Game characters have a hard time of it, but Boris has it harder than most. Arrested by the KGB for slighting the great Russian nation, he is given the option of death or servitude. He goes for the latter, and is given the job of manning an anti-ballistic missile battery, shooting down any rockets that might arc towards Russia. As it turns out, several have to be destroyed every day, and most are aimed at the very battery that you are in, so the stakes are pretty high.
What makes it worse, making you feel sympathy for poor Boris, is that there are barely any missiles in the silos. So, while rockets loop towards you, you have to manufacture the missiles that might save your skin. And to make those missiles, you have to brave the Siberian cold. And in that cold is a bear.
Boris the Rocket is hard to classify. It’s in a traditional first-person view, and you can run, jump and press a ‘use’ button which opens doors, twiddles knobs and pushes buttons. But it’s not an FPS or an adventure game. Instead, it’s a game that rewards you for following instructions to the letter; it’s a list of commands that you have to commit to memory, and it sits somewhere between process-oriented games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and the second season of Lost, where the character Desmond has to input the same 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 code every day.
In Boris the Rocket, you start each day with rockets approaching, and you have to sprint to various machines that give you the ability to shoot them down. At the start, you will be using a radar to work out where the rockets are coming from, as you look through binoculars to identify the type of rocket, load an anti-ballistic missile, configure it (red rockets need a heat signature detector activated; green ones don’t) and then launch. If you get details wrong, then your missile will flounder, and it’s back to the drawing board with one fewer missile in your arsenal. If you take too long, the incoming rockets obliterate you and the base, and you’ll be forced to retry the day.
Those are the basics, but Boris the Rocket layers on a new element every single flipping day. The incoming missiles begin to come in blue varieties, which require the triggering of an ECM detector. Rockets start approaching at different speeds, requiring the occasional activation of two different ‘speed modes’. Some rockets originate from too far away, so you need to wait before retaliating. Logos on the rockets tell you which country sent them, with some being allies, who are just using your airspace. Shoot them down, and they’ll be your inconvenient enemy for a couple of days.
It quickly becomes ridiculous. The spinning plates have spinning plates on top of them.
But rather than leave it at that, Boris the Rocket stacks on even more demands. You have a finite number of missiles, so you’ll need to manufacture some. It means popping outside, into the freezing Siberian winter, to trek to the mines for resources, and then lug those resources to a factory where more missiles can be made (STEPAN missiles for your basic needs, and multi-purpose missiles if you just want to fire willy-nilly and still guarantee a hit). Keeping a decent backlog of missiles is a constant challenge, mostly because you’re under attack all the time, and each day is limited to only a few minutes.
There’s a story of sorts too, and progressing will mean an investment of any free time you might have, yet you won’t have any. You will find combination codes that open safes, which lead you to areas in the wasteland, which will in turn give you more codes. If you can find time to follow this story thread to its end, you will have a good sense of what has happened to your predecessors, and how you might escape.
But even walking the area is dangerous. You have stamina, which limits how much you can run. You also have a resistance to cold, but it only lasts so long. Ice crystals form on the edges of the screen when you’re in danger of freezing to death, and you’ll need to rush inside before that happens. A bear stalks the area, and will make quick work of you if you get close. Heaven help you if you’ve left a door open or forgotten your coat. Honestly, there’s more that we could add to this description. We could mention character upgrades, base upgrades, and the ability to make vodka and food. You are never short of things to do on each day of Boris the Rocket.
Yet, with all of these things to do, we found ourselves struggling to enjoy Boris the Rocket. Most of this comes down to pacing. Boris the Rocket is incessant, with rarely a moment without a missile coming at you. That impending doom creates great moments as you’re judging whether you can afford to nip out and construct a missile or two, but it’s double-edged. You never feel like you can stop to take stock, perhaps get ahead of things for a day, or – most importantly – progress with the narrative that feels like the most important and interesting element of Boris the Rocket.
You’re drowning constantly, and we would suggest that Boris the Rocket would have benefited with being more playful with its pace. If weekends were downtime, and you were working through some intense days to get to them, we’d have enjoyed Boris the Rocket all the more. As it stands, and particularly towards the endgame, you always feel like you’re taking two steps forward and two or three back, depending on how well you did. After a while that gets wearying.
Boris the Rocket also does slightly too well at making tasks feel menial. Walking to the mine, to carry one single resource bag (you can’t carry more) and then bringing it to the missile factory takes the best part of a couple of minutes, and you’ll do it over and over again. There’s no getting around it: it feels like work, and while that’s appropriate, it grates over time. You can’t even drop resources to be picked up the next day.
Everything takes a couple of minutes to do, from swatting rockets out of the air, to making missiles. Even upgrading your base requires you to bring resources back from the mine. It creates a strange situation where, while you don’t have enough time to do much, you are also often left with a minute or two at the end of the day where you can’t do anything meaningful. It feels rubbish to watch the clock go down, because you know you can’t build a missile in that time.
All work and no play makes Boris the Rocket a stressful boy. But there is some really good stuff here, and you can see what it might have been. The ways in which it layers on things to remember is really good; it rarely gives you a spinning plate that’s similar to others, so you’re working through a really long, convoluted process and mostly second-guessing yourself. Did I check the speed of the missile? Did I look hard enough to see a label? Did I even activate the missile before I fired it? And then the little video plays, your missile hits, and a sigh of relief puffs out.
The ongoing story is really well put together, too. While it could have been done with a touch more hand-holding – telling me to find a locker or cave within a large-ish wasteland isn’t enough for me to go on, and I don’t have time to fritter away on exploring – the results are funny, and it breaks the chain of rocket after rocket. And while the base and surroundings are, at best, perfunctory in terms of their looks, the sheer number of amenities that you get by the end is unexpected, and makes progression feel meaty (with a splash of vodka too).
If you hate multitasking, or get panicked when given a time limit, then Boris the Rocket on the Xbox isn’t for you. It’s a brutal test of time management and steady nerves, as you construct and configure missiles in a desperate bid to stay alive. For our tastes, the pressure was too unrelenting, and Boris the Rocket could have approached ‘enjoyable’ if it offered some calm moments to go with the not-so-calm. However, if you thrive on tension, and want a satisfying and reasonably lengthy campaign to work through, then Boris the Rocket might be worth a wayward shot or two.
You can buy Boris the Rocket from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S