The story is set in the 24th century, after a major biomedical breakthrough occurred in 2310: all of the once-terminal diseases suddenly became curable through a treatment that replaced their blood with mercury, with the people who have undergone it known as "mercury men". However, it soon became clear that while that treatment may have saved those people's lives, it turned them into a walking hazard for everybody else. Thus, the world government had resorted to not only banning the mercury transfusions, but had also set up police squads devoted to exterminating the mercury men.
Global riots were sparked once it became known that the politicians and the global rich directing such extermination in public nevertheless couldn't resist extending their lifespans in this manner in private. This eventually led to the government overthrow by the hunters and their establishment of a police state, which compromised by rounding up everyone who had undergone the mercury treatment and deporting them to Mars. Martian colonies were also split into the inner zone for the former elite, and the outer zone populated by the poor people who could only afford the transfusions from underground clinics. Since these were often botched, and the outer zone was poorly terraformed with toxic air, the people sent there began to devolve into mutants.
The protagonist, Matvei Vetrov (translated as Matthew Vetrov in the English version) is one of the hunters, and he believes that he has it made, and only needs to follow orders without worrying about any of the quandaries above. However, his world quickly gets turned upside down....
Tropes present in this game:
- Artistic License Biology: Needless to say, mercury is a poisonous heavy metal, and science moved from thinking of it as a miracle cure several hundred years ago. The expression "mad as a hatter" was coined precisely when it was understood their work with mercury (used in hats' lining) had addled their mind. Even if it was somehow made to heal people, the idea anybody would be surprised people with toxic metal in their veins are themselves toxic beggars belief.
- Collection Sidequest: There are 14 pin-up posters of Russian female let's players strewn throughout the game's world.
- Concealment Equals Cover: Averted. There are plenty of obstacles that are impassable for the player and enemies, but which can be easily penetrated by gunfire.
- Crapsack World: Oppressive one-world government, major societal divides, thousands of people devolving into mutants without anybody else caring...
- Damned by Faint Praise: An unusual example in one conversation with a colleague, who remarks on your recently diseased wife in this manner.
- I'm sorry that Mary's gone, she was a wonderful woman. I didn't check it myself, of course, but you know, you looked happy besides her. They say if a woman makes a man happy, she's either a good wife, or just a good cook. And seeing how gaunt you are, she was a good wife.
- Dialogue Tree: Present in every conversation involving Matvei. They are used for making decisions, too: in particular, every time you solve a case and apprehend a suspect, there's a choice to simply arrest them and have them stand trial, let them go, or execute them on the spot.
- Everything Fades: The dead bodies often immediately disappear, and are replaced by blood pools.
- Mixed Metaphor: Vetrov's chief, John Edwardson, offers one when congratulating him on closing a minor case.Well done, an excellent closed case. I will not say anything about whether you made the right decision or not, I completely trust you and know that none of my subordinates has such sense of justice as you. so enough of horrifying the unfortunate sectarians, it is time for you to fry bigger fish. But consider that bigger fish is good and gluttonous, so it is more difficult to hold it in the hands. It can hurt with a tail or even a fin. Although I do not know myself, I am not sure. Do you think big fish can fight men with its fins?
- Not missing a beat, the available replies to this are "Don't know, don't like fishing, can we get closer to the point?", "Only if you are stoned" and "Actually, I am a vegan and eat only parsley, so I didn't have an opportunity to fight fish."
- Next Sunday A.D.: An extreme example, and an inversion of Zeerust. While the game features a lot of fantastical and outright implausible concepts, it also makes a point of highlighting how little many practical things have changed in 300 years. Vetrov's police car is still a Volga (legendary Soviet-era car); his health is written on a post-it note; the medkit is exactly the same as today's ones; the Russian MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) sigil on Vetrov's ID has undergone no evolution; the cigarette packages have the same black-and-white health warnings on the lower third as the real cigarettes in Russia have right now.
- Shout-Out: Protagonist's name is a really dark example, as it refers to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's nom de guerre "Vetrov" from his time in the gulag, assigned to him by the NKVD when he promised to rat out the prisoners trying to escape. He admitted it himself in The Gulag Archipelago (in his telling, he was asked if he wanted to prevent hardened criminals ("блатные") from escaping and wreaking havoc on the peaceful society, before being told that any prisoner able to plan out an escape is by definition a hardened criminal): it is still debated whether he ever had to rat anyone out.
- Smoking Is Cool: Zig-zagged. On one hand, the cigarettes retain the "Smoking kills!" label in plain and uncool black and white on their package, much like what they have in today's Russia. On the other hand, they temporarily buff Vetrov's HP and accuracy by a whole 50%, and so are highly important gameplay-wise.
- Video Game Caring Potential / Video Game Cruelty Potential: The choices to spare, execute or send the suspects to trial at the end of each chapter.