The Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (that is KGB to the likes of you and me), is a mysterious and shadowy organisation whose name is synonymous with underhandedness, sinisterness, and general nastiness of all sorts.
Soviet state security went through various mysterious sets of initials before setting on KGB in 1954 (it was the KNVD in the 1930s that were responsible for 'disappearing' so many people).
Actually, here is an alarming story I heard about the Stalin era from an old teacher of mine who spend some time in the '70s studying in the USSR. He met an old woman whose husband had been arrested and imprisoned in the '30s for alleged anti-Soviet activities. She never saw him again, but many years later she was allowed to see his file. It contained the original information sheet, typed when he was arrested. On the sheet was the man's name, his address and nothing else. The space for the charge was blank and there were no other papers in the file. No one ever knew why he was arrested and there were no records of what happened to him. Most disturbing.
PUTSCH AND SHOVE
Anyway, back to the action. KGB is a graphic adventure set in post-Perestroika USSR in the days immediately before the August-putsch. You play the part of Captain Maksim Rukov, formerly the GRU - the Red Army's intelligence service - and now assigned to Department Pof the KGB.
He seems like a nice enough chap, if a little inexperienced, and his superiors have something of a soft spot for him (they knew his father). He works in a grotty office in Moscow and he gets his orders from a rather grumpy Colonel.
The interface is quite friendly - mostly point and click stuff - and, as a result, the game is very easy to get into. And once you are in, you will be captivated by it. The atmosphere is established almost as soon as you begin playing by the superbly drawn and detailed graphics.
The characters have character, the scenery is scenic, the static screens between sections show (mainly) beautiful pictures of Moscow, and the whole thing draws you into the seedy, scruffy and slightly unwholesome Soviet underworld. (Or, at least, into what I imagine the Soviet underworld is like, having never actually experienced it personally).
Superbly drawn and detailed graphics
Your first mission, by way of introduction to the whole thing, is nice and simple. You have to investigate the murder of a private investigator named Geltsin. So you troll off to his office, search the place, and eventually meet his sister. She gives you a tape, you listen to it, you go back to base and get your next orders.
Now that is all well and groovy, but of course you cannot listen to the tape unless you find the tape machine, and you do not find that unless you have got the key to one of the drawers in the office. But you cannot get the key until you have tried to open it and found it locked and then gone outside and asked the guard for the key (not my first idea) and...
The problem with old-fashioned adventures was that the puzzles tended to be thoroughly irritating in that they had utterly illogical solutions. You know the sort of thing where you could open the secret door only if you had the ruby in your right hand, the dagger in your left, you jumped in the air three times, span round and sang the American national anthem in Spanish with a Welsh accent. Yeah right.
THAT IS ILLOCIGAL, CAPTAIN
Things have improved in recent years. The solutions to the problems are now slightly more logical. But, in KGB, it seems that unless you do everything in exactly the right order (which, first time, can only be by good fortune) you are just as stuck as you would have been if the solution was completely bizarre. This linearity can be a bit of a downer.
Take, for example, the rather more complex second mission. You need to find the identity of the geezer you found out about in the first mission. Unless you see two muggers and overhear their conversation, you will never get anywhere. But it was not until the third or fourth time I had played it tot that point that I actually saw them. Is my meeting with them random, or what?
Once they appeared, everything suddenly came together, but where had they been up until then? If you are going to have a whole section of the game dependent on the presence of two characters, the least you can do is make sure they are there. Isn't it?
Oh, and sudden death. Do you not just hate it when that happens? It was outstandingly frustrating to be killed by another two fools (ugly twins) every time I did anything with no idea of what was going wrong. (It was because I had not met the muggers, without them there was nothing else to do but talk to the thugs and get killed... Aaaarrrrgh!).
It draws you in to the seedy Soviet underworld
At least when you die you are given the option of backtracking to a point before you made your fatal error, but given the linearity of the game, this often is not helpful - unless you have done all the right things in roughly the right order, you are pretty much stuffed. So even though I had the option not saying whatever it was I'd said to make the twins kill me, I still could not progress since I knew nothing about the muggers who were not actually there.
The aforementioned friendly interface has a couple of nice little features to help you along the way. As well as the usual tools (including a 'backtrack' option to allow you to change your mind about earlier decisions) there is a little map of what you have explored so far; there is a very usable inventory; and there is a 'replay' function which lets you go back to see again what people have said to you, in case your note-taking is not up to scratch.
The manual I saw (a rough version) was pretty well presented too. There is quite a bit of info in there about the history of the Soviet intelligence agencies and a little background on the political situation in the USSR towards the end of Gorbachev's premiership. As with so many other games, this sort of attention to detail in the manual adds greatly to the atmosphere and gives a real feel for the world that you are going to be living in.
If you look around at the world of popular books, movies and TV shows, you will see it full of political thrillers. Spies, secret agents, intrigue, murder, cover-ups, corruption - staple fare of popular culture. But where are the games? Floor 13 seems about the limit of it, really.
So there is a massive hole in the market for this sort of thing, and this particular thing is just the sort of thing that will nicely fill said hole. I love adventures, but the Dungeons And Dragons stuff and all its clones can get a bit samey after a while (although there is an occasional gem like Legend) and the comic book style of Monkey Island can be a bit wearisome as well. So an adventure based in the real world with a bit of (fairly) current affairs thrown in is a bit of a godsend.
If it were a bit freer, it would be an absolute classic but as it is, it is just utterly fab.