In Soviet Russia, the game plays you
Set during the dying throes of the Soviet Union
puts you in the unenviable shoes of Captain Maksim Rukov, recently transferred to Department P
from GRU, whose job is to ferret out corruption. (Good luck.) Your first case is to investigate the petty murder of a private eye
; naturally, there's more to it, and you become further entangled in a conspiracy involving the CIA, mind-control experiments, and a possible military coup.
Adventure games are infamous for their instant deaths
, but none are so merciless as KGB
. Like Laura Palmer
, the murder mystery is merely a MacGuffin; the real goal of the game is to survive the Red Bureaucracy. Don't mess up and get reassigned to a desk job, don't get killed, don't get beaten up, don't get sent to a gulag, don't get beaten up and sent to a gulag, donít get beaten up and killed, etc
. Your investigation is being closely monitored, and at various points you're quizzed on what you've discovered. Answer incorrectly... well, you can probably guess what happens there, too. Make no mistake, you'll lose and lose and lose, eventually falling into the habit of lying to everybody, all the time
—except on occasion where lying will get you killed or sent to a gulag.
Less a game than a social experiment, KGB
ingeniously evokes the paranoia inside a repressive regime, where an off-color joke can buy you a trip to Siberia
was ported to CD with some rather odd additions. Rather than adding voices or redbook music, they instead cast Donald Sutherland, dressed him up as a Russkie
, and inserted him as the FMV
ghost of your father. They even changed the title to Conspiяacy: Starring Donald Sutherland
- Agent Peacock: Savinkov is described as "a dangerous looking dandy."
- The Backwards R: See alternate title.
- Big Good: Uncle Vanya closely follows the investigation, and is very likely Cut-throat's boss. Rukov is not allowed to enter his room, which he says is full of personal memories. It can be assumed that, in fact, this is because his room contains his KGB files.
- Big Guy, Little Guy: A duo of petty criminals who make a living mugging people and committing burglaries. Lyonka is big and stupid, Petka is small and smarter than his colleague.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: Vovlov.
- Blond Guys Are Evil / Villainous Widow's Peak: Savinkov repeatedly tries to set Rukov on the wrong track. He also swaps the crack with sea salt, presumably to cause problems within the Leningrad gang.
- Blondes are Evil: Agent Wallace, as if the giant infomercial grin didn't tip you off.
- Bookcase Passage: A sliding painting in the art gallery. A nearby statue shows a martyr "willingly giving his life for his faith." Sticking a blade into his chest triggers the door mechanism.
- Bowties Are Cool: Savinkov.
- But Thou Must: Defied in the game's climax. Volvov keeps pestering you to Neck Snap the Gorbechev double, but if you do so Vovlov kills you.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Yegor, Uncle Vanya's manservant.
- CIA Evil, FBI Good: Yes and no. Wallace is the corrupt agent; she deals crack and delivers Protopopov to the conspirators. She initially claims to be working alongside Greenberg, but this is denied by Greenberg later.
- Commander Contrarian: Vovlov. (See below.)
- Continuing Is Painful: There is an "undo" command when you die, but it only takes you back a little bit, potentially not far enough to have any real consequence.
- Controllable Helplessness: In the first chapter, it's possible to be locked in the cold room of Sytenko's meat shop, at which point you will not be able to exit the room until you die about 10 minutes later.
- Cool Old Guy: Uncle Vanya was in the car of Rukov's parents when it exploded and killed them both. He was sitting at the back and survived, but has been confined to a wheelchair since then. Unbeknownst to Rukov, he is still working undercover for the KGB, and secretly arranged for Rukov's transfer at Department P so he could investigate on the New Birth project, in which Rukov's parents' assassins are also involved.
- Dangerous Workplace: Department P is no less hazardous than the slums and mob hangouts you'll encounter.
- Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Vovlov ostensibly answers to Uncle Vanya, but is really a triple agent: he pretends to have infiltrated the New Birth project as a double agent to inform on them, but he actually supports the coup against Gorbachev. When Protopopov is kidnapped and Rukov shows up, Vovlov realizes that the whole plan has gone to shit; he thus makes a last-minute attempt to switch sides, and probably claim that he prevented the conspiracy and receive all the credit.
- Enemy Mine: Greenberg dislikes the KGB, but is willing to cooperate with Rukov if it's in the interests of his own investigation. Also, he's Jewish and particularly hates Pamyat.
- Establishing Game Moment: While cooling your heels waiting to be seen by Vovlov, you can choose to make chat with the clerk on the first screen. He'll either react with extreme suspicion to your inquires, or speak in measured communist slogans.
- Everybody Smokes: You can either offer or bum a cigarette from any NPC you meet.
- Evil vs. Evil: The steadfastly communist New Birthers are opposed by the neo-nazi organisation Pamyat, an equally-crazy faction within the same Soviet power structure.
- First Person Snapshooter: During the second chapter, you are supposed to take photographs of a meeting. However, it turns out your KGB-issue camera is broken.
- Flushing Edge Interactivity: You can flush any toilet you find in the game.
