35MM review

Sergey Noskov’s 7th Sector – a cyberpunk puzzle adventure with impressive environmental storytelling – left us smitten back in 2020, being something of a hidden gem. Rather than build upon its foundations, Sergey next project was In Rays of the Light – a remake of their 2012 first-person exploration-based horror. Its unravelling story was able to propel it along for the 2 hours it lasted, but ultimately, it was an experience all too fleeting.

Sergey has chosen to explore their back catalogue once more before committing to pastures new. 35MM is a belated console release of their 2016 post-apocalyptic tale, originally released only on PC.

Set after an epidemic, two Russian travellers begin an arduous journey through a barren wilderness. Buildings have been ransacked, food is scarce, and decomposing bodies are a common sight. Survivors either operate in gangs or keep to themselves. The backstory is slowly expanded upon as the duo rest at campfires, with our weary protagonist also keen to share their enthusiasm for photography. Knowing that photos can hold great sadness as well as fond memories, their hobby isn’t exactly one that fills them with joy. But without it, they’d have very little in this desolate world.  

The general atmosphere isn’t dissimilar to later Fallout entries and the Metro series – nature has started to reclaim structures, and locations are covered in wreckage and filth. Rummage through ramshackle cabins and you may find final diary entries and old photographs, as well as vital food supplies and first aid kits.

In each semi-open location, something will eventually impede progress, prompting your cohort to stay put while you search for an essential item. This often leads to searching several buildings high and low until finally stumbling on whatever’s required. It’s vital to pay attention as to what’s required as there’s no quest log and little in the way of prompts.

This is essentially how 35MM is structured: several small locations spread across a 3-4 hour story, with a focus on scavenging and some light puzzle solving. Moral choices also appear sporadically – including a scripted scuffle against some thugs to help an old man – and these can impact the story.

The game’s second half is also more combat-focused, throwing firearms into the mix. While the danger of feal creature attacks helps to increase tension, the gunplay is marred by poor aiming and hilariously wooden death animations.

Indeed, the game’s age shows in some areas more than others. The wilderness can look attractive in places, with sunlight shining through the trees and moonlight illuminating locations at night, but it’s still doubtful you’ll be reaching for the protagonist’s camera often – the means of activating photo mode. If you aren’t an avid snapper, this feature stands as little more than a plot device.

This console release is crippled further by a tiny central cursor and equally tiny button prompts that appear during QTE-style sequences. This makes highlighting and interacting with smaller objects tricky. Trying to grab ammo during a gunfight is a particularly maddening experience.

On a similar note, text in the aforementioned diaries and memos are difficult to read on a TV screen, harking back to its PC roots, and typos are common – now a running trait of Sergey Noskov’s work. The axe tool is referred to as an ‘ax’ while tyres are ‘tires.’ In light of being developed by an incredibly small team, on what was likely a small budget (hello, public domain music), the spelling mistakes are forgivable. English isn’t Sergey’s native tongue, after all.

The majority of faults don’t deter from the storytelling either, and this is what 35MM is about – one man’s desire to tell a drama-filled story, limited available resources be damned. The initial intrigue, emotional highs and lows, and dramatic changes in pacing help to offset the majority of shortcomings, most of which are linked to the shoestring budget. It’s just as cold and eerie as it is creaky.

It isn’t the most console friendly of experiences either (even the controls take time to master, with no way to swap between items quickly) but once the core components click into place, as crude as they are, you’ll soon learn that it’s the journey that counts, and not the near-countless amount cupboards and cabinets you must painstakingly rummage through along the way.

35MM is out 2nd March on PS4, Xbox One and Switch. It first launched on PC in 2016.


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