Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog

Paragraph 78 (PC, 2007, Russia): Movie-Tie-In-Gamelike-Substance
December 24, 2011, 5:00 am
Filed under: Paragraph 78 (PC, 2007, Russia)

I never saw the unreleased-in-the-west Russian film “Paragraph 78” (2007), written and directed by music video auteur Mikhail Khleborodov—at least not in its entirety. Myth has it that filming the much-hyped flick ran long (it was initially planned as a single film), and so the director (instead of learning some editing techniques) decided to slice the movie up into 2 parts and release them several months apart (pissing off a high number of fans, actually). Is he a marketing genius, or an artist with creative diarrhea? (From what I understand, the first 30 minutes of the second part simply recaps the entire first movie…so you make the call.)

Wondering exactly what kind of movie it is? I’ve been told that it plays like an Alien rip-off—but with no aliens, no space exploration, not really in the future, and not really sci-fi or even horror, though it might have those trappings. Instead, as far as I can tell, the movie plays more like a mouthy soap opera…with some cool fight scenes, guns, and a hint of post-Cold War scientists fiddling with some zombie-making virus (read: biological warfare) which someone releases accidentally. Our small band of military heroes (who are charged with thwarting the infection) stop bickering amongst themselves long enough to shoot some infected scientists at a remote lab. But as soon as the bullets stop flying, they start arguing again over who slept with whose girl…or whatever.

And just like in the west when a junky movie-tie-in-game is released alongside its crappy movie counterpart, the Russians rush to do the same for the hardcore fans (read: the fools with money to burn). When I initially encountered this game on the 3D Shooter Legends website (check out 3DSL in all its encyclopedic glory if you haven’t done so yet), I read the description and passed right over it. Its vague sci-fi references, the cast of grouchy military personnel, and its “near-future” setting sounded too dull to bother with—and I was certain I’d not be able to make sense of the game anyway, not having seen the flick. Again, considering the film was not officially available with English voiceovers or subtitles even 3 years after its European release, and assuming the game was also never localized, the whole idea seemed like too much work. I’ve spent months translating games (Collapse: Devastated World, Inhabited Island: Prisoner of Power, Neuro, etc.), and I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of all that. (You can read my tales of woe right here on this blog.)

So how the hell did I get wrapped up in this bound-to-be-less-than-stellar-movie-related-game-like-product? Well, it’s all MasteromaN’s fault. He is a reader of this crappy videogame blog, and more importantly a moderator over at 3D Shooter Legends who hinted that he was working on a translation of a Russian FPS about a month ago. I was certain I had already explored every Russian FPS even remotely interesting to me, so I was skeptical. But I can’t leave well enough alone. When he said it was “Paragraph 78,” I sniffed around the net for screenshots, attempting to determine exactly what kind of game it was. Surprisingly, what I found were shots that looked distinctly like a Russian F.E.A.R. rip-off. I mean, A LOT like a second-rate F.E.A.R. clone. Need I say more? The bell went “DING!” and after MasteromaN posted the English localization files for the game, I hunted it down, installed it, and began playing with high hopes at having found another unknown-in-the-west gem.

Oh, but things are never that easy, right?  The next thing I know I am up to my neck once again in Google translator screens. Why? Well, while MasteromaN did the grunt work of translating all the menus and in-game dialogue into English (and English is not his first language, nor is Russian, but French!), one major story-related item remained untranslated. The game (quite lazily) uses about a dozen snippets from the movie itself to tie together the gameplay segments. These had no subtitles of any kind. My first thought was, ‘No problem! I’ll just quickly find a version of the film with English subs, rip the bits out and place them into the game files! No muss, no fuss!’ Then I find out that locating a version of the flick with English subs was next to impossible. To make an extremely uninteresting story less painful, I eventually found copies of both films (both parts), one with Polish subtitles and one with Russian subs. From there, I could use Google translator to translate and burn subtitles onto the in-game film clips. I was halfway through it before I realized what the hell I was doing…something I promised myself I’d never do again! Anyway, it took a week. Yes, another week where I didn’t play anything but fiddled around with the files of a game that would probably be better left under a bridge somewhere. When I’m on my deathbed, am I going to regret this? Don’t answer that.

