Imagine an alternate 2012 where the Soviet Union won the day during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Imagine instead of Dean Rusk saying  “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked,” that the conflict was solved with nuclear fire, and only the USSR was left standing.  This chilling idea is the core concept behind Nuclear Union.  A Russian pilot from 1962 goes through a temporal anomaly and ends up in this alternate history.  A new state with the capital Pobedograd stands ready to rebuild and reclaim the land “bathed in the rays of merciless radiation.”

An enormous open world awaits, filled with quests, opportunities, characters both shady and beneficial, mutants, monsters, and hopefully for the main character, answers.

Listen to the interview with Denis Maltsev here:

What amazed me is that even in this early stage of development the world is so rich.  People go about their daily lives, trying to scratch a living out of the soil, work in factories to rebuild the industrial base, and engage in commerce.  This isn’t a story about roving bands fighting each other for resources.  This is about the survival of a major state after the unthinkable, and how the central government is trying to rebuild the world, which truly sets it apart from games like Fallout or Metro: Last Light.  I like the idea that the environment poses a hazard, but that these hazards are avoidable if you’re careful.  Temporal anomalies, thermal anomalies, and electrical fields are all present, but you’ll be able to spot them from a distance and deal with them accordingly.  Their visibility was less evident in the build I played, but remember, it’s an EARLY alpha.  The game is already very pretty, with a lot of small details which really enhance the game world.  Even small things like the pattern of the leather on the main character’s worn bomber jacket were in place.  The world feels lived in, which is quite a feat for this stage of development.  Hints of a day/night cycle also teased yet more suspension of disbelief-  I hope this is a feature that is implemented more fully!

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Quests were already many and varied so far, and I enjoyed the heavy political bent of the narrative.  Random encounters with bandits, mutants, and animals were plenty, and the combat was satisfying, even though the camera definitely needs a lot of improvement before the game launches next year.  The combat targeting mechanic is heavily influenced by Fallout 3, but it works well.  Identifying enemy weaknesses is an important part of battle (as I discovered fighting a mutant in an “underground” fight club (hint- go for the hump).  Weapons were solid, and felt powerful.  It may take some gamers awhile to get used to the idea that a “dice rolling” mechanic determines hits and misses, in a style similar to Alpha Protocol rather than a straight up third-person shooter, but I liked the way the mechanic worked.  Am I a bad person because every time I killed a mutant dog during my travels through the wastelands, I felt the need to yell “SIT!” when they dropped?

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I DID find it a bit jarring that the world felt lived IN, but didn’t feel quite ALIVE yet, if that makes sense.  There were lots of folks going about their lives, but they couldn’t be interacted with yet, making the bustling compound I was exploring feel more desolate than it was.  I know that NPCs have to be added, quests need to be fleshed out, and so on, and I’m confident the team will be fleshing things out considerably as development continues.  It must be said that the characters I DID meet were more realistic than many NPCs I’ve dealt with in other games, with a true sense of purpose and definite agendas.  Have I mentioned yet that I was really digging this game?

Nuclear Union is impressive right out of the gate.  However, I do have major concerns about the localization.  I know Denis Maltsev and company are trying to tell a particular story from the former Soviet point of view, but it still needs to be accessible and engaging to non history buffs in the west in order to be successful here.  A great translation (such as the kind Carpe Fulgur provides for Easy Game Station titles like Recettear) along with some solid voice acting will go a long way here.  In any case, I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product in Q2 2014, and you should be as well.