Even though this game came out back in the spring of last year, we thought it was one of those games that many might find unassuming at first glance. But there’s a hidden meaning in it that we couldn’t get past.
There’s something to be said about games that defy expectations. Where players expect to do one thing but they do something completely different, or the story has a familiar premise but develops in a completely unexpected direction. This is very rarely seen in video games, but Kujlevka matches it well, and this in turn contributes to the extreme addictiveness.
Presented as a game full of satire and humor, Kujlevka actually turns out to be deeper than one might think.
- Developer: Callback
- Publisher: Crytivo
- Release Date: April 6, 2023
It’s 1992 and Russia is going through radical changes, from the fall of communism to the economic crisis and privatization of everything. You play the role of Valery Potikhonchenkov, a WWII participant who was paralyzed during the fighting and now lives in the village of Kujlevka.
One night a UFO crashes into his house, but no alien invasion is expected. There is also no immediate aggression from the town’s residents or the government, as it seems the aliens are content to observe the humans and do a few things they desire. As the only person the aliens want to communicate with, you should try to tell them what the townspeople want.
During the day, you sit at your desk and talk to everyone who comes to visit the UFO. From time to time you will be given advice by three of your friends – Klim, Stepan and Vasily – each representing different ideals and viewpoints, such as being pro- or anti-communist or occupying the middle ground. However, don’t think that this game will focus on political ideologies. All three will give advice on what to do, but only you will make the final decision.
While you can interact with some things, such as the bottle of vodka or the fan on your desk, and you can make choices in dialog when asked about them, the most important interactions are through your television, as this is the method of communicating with the aliens. This is done by choosing up to three words from a small list presented to you as a means of communicating your message to them. From here, you can control the cursor on the triangle to determine things like your chance of success, the possibility of getting more words to choose from later, and the chance of activating a critical success. Once that’s done, you send the words and the person asking for the favor enters the ship and exits with the results.
This kind of gameplay gives you the feeling of playing god, as you can decide if you want to follow the requests or change them to get something unexpected. However, the game never goes into malicious territory as you can’t kill anyone and no real violence occurs. All conversations are peppered with bits of humor and a little absurdity for extra convincing.
While the scenes in the village largely reflect the development of the story, other players will be more captivated by the dream scenes, which enhance the surreal nature of the game. Aside from the initial train-in-space episode, you have situations where you stand in line for food only to see your friends appear and tell you what you should do, followed by an encounter with Jesus as you travel down the River Styx. Other times you’ll talk to a swordtail whose life you saved before you were shot by a sniper’s bullet, or you might talk to Stalin about the nature of leadership and communism.
Compared to the daytime episodes, these end up being more interactive as you’ll be going after items, activating switches, or doing something like smoking a crab. While some of the larger puzzles may seem difficult to solve, the game gives you a sort of “way out,” allowing you to skip a puzzle so you’re not stuck forever. What brings all of these strange episodes together is a character named Thoth, who takes a different form in each dream, but always encourages you to keep an eye on the events taking place so that you’ll wake up.
The rather short length of “Kuilevka ” makes for an easy adventure, so the idea of running through the story one more time is viable. However, a few things hold the experience back a bit. First, it’s not entirely clear what counts as a critical event. Whether you manage it or not, you don’t get the feeling that anything significant is happening. Second, while the game gives you the sense that your choices can lead to a large number of outcomes, the game has an event diagram that shows exactly how many outcomes can occur. Achieving these various outcomes may remain a mystery, but the choices remain finite, and only the final choice truly determines the outcome of the story.
The styling of the game is fairly simple, but remains effective without being distracting. The environments are simple, with good textures and a color scheme that doesn’t use a large range of palettes. The character models look like they’re taken from a storybook, with simple designs that make the stories and dream episodes even more light-hearted, especially with the animations. There are several vocal tracks to choose from in the game, but you really want to stick to Russian for reasons of authenticity and because the performances in other languages are rarely beyond decent. As for the soundtrack, it’s good enough, but not memorable as it doesn’t play often.
Kuilevka is a fascinating game. The alien invasion scenario may be a bit dated, but the story told and the outcome is worth it, as things don’t happen at all as expected. The story contrasts well with the offbeat dream scenes, and the result is a game with a very interesting plot and multiple outcomes. It may not be an amazing game, and the variety of outcomes isn’t that great, but the experience is compelling enough that you’ll want to try it at least once, if not multiple times.