So anyway, I’m obviously lying when I said I never saw the film. I did experience fragmented pieces of it as I translated these dozen snippets of the flick. And now having played the game (and having had to watch the entire film in not-English in order to finish my translations), I can confidently provide a slightly more coherent summary of what this 6-hour affair entails: You play as Scythian, who is one member of a group of highly trained elite forces, not all of whom get along. (The actual actors from the movie do the voice work in the game, which is a nice touch, and the graphic representations of the actors really isn’t half bad, considering the game is 4 years old at the time of this writing.) The game begins with a solo mission taking down some terrorists in a country setting (tree-lined paths, lakes, mountains in the background). You have to blow up some transformers to release a magnetic lock to get inside a cave, where you do some more shooting. Who these terrorists are or what they are doing? Who knows. Then, in later portions of the game, you are joined by some of your movie counterparts as AI, and together you enter into a lab where scientists have been secretly working on a biological-warfare-virus that turn enemies into animal-like beings, crawling around on all fours and killing and eating each other. Of course, some dumb, clumsy scientist dropped a vial of something, and the whole lab has become infected. You and your pals-in-arms need to clear the place up. Lots of frenetically-paced tangles with dudes in lab coats crawling around on the floor (these suckers are fast!) ensues. The game ends with a face-off between you and your comrades (which is how the movie ends as well).

It is not clear how the first half and the second half of the game join together. Just suddenly, the focus changes. Sad to say, the movie clips I spent a week translating make no difference either. The film snippets don’t really seem to create any kind of cohesion or frame to hold the various gameplay segments together—seriously, they just seem dropped in randomly. To be honest, this is some of the laziest (and probably fastest) game-making I’ve encountered. This is the epitome of why movie-tie-in games have a historically bad reputation…because the criticism is fair. Worse, the game is seriously unstable…and this has nothing to do with the English translation files. I mean it ran without stuttering or frame-rate issues, but it would suddenly crash or refuse to load a new level. At one point, every time I died, the game would crash. So, playing it takes some perseverance. From what I gather, a repacked version of the game, with the translation files and also with a few bugs ironed out, exists over at 3DSL, if you are a masochist at heart. Hunt it down?

Of course, I rarely only have negative comments to make. There are some highlights here too. Two positives I’ve already mentioned: The voice acting is at least genuine, and the character models have been carefully crafted (though the AI behind those models is atrocious, mindless, bottom-of-the-barrel). The later sections of the game in the infected lab are appropriately dark and include the necessary duct-crawling, turret-dodging, infected-killing. Speaking of that, the attacks by the “animalized” infected scientists is funny at first—these enemies crawl around on all fours but at lightening speeds, to the point where they are basically just floating about at a ridiculous pace. Of course, in response to the attacks, your AI pals kick in, and you end up watching this silly, high-speed waltz of monster and soldier twirling about the dark corridors in front of you, with gun muzzles flashing in the dark. I can’t say I’ve seen anything like it, really. Simply targeting these “crawlers” is really just random—most of your shots will go wild. But eventually they go down. Throwing a grenade is generally useless too, since the targets are moving so swiftly. Being attacked by three or four of these infected simultaneously (even with AI help) usually means dying a few times. Jumping up on a table can help a lot. So, another plus here is at least the developers did not go with the standard zombie-walker, though essentially that’s what they are.

Graphically, the game is not bad to look at, given its year of release (2007). The outdoor areas earlier in the game are actually large, with a horizon that stretches out beyond the trees. The terrorist soldiers lurking behind those trees and mountains have unfairly keen eyesight, and can peg you long before you ever know they exist. But you adapt, and headshots, with the sniper rifle, count. The lab sections in the final chapters are claustrophobic, with tons of moody lighting. Oh, and regarding my first impressions of those F.E.A.R.-inducing  screenshots…yeah, they fooled me. I guess the game tries to generate some foreboding quality like F.E.A.R. or whatever, but really it doesn’t—and that’s also not really the focus of the movie either. I guess, what I’m saying is that it’s hard to classify this title as a sci-fi or horror game—you might as well equally call it a warfare shooter. Eh? Gameplay-wise, it’s completely linear, but the everpresent on-screen objective marker makes it friendly for the brain-dead. The shooting mechanic is solid enough (twitchy mouse targeting is a must…no gamepad here). I guess the best comment I can make is that, ultimately, the game is not broken (though there were a few moments where I thought it was.)

I’m keeping this short because I imagine few gamers, if anyone, are ever going to play this. And if they do, they are unlikely to seek out a review of it. (I couldn’t find a single English review of the game anywhere—and as usual, there’s a reason for that.) This is just one of those situations that the game perfectly fits the bill, so it gets 15 minutes of fame on the blog.

Postscript: Right before playing this, I finally finished up “Killzone 3.” Of course, it’s a billion-dollar game, and I’m making no comparison here—there is none. The “Killzone 3” campaign was a pretty good game, especially towards the last act (the beginning was a bit bland and had me worried, but it reclaimed itself to finish on an up-note). Immediately prior to that, I was rifling through the “best of the best” 5 or so FPSC (First Person Shooter Creator) fan-made games, just to see how far that game-making engine had evolved over the last few years, and how the kiddies were using it these days. Most of the games were okay, nothing to really write about. But talk about highs, lows, and the middle ground! (If you were wondering, the middle ground is “Paragraph 78.”)