Six years on from its initial PC release, the Russian post apocalypse indie game, 35MM, makes its way to consoles on March 2. Set in the desolate lands of Russia after a viral epidemic, 35MM is a quietened journey through the harshness of the new plagued world, where survival is the only currency left. 35MM wants its audience to posit on the cruelness of people, of the fleeting kindness still left that can go along way, and of the sentimentality left in happier memories—think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but with more vodka. Unfortunately, however, the poor execution of the game renders anything that 35MM is trying to say utterly lost in a project that is confused, frustrating, and, quite frankly, dull. The tedium of the gameplay is only outdone by some of the ineptitude on offer when it does pick up for “action sequences”—in quotes, because the action is genuinely quite laughable.
After some good reviews for the initial PC release in 2016 I expected so much more from 35MM, but whether it is a symptom of merely a poor console port or misaligned hype for the project as a whole I can only recommend that this new console port is avoided like the plague.
Tedium in the Apocalypse
35MM begins largely as a walking simulator. You’re dropped straight into the wilds of the Russian countryside and told to get back on the road by your travelling partner. What this means is that you have to follow him which is all well and fine except for one glaring problem: apparently this man is the slowest walker alive. You’re left to ever so slowly stumble around your travelling partner, just letting him guide you on while nothing much at all happens – not even some narratively interesting or character defining conversation. Slowness would be fine if there was something to at least grasp onto, but other than some atmospheric audio there is nothing here but seemingly infinite tedium.
You can stray away from your friend to explore more of the Russian countryside alone (he’ll just stand still and wait for you to return) but with no clear indication of what the gameplay is to come this is really an exercise in futility. Plus, the game has no map or HUD of any kind and the map is covered in a murky fog, meaning if you happen to lose your bearings you’re going to just have to stumble about in hope until you find your friend again to keep going.
While exploring you may find small pieces of information that build a little more of the story of the world (there’s been an Ebola virus epidemic that has wiped a large portion of the worlds population), as well as health kits, food, and batteries which get added to your inventory. Again we encounter another issue here: what these items actually do is largely unclear for quite some time. Now obviously a health kit is for healing, implying that at some point you will get into some action, and logic would dictate that food is presumably a vital resource for some kind of hunger mechanic (it is an apocalypse survival game after all), and the batteries would be for your torch that you have at all times. Not quite so. 35MM contains no hunger mechanic so food is merely another healing agent, and one which you don’t need very often despite how much it is suggested that you should go find it (also begs the question why there are two separate resources for this).
Secondly, as far as I could find throughout my entire time playing batteries have no use whatsoever. You can keep your torch on for the entire game and despite it flickering every now and then it never runs out. The instructions also suggest some sort of UV torch setting too which didn’t work, and was never needed at any point anyway as I found. I cannot speak to whether this is merely a console issue, but the fact that I never encountered any need for the UV torch would presumably suggest not. Another point of minor annoyance: the inventory still contains the key bindings from the PC version of the game with items numbered for your numpad, meaning optimization for the console has not been fully developed.
You also have a camera which is obviously tied to what the game wants to be about (hence the name “35MM”), although at no point does this camera actually become of any importance other than to let you frame shots for Xbox’s share function. Again I cannot speak to whether the camera has more use on the original PC version.
With resources therefore being entirely useless or not doing much the whole exploration mechanic of the game is rendered pointless. Why bother straying from the path when there isn’t much to find of use anyway, and when doing so is extremely slow too? So, we’re just back to walking with our slow friend again. Walking, and walking, and more walking…
A Confused Mix of Gameplay Mechanics
The best thing for 35MM is letting you get away from your travelling partner for the second half of the game. After the extremely slow start the game does pick up a little bit once you get separated and are left to explore the creepier undergrounds of the Russian subway system yourself. This portion of the game is much better, having you solve some small puzzles in a pretty atmospheric setting to get through this maze of rail lines. If the game stuck to this style of play more then results would be much better overall. Atmosphere builds well and the environment is actually interesting to explore since there are clear objectives tied to it.
Unfortunately the game then strays away from its strengths into a gameplay style that it simply cannot sustain with its technical limitations. To give the small team of Sometimes You some credit they obviously have some ambition, but with this Unity build when the game tries to bring combat in it simply does not work, bordering on being frankly laughable at times and turns the game into a messy hodgepodge of confused, disparate sequences that don’t fit together at all. The attempt at melee combat with a quick time event sequence is incredibly jarring and extremely poorly animated, but I can at least chalk that down to trying something out. The gun combat however is incredibly poor as well and yet 35MM tries to double down on it with some truly bizarre sequences. We come from running away from an ominous and honestly creepy threat in the subway tunnels, to shooting some hilariously animated dogs with a 9mm, to then a dream sequence where you’re shooting Russian war statues come to life(?) with an AK, and then straight back to the slow plodding walking around again wherein the game just sort of ends suddenly.
Whatever 35MM thinks it is achieving or imparting to its player just does not quite work amongst all the confusing turns the game takes. There is some highlights to be had which I only wish the development could have recognised and leant further into, but in its current state this is a game that feels like something slapped together at a weekend’s Game Jam, and not one that has had six years to improve since its PC release.
Final Score: 4/10