ATOM RPG is a turn-based, post-apocalyptic indie game inspired by legendary titles such as Fallout, Dues Ex and Baldur’s Gate. This alone was enough to peak my interest, especially since the said project was a work of an devoted indie developer. After hearing this, I was eager to jump in and check this game out. Obviously, by invoking the great Fallout, the godfather of all cRPGs, the developer has set the evaluation bar pretty high. In light of this I felt it would only be appropriate to judge ATOM RPG by the standards of the original Fallout games.*
*(by that I mean the real RPG, isometric Fallout 1 & 2 games, not the Bethesda’s continuation of the franchise)
Post-apocalyptic Soviet Wasteland
ATOM RPG is set in post-apocalyptic Soviet Union, after the nuclear holocaust that occurred in 1986 rendered the world pretty much inhabitable. The Russian Wasteland is not a hospitable place, and survivors are having a hard time adapting to the new, harsh reality of dog-eats-dog natural order. In addition to that, there is also a conspiracy aiming to eradicate what is left of human species. Grimm story, no doubt.
It was no exaggeration to say that the game is heavily influenced by Fallout. The opening introduction feels and sounds very much like old Fallout intros, which is by no means a negative statement, and gives us a quick overview of the state of the affairs. Bombs have dropped, world in ruins, survivors fight for their bare lives. We don’t get to see the VaultBoy or hear Ron Perlman, but the general impression is close enough.
The music score at the beginning of the game is reminiscent of “A Kiss To Build A Dream”; here we have Golubye goroda (Blue Cities), a very popular Russian song by Eduard Anatolyevich Khil. It fits perfectly!
Character creation in ATOM RPG is simple and straightforward, once again reminding of Fallout. Fallout 1 and 2 sported the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) while ATOM has SEDIAPL… While it can’t boast with a catchy acronym these are in fact the same primary statistics of Strength, Endurance, Dexterity, Intellect, Attention, Personality and Luck. Furthermore, there are also well-known skills such as hand to hand, melee, different firearms types, barter, speech, survival, lockpicking and so on… The resemblance is obvious and absolutely welcome.
I would seriously suggest budding players to invest as much as possible into martial arts (H2H combat) and speechcraft since these will be invaluable at the very beginning. This is additionally true due to the fact that weapons and ammo appear only rarely at the start of the game. Finally, the player gets to choose two “distinctions” to round up the full picture of the character. Interestingly, the distinctions are never pure bonuses, but also negatively affect your other stats, so you need to choose wisely. Quite a neat twist.
Finally, there are also abilities that will improve your overall performance. You should choose them carefully, since they can provide you with powerful boosts to specific “trees” of your specialization. It does not pay off to have a character with evenly spread points, since that will render him quite inadequate overall. One ability, for example, is the Fast hand that reduces the AP (action point) cost of your handguns for one point. Final ability of that development path, the so called Effective Training ability gives you a +20% experience gain.
My favorite, the Liver of Steel, makes you immune to Alcoholism. Know your priorities!
After you have completed the setup of your character you will run through a short tutorial that explains basics such as inventory handling, unarmed combat and weapon training in the ATOM base. ATOM itself is an organization that wants to restore the prior glorious way of life by gathering old technologies and preventing all the scum and villainy to take over the wastelands. Also, they are fighting a new, mysterious threat that wants to eradicate what is left of humanity. After the tutorial is complete you will get send off on a mission, but quickly get ambushed and robbed of all your possessions (scripted event – also, spoiler warning!) . Lucky to have survived, you press on with your quest, determined to fulfill it.
Wherever I May Roam
It is good to be able to say that you can choose your path freely, which is demonstrated very soon in the game. As you enter the first village and start interacting with the locals, a number of quests will become available. As you proceed you will be able to decide which action to take and which paths to walk. A traitorous spy within village that tips off bandits can be exposed to the village leader, or you can join the bandits. You can enter areas guns blazing or walk up to the folks and negotiate with them. Your stats matter immensely here. If you have high speech skills, you will be able to persuade people into doing things you want them to. If your strength is very high, you might be able to physically intimidate people you are talking to. Having a high level of luck will be beneficial to virtually everything you do.
Your words also matter greatly. When talking with a bandit leader, he will question you and, based on your answers, offer you missions he believes you are suited for. If you give brutal answers, he will send you on a mission to neutralize specific threats. Otherwise, he may give you a type of a diplomatic mission if you strike him as a good and conscious negotiator. In short, the freedom granted to the player is huge, and your decisions will significantly shape your journey, just like in Fallout 1 & 2.
