1953: KGB Unleashed is a first person, point-and-click puzzle solver set in a subterranean Russian industrial bunker. It is a minimally animated ambient crawler that tests patience and attention to detail. The puzzles that need to be solved range from simple item location to complex yet subtle logic applications. 1953 endeavours to deliver a disturbing narrative, claustrophobic setting, and nervous atmosphere; succeeding in places, struggling in others.
The plot of 1953: KGB Unleashed is a subtly mind-bending take on the clichéd amnesiac escape-the-facility story. While it does succeed in trickling in information that adds toward climactic high notes, much of the plot is earned or deciphered through texts and reading. I found the spacing of some particularly exhausting puzzles followed by text-based story rewards a little too frequent, as I was left hoping for a voice, or cinematic addition to the narrative. The issue with as much reading as is included, or being realistic, required, to understand the events of the game’s story is that the content being read is at the mercy of the player’s interest and patience. While fleshing out an experience with additional flavour, and optional side stories is a great application for in-game texts, the amount of reading required in KGB Unleashed detracted greatly from the adventure.
The puzzles in 1953 were, if I’m being reluctantly honest, surprisingly challenging. Sometimes it was a matter of finding an item and applying it where your character hints to do so. Those were the easy puzzles. At other times they were very subtle, and I found myself clicking a switch on and off for no apparent reason, or picking up a staticy phone because those were the only options I could locate. In between those two extremes were logic-based, multi-step projects to restore, unstick, or open something that were the most satisfying. I rarely had to come up with abstract hypotheses, or induce trial and error for these types of puzzles. This was where the game shone brightest for me. Similarly it was where the amount of text became appropriate and really endearing. Reading through somewhat thorough electrical manuals to try to solve an electrical problem was satisfying and a subtle, straightforward response to a puzzle.
Graphically the game isn’t a real impresser, but it is absolutely successful in it’s visual approach. The dimly lit, red industrial lighting, rusty-grated concrete, underground experience is well achieved. The background has a grainy but well melded look. Musically the game was also quite well done. Sometimes there is no music at all, and sometimes it will creep in with a near missable ambience. The silence of the quiet parts is often cut by the sterile blaring of hazard sirens. The only sound complaint I have is in the voice acting of the main character. While his gravelly voice isn’t bad by any means, it is decidedly American, and makes this Russian game barely recognizable as Russian at all. In fact, most of the text is similarly American-English, and the apparent Moscow underground setting is in most cases lost.
KGB Unleashed ended abruptly and left me quite unsatisfied. It wasn’t a cliffhanger, and they did reach what you could call a conclusion, but it felt rushed, or at the very least, poorly applied. I beat the game in (after surfing the net to see other people’s playtimes, this is a bit embarrassing) approximately eight hours, although for real puzzle lovers and logical thinkers, the game could fly by in closer to six.
1953: KGB Unleashed shines in it’s slow-moving, ration and logic-inducing puzzle play, gritty environment, moody atmosphere, and interesting premise.
The game falls somewhat short in terms of intuitiveness, a confusing story, its questionable ending, and mood detracting voice acting.
1953: KGB Unleashed is available on Steam for $9.99.