If you think back to the themes of many games from the last couple of decades you might be forgiven by listing the killing of zombies, the exploring of post-apocalyptic gaming worlds, and the crafting of survival horrors as prevalent elements. Games like DayZ combined all three of these ideas very successful, with it spawning loads of copycats. It taps into the lone survivor in us all, as we are left to imagine the end of the world. Shadows of Kurgansk is a game of similar ideas, transporting us to the brink of destruction in horribly frightening environments. Mutant zombies, wild animals, and other humans are your possible foes as a dog-eat-dog environment unfolds. So clean your shotgun and eat some mushrooms, it’s time to face the Shadows of Kurgansk.
You start this game with a choice of two locations, both set in a hostile world called “The Zone”. You’ll find that these either throw you into the middle of nowhere, or washed up on the coast. It doesn’t matter which one you choose though as both offer the same level of challenge from the beginning.
There is a very brief comic book storyboard cutscene that explains briefly the point of the plot; one that focuses on an area of the world which has turned into a weird wasteland, totally disconnected from the rest of the world. You are in a helicopter that runs into trouble over the zone, crashing. You wake up and then it’s up to you to survive, all whilst working out what the hell has happened. It’s a clever device, giving you a basic narrative at the beginning and if you have the patience, will work out what has happened through playing the game. Fragments of the story are drip fed through the items you find and events you see. It’s an intriguing premise and one that I enjoyed.
The gameplay is set in the first person and it’s all about surviving in the zone, fulfilling quests and learning more about the deep dark secrets. You start the game with nothing except a sleeping bag and the shirt on your back. What you need to do from there is pretty much like most other games of the genre – gather resources off the floor and through your surroundings; stuff like rocks, food, and anything you can lay your hands on. As soon as that is gathered you can start crafting items from these resources. An axe is essential for collecting more wood and cutting things down for further resources. A pickaxe is great for harder-to-get items, like multiple pieces of stone and flint of course. Then as you progress more recipes are opened, delivering more items and useful tools. If you’ve played any survival game ever before, then you know the drill of how Shadows of Kurgansk plays out.
What’s strange about this game is that quests auto-start when you move into an area or pick up an item. You can’t skip a quest that way and it makes things simple to follow. You have areas to explore that have ‘ghosts’ in them; spirits of residents and the ruins of buildings which contain a strangle unearthly glow about them. These have some interesting outcomes that I won’t spoil.
But you also have zombie-like mutants who wander the land and, well, again you know the drill – if they spot you, they will try to kill you. There is some combat though, and you can hit them with your fist or with a stick, but later on, as you discover weapons to use, you’ll need to make the most of what is to hand, mostly as after a while the difficulty ramps up and you can well be killed with just a couple of hits. The combat for me is the weakest point of Shadows, feeling a bit floaty and not weighty enough. It’s not helped that your foes seem to spot you from an absolute mile off.
The game employs a cel-shaded look to its work, very much coming across like Borderlands in its visuals. It does a fair enough job too, with some nice touches here and there. But it can get a bit glitchy, with monsters morphing into both the buildings and ground occasionally. The menus are well presented though, and there is a neat UI design. I have also liked the sparse use of audio, especially when at night you can hear the distant battle and gunfire from across the skies. The voice-over used for the cutscenes can however feel a bit heavy-handed in terms of the drama.
Shadows of Kurgansk is a fairly interesting premise for a survival game but it won’t take any prizes from what is an already crowded genre. The story will keep you going, all as you attempt to work out what has happened to the world, but it’s the gameplay which will dictate whether this is for you. If you like survival games and resource hunting, then you’re going to be quids in, but personally I’ve found the combat – and the asking price – to let it all down.
You can take in Shadows of Kurgansk on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store