By Nathan Grayson on July 18th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.
Soviet Gulags were not known as the nicest places, so of course someone went and made a game about vacationing to them. Gulag Paradise is neon-blistered getaway, a week of torturous labor for those who are “tired of the same old family summer trip”. Admittedly, TV taught me that everything was black-and-white back in those days – not pink and orange – but I’m no historian. Anyway, about the tedium and discomfort: Gulag Paradise isn’t really either one of those, but it is an interesting little typing game. It sees you both grind boulders with your splintering fingernails and make choices about how you’ll communicate with your merciless overlord by typing out every word, and I think it works rather well.
Each day, your overlord commands you to cleave through boulders like a steel-toothed beaver, because what else do you do in a labor camp? You can be courteous about it, or you can respond by typing out phrases like FUCK YOU. Either way, you’ll end up dusting rocks by quickly hammering out words like “Pain,” “Cold,” “Suffering,” and eventually (on harder days) a bunch of presumably Russian takes on similar concepts.
At first glance/imprisonment, it’s a fairly straightforward game. In actuality, however, Gulag Paradise keeps track of your attitude and a few key choices you make. There are five different endings, and none are particularly savory. For such an initially silly concept, the outcomes are shockingly resonant. For instance, on my first go I ended up, [SPOILER] murdering the overlord and taking his place, given that I spent the whole time angrily, hungrily defiant. When revenge didn’t quench my captive rage, I turned it on others. One sort of tyrant begets another. [END SPOILER]
[WAIT ANOTHER SPOILER] And yes, you can plain-out refuse to work. It produces quite an, um… well, the result is really something. I will say no more. [END SECOND SPOILER]
Gulag Paradise’s roots as a jam game definitely show, but everything clicks together nicely despite the limited scope. Even the soundtrack – a few tracks long though it might be – deserves kudos, drunkenly weaving through purposefully out-of-tune guitar twangs and, er, Russian labor chants. On that note, I’m not entirely sure why the setting’s so evocative of classic Westerns and not, you know, Siberia, but it’s certainly an interesting vibe.
It’s an experience that’s equal parts humorous and eye-opening. Download it here if dull, relaxing vacations just aren’t doing it for you anymore.