I've played a great many video games in my life, and consequently I've suffered through many a sup par experience with digital gaming. Yes I've attempted to conquer notoriously terrible games such as Superman for the N64 and the infamous and barely playable E.T. for the Atari 2600, but today I've come across a relatively new game made by the friendly folks that make up the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Yes when those wacky North Koreans aren't starving or being tortured in gulags, they make video games for the glory of Juche. Actually its made by a German company that outsources its IT development to North Korea (how the hell they got investors on that business model is anyone's guess). Thanks to a partnership with Koryo Tours, a Beijing based company that provides what I can only imagine as being a wonderful vacation in Pyongyang, the world can be exposed to communist video gaming.
Now I have a weird obsession about North Korea and spend more time following the news of the hermit kingdom than is reasonable or healthy. The fact that it's still a country fascinates me, and I can only imagine visiting there to be a trip back in time, given their limited technology and infrastructure. To me it would seem like stepping into 1947 USSR, and I'm really curious what that travel experience would be like.
Often I'm told that the DPRK is nothing like what we see or hear of it, but if this game is any indication of how backwards Pyongyang is, I'm skeptical of such opinions. The game is laughably bad. I've found and played better games in the bargain gaming bin of Target for $3 in 1997 than this drek. The game is called Pyongyang Racer, which the title alone makes me chuckle at the idea since there's reportedly very few cars in the country. To the game's credit, it reinforces such stereotypes as you rarely encounter another vehicle. You race around Pyongyang, an area most visitors are restricted to visit anyways, but you don't actually race any opponents. With controls that are actually worse than any game I've ever played, you drive around the DPRK capital with no indication of how fast you're actually going. The goal is to drive into barrels of oil, which convert to fuel, so I'm guessing the car's a diesel, but who the hell knows. You start with a horribly animated traffic girl telling you to drive straight and not to stare at her, as she's on duty. I would imagine a better reason would be that you're driving an automobile and staring at women while in operation of one can be dangerous, but since there's little to run into I guess that makes sense. Staring is rude even in the land of people who believe in unicorns.
Funny how she doesn't want you to look at her when she's larger than the actual car you're driving and takes up a quarter of your screen.
You keep driving and continually fumble with frustratingly horrible controls and sometimes you come across some weird black thing hovering in the road, which gives you information about the site you're coming up on. Sure you can stare at where the Mass Games are held, but looking at a woman is frowned upon. I started to get bored, so I decided that I wanted an off road experience, but the game reset my car back into the horribly pixelated road. Yes the graphics are so terrible they can't even make a street convincing.
There's only two ways you can lose Pyongyang Racer, you can run out of fuel or you can hit a car three times.
It tells you that you can't hit three vehicles, but as I painfully learned you can't even hit one vehicle three times. Thanks Dear Leader for not clearing that up.
There are three things I can positively say about the game:
- It's free.
- It was better than I expected, and is still better than some games the US produces.
- The sites you see are well crafted, compared to the rest of the game.
While you're on your journey you are being constantly being fed a loop of music that is so awful I can only imagine the state police use it to torture people in their gulag prison system. Not surprisingly I got bored, closed the browser, and reflected on what the hell it was I just played.
While I do believe the only humane way to free the North Korean people from their ruthless oppressors is to open up communication with them and the rest of the world, this game is a poor start. It reinforces the idea that the DPRK is backwards, totalitarian, and behind the times in everything imaginable. If this was supposed to be an example of how glorious Juche is, then as a marketing venture it failed more miserably than New Coke. I do hope Kim Jong-Un can motivate his people to make something a bit better next time. Perhaps a RTS game with famous battles from the Korean conflict? Maybe a bit tasteless, but at least it would be more interesting. Then again it would probably be filled with scenes of Americans throwing babies into a well and South Koreans raping farm animals. How about Kim Jong-Il golf? Since he was far better than Tiger Woods, one can only think a game honoring his epic acheivements in the sport would make sense.
"This game was developed in 2012 and is not intended to be a high-end techological wonder hit game of the 21st century, but more a fun race game (arcade style) where you drive around in Pyongyang and learn more about the sites and get a glimpse of Pyongyang." - Pyongyang Racer's about page