpected consequences, forcing you either to reload or to play along with unsatisfactory results. However, there is still hope that developers will fix them – after all, they are quite responsive.
All-in-all, ATOM RPG is one of the games that heavily capitalize on nostalgia. If you are Fallout fan (original dilogy of course), you should definitely try ATOM. You will find there interesting non-linear quests, colorful characters, post-apocalyptic wasteland feel — everything you remember in your favorite game and want to experience anew.
Also, you will find there weird game design decisions, imbalanced weapons and skills, occasional sloppy translation and some grind – everything you remember in your favorite game and prefer to be left in the past.