Games deal with the apocalypse in a myriad of different ways. Sometimes it’s nuclear war, sometimes it’s a horde of zombies or fungus-headed drones changing the world we live in today. Whatever the cause of the event, games from the last decade have portrayed the situation with a grittiness and realistic melancholy that examines what it is to be human. 35MM is another game to add to this genre of misery; a game that sits alongside others like The Last of Us. This one though instantly creates an atmosphere of dread, loneliness, and emptiness – so much that I don’t think I’ve experienced it all in a game before.
Sergey Noskov is the lead developer of 35MM; a dev who previously created the adventure romp found in In rays of the Light. He does great storytelling and is capable of creating superbly designed games. 35MM is similar in terms of vibes to its predecessor, but in the same breath it is completely different, coming with a stranger, colder atmosphere.
The game is set in post-apocalyptic Russia after a life-ending event. You play a man travelling with a companion through the wilderness. Story-wise – at the beginning – you are not told anything except that you are together sitting outside a house looking at the road in front of you. There is a silent sparseness to the storytelling that I enjoyed all the way through.
Along the way, you get snippets of character stories and how the world came to be. Some of this is told through flashbacks, while other times it documents and monologues by involving supporting characters.
Gameplay-wise it’s a mix of the good old walking simulator genre with some puzzle elements, survival, and a bit of shooting. In the first person, you have no idea of what to do next. The other survivor you are with remarks that it’s best to get going and then you’re off. Basically, if you see something you want to explore in the distance, it’s best to head towards it. Ruined buildings or cars hold food and water, whilst notes and photos give you glimpses of a past life or inhabitants. It’s pretty open, but similarly you will feel a bit lost; attempting to get through without any guidance. The pace of 35MM is also pretty slow and might well put you off, but soldier on and things get more exciting – especially when you are being chased and other gameplay mechanics come into play.
There are quick-time events aplenty, and so whether or not you enjoy these will determine your take on 35MM. There are also objects to interact with, but personally I’ve found the cursor to be awkward, leaving you to have to hit the right spot for the game to recognise things. There is also some gunplay to be had and while it’s not awful, it isn’t exactly what you would be used to from something that focuses on being a shooter. But this is not a shooter – this is a mixture of many different styles in a fairly short adventure.
I’ve complained before about some of the gameplay, but there is a fair amount to like here in the world. The pacing is interesting and it makes you experience the atmosphere of isolation and loss really well, and when there is a set-piece, playing out an exciting event, you will feel shaken because of the sudden change of pace. There are four different endings to experience but honestly, it’ll be a tough ask to make it through those, carrying on after the first playthrough. You see, 35MM is not a pleasant experience, especially in the light of current world events, yet it cannot be debated that it is again a good piece of storytelling from Sergey Noskov.
Visually and 35MM has a sense of isolation and slow decay about it. It’s fog-filled with low-level mist surrounding the world, broken by a piercing of light in the distance. As you progress through, the game houses have been ransacked and are broken. Cars and carts lie decaying by the side of the road. It’s a grim world that the developer paints, but it fits completely into the story arc and the set pieces. I’ve personally liked his previous work and this certainly has the same sense of artistry. Admittedly, some of the characters and animal models aren’t brilliant close up, but the soundtrack is excellent and fits completely with the mood of the piece – the Russian actors doing a great job with the dialogue and mood throughout.
35MM is unnervingly grim in its outlook. It is more about what humans do to humans than the actual event that caused the end of the world, but the use of storytelling is very good with a drip-fed narrative. The visuals and sound are good, but it’s all let down by some of the gameplay mechanics and controls.
35MM is an experience that you’ll be glad to take in, but I’m not sure you’ll be in a hurry to head back for more.
35MM is available from the Xbox Store