The Dogs of War
Pechka, developed by MazM, provides a potentially educational experience in the guise of a game. Based on actual historical events, the story follows Pyotr. He inhabits early 20th-century Russia at a time when the nation still struggles in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War. MazM also developed Jekyll and Hyde and The Phantom of the Opera, both of which follow a similar gameplay format. The company’s objective: reinterpret classic stories by turning them into games that create an experience similar to a book or movie.
To accomplish this lofty goal, MazM put a decent amount of work into the aesthetics and soundtrack of Pechka. These are the two strong points of the game. It has a pleasing graphic style, with the characters and background environments nicely illustrated and detailed. The accompanying music rounds out the creation of a slightly haunting yet beautiful atmosphere. Even the short song on the opening screen is gorgeous. I let it play through twice before even starting the game. Unfortunately, this positive gets dampened by the fact that the in-game music loops constantly. It resets each time you enter a new area and this quickly becomes a little maddening.
The educational element of Pechka is supplemented by the Footnotes section of the menu. As you progress through the story, the section populates with tidbits of history and background on Pyotr and the other characters you encounter. While at first I was excited to learn about an era I knew very little about, the information’s presentation couldn’t keep my attention. As I progressed, I accessed the Footnotes primarily to remove the red exclamation point that notified me of new entries. My interest was piqued enough that I looked up additional information online though. Perhaps in that way MazM achieved one of its goals.
Speed It Up, Please
Easily the weakest point of Pechka is its piecemeal delivery. The game is spoon fed to players at the rate of one episode per week. This might seem like a lot, but you can get through each episode in approximately two or three minutes. Currently only a handful have been released. The limited number of episodes might make you expect to move through them quickly and then find yourself with nothing to do.
To counter this, the developers placed each episode behind an in-game currency paywall. Every extremely short episode costs 10 gold coins to access. When I first installed the game, I started with 50 gold coins. I could also watch two advertisements per day to earn two gold coins each, and certain levels had a bonus advertisement that awarded two additional coins.
So initially I was able to partake in several episodes in one fell swoop. But once my coins ran out, I would log on for one minute simply to watch two advertisements and then log off again. Only after doing this two or three times could I start another episode. And then after playing for a few brief minutes, the episode was over. Rinse and repeat. To say this was tedious would be an understatement.
Luckily, a recent app update increased the amount earned from watching the two advertisements to eight gold each. So now you can obtain 16 to 18 coins per day, meaning you can enjoy a whopping one or two episodes a day. While this is an improvement, it’s still insufficient and makes Pechka feel like playing an extremely drawn-out stop motion film. Of course, for the paltry sum of $1.99 a month, you can access all episodes for free and unlock premium conversations. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
A Lesson Learned
The developers have tried to dramatize Pyotr’s plight and really make the player commiserate with the distress that he’s feeling. But we’re kind of tossed into the middle of this story. Pyotr is a character with no real development. Yes, we receive a biography via the notebook that literally spells out the languages he speaks, what his voice sounds like, and little morsels about who he is. However, even this fails to help the player establish a connection with him, therefore making it hard to care about the story.
Another thing that I found disappointing was MazM’s unsuccessful attempt to make the game more interactive and reduce the impression that you’re simply running from one brief conversation to the next. You can click on items and people in the environment, but you quickly learn that the feedback you receive from this is essentially useless. For example, click on the suitcase in Pyotr’s room and you’ll get the enlightening comment: “My suitcase.” His wardrobe provides the important descriptions of “Hmm…” and “I don’t have many clothes.” I soon stopped exploring the game world as it proved an unamusing waste of time. This is unfortunate because Pechka’s environment was given depth and detail and yet doesn’t really serve a purpose.
And this might seem nitpicky but, for an educative game, I found the number of typos in the text to be a little excessive. The amount varied from episode to episode. Sometimes I would encounter two; other times there were four or five. Given that the core of the game is text-based, more attention should have been paid to ensure that this part of the game’s presentation was polished. It’s like opening a school textbook that’s full of misspellings.
Is It Hardcore?
MazM’s Pechka offers an intriguing concept that piqued my curiosity but ultimately disappointed. While the music and visuals pass the test, Pechka’s uninteresting information delivery combined with a story locked behind a paywall just made me lose interest.