(KOSMOKRATS is out for PC now. Distributor provided review copy.)
Greetings, comrade! Let me ask question. Are you good member of the Soviet Republic? Do you like making with the potato jokes that are like shooting fish in poorly made barrel? Is particular Kazakh reporter the funniest person in all world? Does talking like this make you tickle with the giggles? If answer is yes, you are prime candidate to enjoy KOSMOKRATS.
Let’s get something out of the way first: yes, KOSMOKRATS is broad in its satire. It has very little interest in being accurate or even remotely objective. Instead, it picks a single joke and runs with it until the cows come home.
Which is not a bad thing, especially when the joke itself is funny. You play an unwitting space-janitor, sent to high orbit with other ill-suited Soviet workers, to bring glory to the motherland. Whatever that means. While up there, you’ve got potatoes to peel and military-grade hardware to pilot, though not necessarily in that order.
Things start to go wrong from the very beginning, and it’s not long before you’re handling increasingly complex puzzles to keep the station afloat. It’s here that the satire morphs into something menacing, as the stakes suddenly rise from the occasional guffaws to life-threatening, and the tone of your operator makes it clear that whatever is to come, it won’t be good.
There’s a tonal balance struck here that rarely works out in games, yet developer Pixel Delusion handles the shifts effortlessly. Just as KOSMOKRATS lulls you into a peaceful stupor by appearing dumb, it sucker punches you by bringing weighty, often horrific implications in without noticing. Luckily it also sidesteps easy jingoism by introducing a secondary voice in the narrative, one who delivers some of the funniest and most painfully aware criticism in the game.
The puzzles which make up for most of the gameplay are similarly deceptive. They begin easy enough, requiring basic hand-eye coordination to connect pieces of wildly erratic space capsules. Simple patterns emerge quickly, and there’s a noticable (even suitably apt) tip of the hat to TETRIS, one of the greatest games in history. That, too, was born in the Soviet Union.
But before long, the fuel is running low, gravity is acting a mess, and every little mistake becomes costly. It’s surprising in the best kind of way, realizing just how stressful something simple becomes under the smallest amount of pressure.
KOSMOKRATS achieves this by making each success and mistake actually count. There are no do-overs and no second chances. When something breaks, it breaks for good. It sounds punishing, but the experience is still quite accessible.
This is helped by the relatively short campaign, one that changes every time you play it. A mistake in the beginning will change everything on one run, but it’s the choices made later on that will define how things really end. Within the satire is a constant reminder that both space missions, Soviet and American alike, were built by throwing as much human misery at a problem until finished.
What’s most surprising about KOSMOKRATS is how polished it is on a design level. The graphics, voice acting (including screen legend Bill Nighy!), and controls are all terrific as well. But it’s the big picture, how everything works together, that makes KOSMOKRATS feel like the work of a seasoned indie studio with years of experience. Yet this is their first game, and what a diamond it is right from the start.