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35mm - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Melancholy atmosphere
  • Builds and maintains tension
  • Seamlessly alternates genres
  • Story about the consequences of our actions

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Camera under-utilized
  • Flashlight under-utilized
  • Poor characterization
  • Lack of objective explanations
  • Quicktime events
  • Un-skippable cutscenes

Overall Impression : C-
Short, serviceable indie game

35mm - cover

Developer:
Sergey Noskov

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PS4 (coming soon).

MSRP: $9 USD

Original release date:
27 May 2016 | coming soon to PS4

Genre:
post-apocalyptic survival

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
3 hours

ESRB Rating: N/A.
MegaBearsFan Parental Rating: appropriate for teens because of:
moderate violence

Official site:
twitter.com/NoskovSS

December, January, and February is usually a time when I try to make a dent in my ever-growing Steam backlog. I buy lots of games on Steam sales, and then end up not playing most of them. So when I do go into the backlog, I always try to emphasize some of the shorter, indie games in the hopes that I can power through several before the big spring game releases start rolling in. This time around, I loaded up an independent Russian game from developer Sergey Noskov, which was very well-reviewed back when I bought it in 2016. Apparently, it's going to be released on PS4 soon, so this review is sort of topical. It hasn't really held up as well as I hoped it would in the almost-5 years since its release.

Ironically, this game is set during a fictional ebola pandemic that has turned Russia into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and I'm playing it during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The game was released back in 2016, long before COVID.

35mm is a hard game to classify. It's not quite a shooter. Not quite a survival game. Not quite a horror game. And not quite a walking simulator. It straddles the line between all of these sub-genres, shifting from one to the other at the drop of a hat, but without ever feeling jarring about it. There's even a few little mini-games thrown in for good measure. As such, there's plenty of variety that helps prevent this game from ever feeling stale. Regardless of whichever genre 35mm is currently residing in, its slow pace, subdued, aesthetic design, and melancholy tone remains consistent. It is this pacing and tone that defines the game much more than any one genre.

35mm straddles the line between walking sim, shooter, survival game, and horror.

We play as a mysterious protagonist travelling across a post-apocalyptic Russia, presumably to get home to see his family. He is accompanied by a travelling companion for most of the game. The history of these characters and the relationship between them are never clearly defined, which feels like its setting up for some kind of narrative twist right from the start. Nevertheless, the companion character acts as a sort of guide through the first half of the game, telling the player where to go and what to do. Unfortunately, since these characters are never very well-developed, any potential tragedy or impact of the final twist (regardless of which ending is achieved) is severely neutered.

What's the deal with the camera?

Even though I can't quite put my finger on what genre to classify 35mm, one thing that I can definitely say is that it is not a game about photography. Given that the game is named for the type of film in a camera, and the camera is featured in the game's title screen and promotional material, I would think that the camera would feature heavily in the game. But this is not the case. The camera is never necessary. It isn't used to progress the plot. It isn't used to solve puzzles. There isn't even a recap of the photos I took at the end of the game. Photographs become a major part of the game's finale, but they aren't the pictures that I took during the course of the actual game.

The camera is not utilized, despite inspiring the title of the game and being featured on the title screen.

So I'm really puzzled as to why the game is named "35mm". It kind of set my expectations a little bit higher than they probably should be. I thought I was going to get something a little bit more artsy and creative. But instead, what I got is a pretty straightforward, linear game.

There's also some survival game elements, such as the need to scavenge environments for food, batteries, and ammunition. The short, 3-hour length of the game, combined with its snail pacing, makes these mechanics feel unnecessary. The game isn't dark enough for the flashlight to feel necessary, and so I only ever changed batteries once (just to see what it would do), and ended up with a stockpile of 10 of them. There is a brightness slider in the game's settings, but there's no interface for showing the recommended brightness.

Scavenging for supplies makes up the majority of play.

The proliferation of empty rooms and large, open spaces, quickly discouraged exploration for me, even though there are easter eggs and some environmental story-telling details hidden in the game world for the player to find. When I got to the end of the game, I was actually surprised to look through the achievement list and see just how much I had actually missed. There's also 3 different endings, which depend on the player's actions throughout the game. But I wouldn't feel compelled to re-lay the game. The pace is so slow, the game feels so empty, cutscenes are not skippable, and the plot doesn't branch at all until the very last chapter, so a replay would feel like a chore.

There are a couple awful QTEs.

A tense and melancholy trek

Despite the confusing title that makes the camera feel more important than it actually is, I enjoyed 35mm perfectly well. The scavenging, shooting, and puzzles are all competently executed. There's only a few action sequences throughout the entire game, and none of them aggravated me. The only poorly-executed mechanic is probably the game's occasional quicktime events. The button prompts are small, at the bottom of the screen, and show up unexpectedly. The checkpointing is generous, so failing a QTE won't set you back far at all. I'd like to say that this makes 35mm feel like a product of its time, but even in 2016, these sorts of QTEs were dated and despised.

The biggest success of 35mm is, in my opinion, its ability to build and maintain a constant feeling of tension. An early setpiece encounter creates a baseline of tension and threat that is retained throughout the rest of the game. It feels like it's always on the verge of turning into a full-blown post-apocalyptic survival horror game, but it never quite crosses that threshold -- except for maybe one supernatural setpiece that occurs during a dream.

The visuals are solid for a 2016 indie release, and the aesthetic design is very hit-or-miss. The whole game is gray, subdued, and bleak. It works well in the outdoors and urban environments, in which the game looks genuinely great. A lot of the indoor environments, however, look kind of muddy and repetitive.

Translations are really iffy though. Thankfully, everything is decipherable. There aren't any translations that are so bad that I couldn't tell what was meant. But this is understandable for a low-budget, indie project from a non-native-English speaker.

Translations are not the best. I read this as "So you were a photojournalist?"

Overall, 35mm feels a lot like playing through a short, independent foreign film. It's slow, moody, and introspective, and vaguely about how we are all interconnected, how the choices we make have consequences, and that those choices might affect others in ways that we might never fully realize. It's a perfectly serviceable way to spend a few hours, especially at its low budget price below $10.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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