Let us be clear about one thing – ATOM RPG is hard core. Even on normal setting, you will be hard pressed to advance forward. Weapons are rare, ammunition even scarcer, and enemies are all over the place. I ran into packs of mutated insects and rats in the open world and was eliminated very quickly after I foolishly allowed the beasts to totally surround me. You are not the superhero of the Wasteland, at least not in the beginning. You are just another grunt, trying to survive long enough to get better gear and expand his skills. Wandering groups of bandits, mutated wildlife, random caravans and much more will get in your way. Try to avoid unnecessary confrontations whenever possible, since they tend to cost you more in health and resources than they benefit you with experience and loot.
Martial arts are a good investment, especially in the beginning. Ammunition is particularly hard to obtain, but hitting others with fists doesn’t cost anything. Be careful to have sufficient food and water on you, since this is an addition to original Fallout that was not the case. If you don’t eat you will begin suffering negative side-effects of hunger and eventually die. You should also beware of poisoning and radiation sickness, both of which are common in Wastelands.
In short, the wasteland does not hold back any punches. It will try to kill you as quick as possible, in the true nature of post-apocalyptic games. I love it!
Half in The bag
One thing I thoroughly enjoyed in ATOM was the loot and inventory handling. I know, nothing there is per se amazing, but the overall design, the looks and feel is just perfect for the setting. There are a lot of things you can pick up during your wanderings, from empty bottles, bricks, wooden logs to all sorts of scraps and weapons. Full disclosure: like so many RPG players, I too am a hoarder. In old Fallout games I was always hauling everything I found, including – literally! – the kitchen sink. Naturally, I am doing the same here. The variety of items you can loot, craft and trade is amazing. I am also glad to report that the player will not be overloaded at the very beginning, the carrying capacity of your character feels fairly well balanced.
Different bits and parts of gear will increase your attributes. A pilot’s leather cap will increase your stealth; the classic “grandpa cap” (IIRC those were called duckbill caps?) will boost your speech skills. There are only four slots in your character inventory that will accommodate a hat or helmet, a mask, armor and a shield, so it won’t exactly become an unhinged race for more and better gear.
Music and sound design in ATOM RPG
Music can make or break a game, especially one so focused on the story as ATOM RPG is, where player’s immersion is crucial for the overall atmosphere of the game. When playing in a post-apocalyptic setting, where food, water and all sorts of goods come at a high price and only human life is cheap, you need to feel the desolate vibe, the desperation and bitterness of the setting. It is music that delivers the final “coat of atmosphere” and makes or ruins the complete experience.
The atmospheric music score of ATOM RPG reminds heavily of Fallout without becoming a ripoff, and the soundtrack is something I found myself listening to outside the game as well. The sound design is truly satisfying and fits in the game well. Some sounds, like turn switch, are either identical to Fallout or very similar, once again evoking nostalgia but not getting cheesy.
ATOM RPG is by no means perfect; there are many spelling errors in dialogues, syntax often feels off and crafting seems to be stuck in alpha stage. As far as the variety is concerned, there is easily some 40-60 hours of gameplay in it, but it does not manage to reach the level of diversity of original Fallout games. There are other technical and game related things to pick on, but nothing that is even remotely “game breaking” or capable of spoiling the fun.
You shouldn’t be deterred by the setting, either, because the game won’t force you to know Cyrillic script or be intimately familiar with the Russian culture. Pretty much like Fallout handled the USA theme in the background of the game, so does the ATOM RPG holds a mirror before the cold war era Soviet Union and failing communism. While many characters are nostalgic about the old system, the majority is aware that the world has moved on. The new realities of wasteland have very little in common with the old order that is irrevocably gone.
I could probably continue to talk about ATOM RPG for a long while, but I will summarize my entire experience as following: if you have enjoyed Fallout 1 and 2, you should definitely give ATOM RPG a try. The fact that it resembles Fallout so much is not a problem, nor a sign of lack of creativity on the developers part. On the contrary, it is a hommage to the legendary game and evokes feelings of nostalgia without becoming corny or losing its own identity. It is a game that the “old skool” Fallout players will definitely enjoy, but it is also a game that many fans of late 90’s and early 2000 RPG will find very appealing as well.