In 2008, NATO’s intelligence department learns that the Russians have totally demolished one of their cities, called Gorky 17. The Russians claim the place was deserted, and trashed as part of its post-Cold War clean up operations. According to the game manual NATO official report, however, this city was a replica of an unspecified American city, used by the Russians as a training complex for their spies. If that sounds absurdly improbable, wait – it gets more predictable better. Whether or not this city was employed in spy training, its real purpose was to conceal all sorts of dastardly Russian military experiments, including – but not necessarily limited to – investigation into telekinesis and teleportation. And turning the locals into grotesquely mutated abominations, of course. Back at NATO HQ, the popular theory around the office watercoolers is that the grotesquely mutated abominations had rebelled against their captors, precipitating all that nasty total destruction stuff.
Anyway, fast forward to a bit later, and NATO gets an anonymous tip-off that those dastardly Russians have built another top secret laboratory near the Polish town of Lubin. Team One is promptly dispatched to check it out, and like every other Team One before them, is subsequently stabbed to death by monsters. Team Two is sent in to win the day.
I’ve never played any of the X-Com games myself, but Gorky 17 is apparently somewhat like them. From my personal frame of reference, it’s kind of a bit like Fallout Tactics crossed with chess. You spend your time negotiating a dilapidated series of locations, picking up junk and occasionally getting yourself into brawls with the area’s indigenous wildlife. Combat is turn-based, with different weapons restricted to their own firing patterns – a handgun, for example, can shoot only in straight lines, while the rifle can be shot both straight ahead or diagonally. Moving your dauntless little guys around to maximise this tactically is most of the fun, and an authentically compelling game in itself.
Gorky 17 is pretty uncompromising in difficulty, however. Ammo is brutally scarce, and until you’ve managed to get the rechargeable Shocker and/or Flame Thrower, you’re going to find yourself wasting a lot of bullets you’ll never get back. On top of that, any character dying during combat brings the game to an abrupt conclusion, forcing you to restart the entire encounter.
If you’re made of the indomitable sort of stuff that spits in the face of overwhelming adversary, then you’ll probably relish Gorky 17. If you’re not, you won’t.
Technical note: Make sure to disable hardware zoom in the game launcher. It causes graphical glitches and artifacting onscreen. Not sexy.