Nuclear Union preview: in Soviet Russia...

By Kat Bailey, Jul 30, 2013 12:00pm PDT

It's probably best if I don't mince words here: Nuclear Union is basically a Fallout 3 clone, or close to one. Sure, it's at a bit of a disadvantage, since any game set in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland is bound to invite comparisons with Interplay's opus. But honestly, the similarities are kind of hard to ignore.



Open world? Check. Roleplaying elements? Definitely. Mutants? Oh you know it. The official website even features a heavily armed protagonist staring out over a landscape that's eerily reminiscent of the Capitol Wastes. The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that the main character is Russian, and he is staring out over a Russian wasteland.



Now, this twist may be more significant than first appears, at least to me. That's because the protagonist is from the Soviet Union, and I personally have a certain fascination with the Russia of the Cold War. Russian stories from that era are relatively hard to come by, and the American media's portrayal of that side of the conflict tends to be hilariously skewed. In that light, I take what I can get, even if it's alternate history.

 Done right, Nuclear Union has an opportunity to tell a unique story from a Russian perspective.

The main character, a Soviet pilot named Alexander Lavin, is literally a man out of time. When the Cuban Missile Crisis goes nuclear, he is inexplicably flung forward into the future, where the Soviet Union has been reduced to a wasteland. It's an odd premise, sure, but the setting is undeniably appealing to a history nerd like myself.

 Unfortunately, I wouldn't say that it gets off to an auspicious start. Nuclear Union opens in a familiar-looking post-apocalyptic shantytown, where Alex and a female companion meet a scruffy looking mechanic. Not long after, Alex heads out into the barren scrubland, where he fights giant plants, mutant dogs, and random bandits before being taken hostage by what amounts to the Russian mafia.



Most of the action takes place from the third-person perspective, where I stood around and popped bad guys in the head with a variety of pistols. I learned the hard way not to shoot at the giant plants, since they shoot swarms of killer bees; after falling afoul of them once, I opted to go around instead. As I used pistols, and later on, clubs, my skills with those weapons improved, and they became more powerful.



Alexander himself is a bit of a cipher. In the few moments that Alexander has to speak, he mostly comes off as a sort of stiff Russian military man. His main distinguishing attributes are his bomber jacket, stoicism, and a somewhat retrograde attitude toward women, which manifests in his insistence on protecting his companion from danger. Granted, it's interesting to have a main character at all. The Fallout series, after all, is built around silent protagonists.



There's not a lot more to say about Nuclear Union than that. I applaud its ambition, and it's a nice looking game, though the lack of recorded dialogue and the somewhat stiff character models suggest that it's still early days for this project. It will have to work hard to escape Fallout's rather long shadow, and to a lesser extent, that of STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl and Metro. Much as we might want to judge Nuclear Union on its own merits, those game games will inevitably loom large in our subconscious, which is why I hope that Nuclear Union ends up giving us an interesting perspective on the Russian apocalypse. As a starting point, a post-apocalyptic Soviet Union starring an unwitting time traveler isn't a bad twist on the traditional wasteland story. If developer Best Way can push that angle and really develop that setting, and their protagonist Alexander, they may be on to something.

 We'll see, I suppose.

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