- Gay Option: Rukov can flirt with Yuri, a male bartender. Nothing ever comes of it.
- Genius Cripple: Uncle Vanya, Rukov's wheelchair bound uncle.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Savinkov offers Cuban cigars to people he is close to, notably Agabekov, his minion.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: The USSR's number is almost up, as evidenced by Moscow now being awash with American dollars.
- Hint System: Rukov's father's ghost in the Conspiracy re-release. You can call him up any time for advice, and he's even nice enough to let you know if you've bumbled into a no-win situation.
- Hobos: Referred to as "Down and Outs", one of them is actually an agent in disguise.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Chapkin attempts to stab you with a Truth Serum. You can use the syringe on him instead—but it kills within minutes, so make your questions snappy.
- Your encounter with Professor Tsibulenko begins with him locking Rukov in a padded room and trying to convince him that his personality isn't real, and that the whole game is a delusion. It's pretty easy to lure Tsibulenko in his own cell, then torment him via intercom until he has a claustrophobic fit and collapses.
- Kill and Replace: The New Birth conspirators want Protopopov to appear on TV and announce his retirement (while the real Gorbachev has been kidnapped) so they can replace him with a hardliner communist. He was nabbed by Pamyat before the scheme could be carried out.
- Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: The Enthusiastic Progress Club, a front for a snuff film studio.
- The Motherland art gallery in Leningrad. The manageress is of the twitchy sort; she's probably in the pay of Pamyat (if not actively working with them) and is involved in the kidnapping of Protopopov.
- List of Transgressions: Getting grilled by Volvov results in one of these, right before a game over. The game recalls every single time you botched the mission: the more colorful examples include "denied approved historical facts", and "showed inconsiderate playboyism."
- Living MacGuffin: Protopopov. The game ends when he finally speaks.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Although Galushkin acts friendly towards Rukov, he only wishes to use him as a pawn for the New Birth conspiracy, and in the past has ordered the assassination of his parents. He claimed it was a terrorist attack and to have personally executed the killers, although the "terrorists" he had killed were unrelated to the crime.
- Magic Plastic Surgery: "Protopopov", the sad wrech at the center of this mess. His face has been remodelled to turn him into a Mikhail Gorbachev lookalike, and his personality has been erased by mental reconditioning. He sits silently in a comatose state, programmed to recite a resignation speech when the correct trigger word is used.
- Malevolent Mugshot: As expected, Lenin's picture is absolutely everywhere.
- Mad Doctor: Professor Tsibulenko.
- Manchurian Agent: The Rogov Institute is secretly experimenting on "personality restructuring": they eliminate the personality of a subject and replace it with a fake one, switching between them via a trigger word.
- Mean Boss: Major Vovlov. Doubles as a Game Over Man in most instances.
- Mole in Charge: Colonel Galushkin thought Rukov was a good pick for this mission because he would be easy to control. Likewise, Major Vovlov is using you as a means to destroy all the evidence.
- Mysterious Informant: "Cut-Throat", an anonymous informer sent to put Rukov on the track of the New Birthers.
- Optional Sexual Encounter: You can sleep with several prostitutes throughout the game. You don't gain anything from it, and it usually makes the game harder.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Rukov Sr.'s ghost actually does appear in the unedited Amiga version, as a hallucination inside of Tsibulenko's booth.
- Right-Hand Attack Dog: Mechulaiev owns an attack dog named Stalin.
- Smart People Play Chess: A chessboard rests on Uncle Vanya's lap.
- The Speechless: Yegor. For unrevealed reasons, he has had his tongue cut out some years ago and can no longer speak, making him the perfect bodyguard.
- Taking the Bullet: Vovlov attempts to kill Rukov and Vanya, but ends up getting tackled by Yegor and shot in self-defense.
- Tested On Humans: Most of Tsibulenko's human test subjects are disasters: one patient is a catatonic imbecile, lying in a fetal position and oblivious to the world around him; another has two personalities which are virtually identical (except one is Bolshevik and the other anti-Bolshevik); a third patient is able to talk, but none of his sentences make sense. Even Protopopov is kind of a joke; he can only spout rhetoric for a few minutes and fall back into a coma.
- The Mafiya: Appear prominently during the first two chapters.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Petka and Lyonka, two skinhead thugs, have this dynamic with each other.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Pamyat features heavily in the final chapter of the game.
- Truth Serums: Chapkin tries using one of these on Rukov. Rukov turns it around and applies it on Chapkin. It turns out it is lethal; Chapkin drops dead after answering several questions.
- Unwitting Pawn: Tsibulenko was meant to check on and reinforce the programming of Protopopov, whose old personality had already been erased by New Birth. However Protopopov is kidnapped before that can happen, and Tsibulenko was not given further details, thus leaving him totally unaware of the conspiracy taking place.
- Visible Silence: Right before Chapkin wakes you up.
- Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: According to Greenberg, Agent Wallace preferred "the old days." She has a vested interest in the coup New Birth is preparing.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Galushkin and Savinkov eventually become liabilies to Vovlov as they know of his involvement, so he kills them.