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No, you haven’t gone slightly mad, Atom RPG: Post-Apocalyptic Indie Game is actually the full title of Atom RPG. As a descriptive title, it certainly works. Coming from an indie development studio called Atom Team, what this game is is an RPG set in Russia, one that is very much based on classic CRPGs, such as Wasteland and the first couple of Fallout games – before they got too big for their boots and went all 3D and fancy. So, Comrade, shall we set off into the wasteland?
The story of Atom RPG is the usual for these games: the world has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust in 1986, and luckily (or not, depending on your perspective) we have survived. We are a cadet at a military school, sent out into the wasteland to find some trace of a military mission that has disappeared. And that’s the entire setup – we are given a location to go to, and the rest of the investigation is up to us. We need to talk to people, undertake side missions, fight nasty creatures and bad people, and generally stay alive…
Now, I have to put my hand up here and say that I do really enjoy an RPG, a JRPG, a CRPG, or anything of that type. So, Atom RPG is already on a good wicket. Straight off we are thrown into the character generator, and my goodness is it a detailed one. You have a series of points, as is traditional, to allocate to various stats, such as strength, endurance, dexterity and so on. If you’ve played these types of games before you’ll know that you can build a variety of characters from these seven basic parameters, whether that be a knuckle dragging neanderthal with very high strength, or a weedy scientist type with high intellect. Obviously, the way you build your character affects what you can do in game, and so these choices matter.
There are also a series of skills that you can assign a different pool of points to, putting points into melee combat or firearms, stealth or lockpicking, and so on. I’ll share a top tip here: in the early parts of the game, firearms are at a premium, so I’d concentrate on melee fighting. As an example, an early mission sees a grateful farmer give you a shotgun for helping him out, and in the many hours after that point that I played, I found precisely four shells for it. I’m glad I made my guy a sharpshooter.
So, having made your character, it’s here where you set out to see what you can find. First impressions are that Atom RPG looks and moves nicely, keeping that old school kind of look and feel. The graphics aren’t going to cause any Xbox Series X to break a sweat, but that’s not really the point; these games are more about the experience than blowing you away with whizz bang graphical trickery. The game is presented in a kind of isometric view, but you can pan the camera around the screen to get the best view of the area that you are in, and also zoom in and out to a certain degree.
The retro feel carries over into the dialogue, especially with the NPCs that you meet; many of them having multiple branching dialogue trees to follow to the end. There are also a good amount of checks that are carried out when talking, such as Speechcraft, Strength and so on. If you can pass these checks, then you can get different results. A good example is again in the first town, where the head honcho asks you to find a mole who is giving information to local bandits. With a little light trickery, you can make the mole reveal themselves, and so move the story along.
Atom RPG is divided into two areas – two zones if you will. There is the world map, where you can wander around and find new locations to explore, and then there are the locations themselves. The world map is very minimal in look, and random encounters – both of the good and bad variety – are relatively common. You can meet some nice people on the road, but you can equally meet a group of bloodthirsty bandits, so you best give your lucky rabbit’s foot a good rub before setting out.
The locations that you can find on the world map are a mixed group as well, ranging from a small area around a crashed truck all the way up to a large city, teeming with life. Talking to people, helping them out, exploring, recruiting companions – these things all happen in the town type locations. And, as I found out the hard way, you need to take care of your companions, as if they die, they are dead for good!
This leads me neatly onto the major part of Atom RPG – the combat. There is only one word to describe it: brutal. From the very first encounter, where you are left for dead (I don’t know if it’s even possible to win the first fight, but it seems pretty impossible) to fighting anything bigger than an ant, the difficulty of the combat is very much on the “super hard” end of the scale. As for the giant spiders I found in a tunnel, and well, that was a chastening experience, as it turns out tickling a spider as big as a Volkswagen Beetle with a knife doesn’t hurt it much. I have died more times to things that would otherwise seem trivial encounters that I now treat every enemy as if they are going to kill me – mostly as quite often they are. Obviously, levelling up, spending the points on upgrading your skills makes staying alive easier, but it’s a bit of a Catch-22 : you need to fight to get stronger, but fighting gets you dead a lot, so there is a definite risk/reward mechanic going on here.
In conclusion then, Atom RPG is a brutal, punishing, yet ultimately rewarding RPG that deserves to be played. It is a huge game, with a surprising amount of depth, and while it may be too hard for the casual player, sticking with it will see you turning into a card carrying beast of the wasteland. It helps that the story is pretty good too.
Atom RPG can be picked up by visiting the Xbox Store