35mm, named after the most common film used in cameras, it is also a 2016 first-person survival puzzle game, with horror and shooter-like action elements by indy developer Sergey Noskov that has been ported to console for release in March 2022.
In 2014 a deadly Ebola-like epidemic spreads rapidly around the globe, but unlike our COVID, this disease has an 80%+ mortality rate. The epidemic quickly overwhelms society, and the world as we know it crumbles. In 35mm, the player takes on the role of Bill Petrovich after the epidemic decimated society and most of the human race and sets out on a journey across the land that was once Russia in search of something or someone.
Starting this game, there was one thing that immediately caught my attention. That 35mm is entirely in Russian. The game has English (and a nice selection of other language) subtitles, of course, but the voice acting is Russian and Russian only. I think that this is great. Too often, we are presented with the highly unrealistic scenario where games set in non-English speaking countries have a completely English-speaking cast. This helped immerse me into the story, and I think it was a great call by solo developer Sergey Noskov. It’s quite possible that the game’s tiny budget didn’t allow for multiple casts, but even if that’s the case, it’s better off for it.
As the game begins, the player ventures across a drab and dreary Russian countryside, what towards, we are unsure at this stage. Initially, the play area seems gigantic, especially for the game’s modest (under 10gb) size. Sergey did a great job of making the world appear larger than it is using lighting and weather, such as fog. When starting out, the player isn’t given any indication of what the controller buttons do other than the obvious sticks to move, but the whole layout is listed in the pause menu. This is important because the controls aren’t your usual first-person style.
Petrovich, the player’s character, has a fellow traveller with him. I’m unsure if the traveller’s name was revealed, but his role in the game is mainly to provide guidance to the player on where to go (in the form of only following the player if they’re going in the right direction). He also provides knowledge of the predicament the two are in throughout the campaign with some monologues and short discussions with the player. All in all, there isn’t much of a story to sink your teeth into when taken at face value. The meat of the story, who we are, why we’re here, is learned via collectables such as photographs and newspapers. Some radios scattered throughout the game world also enlighten us on the state of the human race. Once the player realises that a lot of information is hidden throughout each chapter, you feel the need to check every nook and cranny for more morsels of information.
The developer has done a great job of making the world feel interesting and encouraging you to explore each area thoroughly. Just don’t go too far, or you will be met with the poorly translated line “we don’t need to go far” and an invisible wall.
Speaking of translation, there is room for improvement as with the games English translation, with obvious errors breaking immersion at some points along the way. The one glaring example that stood out to me was when a character asked for a cigarette; the subtitle read “Can you buy a cigarette” rather than something along the lines of “Can you spare a cigarette.” With a single developer taking on this relatively large project, some small things are bound to slip through the cracks.
You may have noticed that I’ve got this far into writing about a game named after camera film without mentioning the camera gameplay. That wasn’t intentional; the camera doesn’t really play a big part in this game unless you want it to. There was only one forced use of the camera during the whole story, and I only used it voluntarily two or three times. Photography does come up in conversation once, but it is in no way a big part of the plot. I thought this was strange, given the extensive photography mechanics of the 35mm camera. The player can control depth of field, exposure, and focal length, among other things. All that sounds great, but why? There was no reason to take photos, and unless the player is a photographer themself and find joy in using the camera, I don’t know why anyone would. I thought that maybe all the photos taken would be shown at the end of the game or something similar, but they weren’t; they were just gone. The player doesn’t even have the ability to view the photos taken during the game. I feel that the camera mechanic was likely what started the journey of developing this game for Sergey, but maybe it fell by the wayside during development.
The survival part of the game is also in the background. The player needs to eat to stay alive and requires batteries for their torch and medkits for any injuries they may suffer, but it didn’t feel like it was tough to survive throughout.
The actual main focus of this game are the puzzles and investigation. These days it’s hard to come up with anything “new” and “different” to get the player thinking, and minigames or puzzles tend to be boring and monotonous. Sergey didn’t have this problem. There are some really interesting puzzles in 35mm. I went from finding a way to power an elevator using a generator to putting together a literal jigsaw puzzle. I even found myself slaving over a metalwork table. The various brainteasers are excellent and keep the player engaged, trying to find a way to the next chapter.
In my time with the game I did encounter a couple of bugs but nothing that was game breaking. The main and rather humourous bug had me flying 10 or so metres into the air when I accidentally stood in the way of a walking NPC.
35mm features three possible story endings that occur depending on the players choices and level of exploration during the campaign. While the player could easily get their preferred ending by following a guide, I recommend doing at least one playthrough blind. The game only runs about 6 hours with moderate exploration, so it’s not a big undertaking to go back if the player is looking for 100% completion. Chapters can also be replayed to collect missed achievements, but the ending will not change due to anything done differently in the selected chapter, so three full playthroughs are needed to get 1000 gamerscore.
35mm is a low-budget game from a single developer and it does show throughout the game. Things like muffling and static in sound effects and obvious sound loops including footsteps and, at one point, a frequent cough/splutter all start to get irritating. Sound loops are used in all video games, but they are generally much less noticeable. Repeated visual assets were also very prominent in 35mm, with ground assets being the big one with the ground in most places reminding me of the original Medal of Honor.
Given that this game is actually six years old, it’s understandable that the graphics aren’t on par with today’s new releases. Also, remembering that a single developer created this game helped me look past these details, and I’m glad I did.
35mm offers a post-epidemic single player experience with no option to bring a friend along for the journey in any co-op mode. Due to the nature of the game the solo experience helps with immersion but it’s the nature of the game that will also having you playing it at later hours away from the prying eyes of the kids.