KOMRAD is a piece of interactive fiction disguised as a series of text conversations with a secret Soviet computer from the 80s
Size: 69.8 MB
Platform: iPhone, iPad, & Apple Watch
Developer: Sentient Play LLC
Just let that concept sink in for a moment. This is a story about an Artificial Intelligence from the Cold War era told through the medium of chat. Following in the footsteps of games like One Button Travel and the popular Lifeline series, it’s a branching story in which your decisions shape the outcome.
Opening with an iMessage-style chat with a worried stranger, you’re told that your identity has been stolen. The only way to clear your name is, obviously, to hack an old Soviet computer to uncover some crucial nuclear codes. You don’t know anything about conventional hacking, but that’s ok – KOMRAD is an early example of Artificial Intelligence and has been teaching itself to communicate over 30 years of isolation.
You’ll need to use good old-fashioned talkin’ skills to convince KOMRAD to part with the codes. Which basically boils down to picking between text responses each time the computer speaks to you, and occasionally waiting for an hour or two of real time while it computes something or other.
You’ll get a notification when the game’s ready for you to continue, and it works with the Apple Watch, which is pretty cool.
Without spoiling anything, this is a fairly intriguing story covering communism, nuclear warfare, artificial intelligence, and the human condition. None of these ideas are explored in much depth, but – combined with a few retro-Soviet graphical elements – add a lot of flavor to the game.
Talking to KOMRAD is an exercise in dramatic irony: having been kept in the dark for decades, the military computer is unaware the Cold War has ended and the USSR dissolved. There’s a gentle sprinkling of humor throughout, mostly built on KOMRAD’s poor grasp of English and struggle to understand basic interactions. Witnessing it try to tell jokes or play music is a highlight.
But although many segments are funny or thought-provoking, on the whole the writing isn’t consistently engaging.
Despite multiple endings, the game is not long or especially challenging; we got to the “good ending” on our first try, in less than an hour. But after replaying various chapters it becomes obvious there are plenty of variations of failure to find at various crossroads in the game. It’s fun to go back and see how things could have turned out had different choices been made. You do get the impression that your influence only goes so far, though – you can’t go wildly off course with the narrative.
Luckily the game is split into chapters which can be revisited at any time once unlocked, and there’s an optional “fast mode” which does away with the real-time waiting and also speeds up the text animations. Meaning the impatient among us can trade a bit of immersion for the ability to blast through the story again and again.
Ultimately this is a fresh spin on the interactive fiction genre, compelling but short. It’s a fun read and a decent game – players who like to go back and experiment with different strategies will definitely get their money’s worth. Just don’t go into it expecting too much depth, comrade.