KURSK review

The Good:
  • Incredibly detailed environments
  • Characters speak Russian, as they would have in real life
The Bad:
  • Unbelievable and uninspired storyline kills the immersion factor
  • Poorly modeled, largely static characters
  • Pointless missions are boring and simply pad game time
  • Espionage element offers no thrills and fails to capitalize on the political tensions of the time
  • A number of gameplay and graphic glitches
  • Anticlimactic conclusion
KURSK review
KURSK review
The Good:
  • Incredibly detailed environments
  • Characters speak Russian, as they would have in real life
The Bad:
  • Unbelievable and uninspired storyline kills the immersion factor
  • Poorly modeled, largely static characters
  • Pointless missions are boring and simply pad game time
  • Espionage element offers no thrills and fails to capitalize on the political tensions of the time
  • A number of gameplay and graphic glitches
  • Anticlimactic conclusion
Our Verdict:

Beyond KURSK‘s virtual tour of the ill-fated titular submarine, this self-proclaimed “adventure documentary” works as neither a compelling adventure game nor a fact-based documentary of the mysterious disaster.

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KURSK is described by its developers, Jujubee, as the first-ever adventure-documentary. It is based on the real life sinking of the K-141 Kursk nuclear submarine, which sank during war exercises in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000. Unfortunately, outside of providing an interesting virtual tour of the ill-fated boat, the game fails to be either a compelling adventure experience or an insightful examination of the disaster, as the storytelling is terrible, the characters forgettable and the gameplay is slow, clunky and completely pointless.

Players take on the role of an unnamed American spy who is sent aboard the Kursk on what seems to be a standard reconnaissance mission (despite there being no historical proof of this ever happening). Those who are familiar with the plight of the submarine already know how the story ends, but even for anyone who isn’t, the game’s opening sequence dispels any suspense, laying out the tragic tale of the pride of post-Soviet Russia.

As the game begins, our protagonist sits quietly in his quarters on the sub as the player takes control using the standard free-roaming, first-person keyboard/mouse combination. The attention to detail really stands out right from the start, with a load of period-specific items to play with as you get used to the mechanics, including an old handheld video. Then suddenly an explosion knocks you to the ground. With red warning lights going off, sirens blaring and smoke filling the room, you naturally begin to panic, desperately clicking on anything to pick yourself up. In this first basic puzzle, you simply need to find a way out of the room, but as you attempt to jimmy the door open, the scene stops.

Flash back sometime earlier, and you find yourself waking up in a five-star hotel to the sound of running water, as a local… ummm, companion is showering. Again the game displays an amazing attention to detail in capturing the location and time period. As you walk around the luxurious suite, complete with typical Russian décor, you can interact with a number of things around you, although none of them are of any importance. You can also watch a little news on TV. Your briefing from HQ can be accessed from the bulky laptop running a pretty good rendition of Windows 2000. It is here that you are introduced to your trusty PDA and its attachments, which are pivotal tools used throughout the game to pick locks, review mission objectives, take photographs, and basically whatever is needed.

The opening credits that follow are cleverly placed throughout the next sequence, as you ride in a Russian military truck through the scenic countryside to rendezvous at the Oscar-class submarine. All the characters in the game speak Russian, with subtitles in English and other languages, which further adds a welcome sense of immersion. Upon arriving at the Barents Sea port, the visual feast continues when the captain takes you on a private tour of what is presumably an authentic reproduction of the sub, including the combat room and reactors, as well as the infamous torpedo hold.

Once the tour has concluded, you are free to move around. Since you are impersonating a high ranking Russian officer, you basically have access to anywhere on the ship, but manoeuvring your way through it is tedious. I understand the realism factor of making the submarine cumbersome to navigate, but KURSK insists on showing animations of the watertight hatches being opened. Taking around ten seconds to sit though each time, you might have to wait for five or six of these just to go from one end of the boat to the other. It’s not a major complaint, but a skip feature (or just automatically skipping them after the first few times) would have been greatly appreciated to speed things along.

The immersive atmosphere from the start of the game disappears in the company of your fellow crewmates – or rather, the lack of them. The ship is largely deserted, in contrast to the 118 men that the actual Kursk carried on its fateful voyage. The vessel doesn’t seem like it’s engaging in training exercises, it just feels like it’s out for a Sunday cruise. When you do see other people, the characters don’t appear to be from the same developer, as the models are primitive and their movements robotic. Not only don’t they physically move around the ship, in most cases they don’t even turn from their desks to talk to you.

The dialog is also thin, with few options for you to select from when engaged in conversation. Even then, no matter what you choose, whether asking an intrusive question or aggressively replying to a commanding officer, there seems to be little difference in the outcome. Most of the crew act like your mates down at the pub, including the officers. There is none of that famous Russian military discipline, and these interactions with your fellow shipmates end up detracting from the game’s believability.

This also means it’s easy to forget your main task of being a spy. There doesn’t appear to be anything you can say or do that will arouse suspicion, and there is no real moment in the game where any element of espionage is exciting or thrilling. Your only real recon involves tasks as easy as snapping off a few photos, but sometimes the game does not even explain what information was in a document, just crosses it off your objectives list in the PDA.

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