The paramedics report that they were unable to find his eyes. We think he may have eaten them.

The paramedics report that they were unable to find his eyes. We think he may have eaten them.

Posted by CaptainLagfail on May 24th, 2010

Korsakovia is a strange beast... It is one of the most atmospheric and easily the scariest game I have ever played. It uses 99% HL2 props, has only one type of enemy and only the crowbar to defend against them.

As you move through the game, you hear a discussion between a psychiatric patient and his therapist, permeated by sound bites of others recounting your injuries from a previous event.
The game continues as you delve deeper into this personification of your own madness.

Graphics, style and new visual content:

Korsakovia takes a ton of random props from HL2, and adds very little of it's own. The enemies are the only prop I could perceive as 'custom' or 'new', and even then, they simply remind me of HL2 headcrabs with a new skin. I won't go into details of their new appearance. That's easily a sight worth the first 10 minutes of play.
This isn't a bad thing though, as Korsakovia's story is built around the content available and manages to create an amazingly dense and gritty atmosphere. I've never been so scared of HL2's television props before. Seriously.

Mapping, level design:

The game starts out with familiar surroundings. Familiar as in roofs are held up by walls, walls stand on a floor, and the floor is usually connected to the ground in some way. Televisions also don't kill you.
As the game progresses, the walls are slowly torn away and physics starts to lose any grip it had on the game.
The maps are heavily cluttered and often confusing to navigate, but that's all a part of the game's charm. You're meant to wander, always wary of the next door as an enemy could be behind it.
You begin with large open buildings, warehouses and a few courtyards, but then move to almost claustrophobic hallways riddled with an abundance of interconnected rooms and dead ends before finally moving to a point where doors, walls, roofs and floors no longer exist, and you're jumping between moving props. The orientation doesn't stay solid either, as you're often moving through rooms that are so slanted, any more of a tilt would cause you to fall upwards.
The enemies have a seemingly random placement, but their numbers are never certain. You may come across a lone enemy in an entire warehouse, then three of them in a tiny room.
Shocks are pretty constant, but it's the time spent in between that scares you the most.

Story, progression:

There is no set path for you to take and the maps can often lead you around in circles. The sound clips continually enlighten you as to your character's sanity, with the occasional clue hidden within the discussion to help you progress with the game. A long drawn out discussion with his therapist about a particular subject will often have a clue hidden in the subtext. If they mention blood and walls, pull out your flashlight and start looking for messages.
The maps mirror the discussions, and the discussions mirror your mind. As your character slowly regresses into their own hellish delusions, the discussions become more forced until you can no longer be sure that the therapist is even real, or just another hallucination.
I would reveal some of the story here, but I have to say that experiencing it cold-turkey is so much better.


There is only one weapon in the game, and you can't kill with it. It's only use is to remove locks from doors. Your only defense against your shadowy foes is to lock them in other rooms. The game can get amazingly tense as you may lock an enemy in a room only to find you have to backtrack through it again. There are a number of environmental hazards and platforming areas, with the jumps getting harder and at some points near impossible.
You will find yourself sneaking around more than in Metal Gear Solid, and making more acrobatic runs and jumps than in Mirror's Edge once the enemies spot you. Fear will push you forward until you hit a dead end, and fear will make you uncertain of the way back. My first encounter with an enemy resulted in my jumping out a third story window to escape. This is horror as it should be.


There are a number of ways in which this game could be improved, but they're mostly just graphical. Take a look at the charts on the hospital beds at the start and you'll know what I mean.


Post comment Comments
Mr.Walrus May 24 2010 says:

I wasnt too fond of Koroskovia. It was a good concept, but I just despise mods that loop back and constantly confuse you. I guess Im just not too into horror mods like this.

On the other hand, I love the idea behind the maps as they slowly leave you. The television screens were ******* terrifying, by the way.

In terms of your article, great job! You pointed out all the most important parts of the mod. But I myself rate Koroskovia at a 5/10.

+5 votes     reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail May 25 2010 replied:

I know what you mean. The shadows are just fast zombies and manhacks, some of the maps are badly clipped and the maps were bland and confusing.

But that's the way it's meant to be.

Obviously I would have preferred new AI specific to these beasts. I would have preferred custom content, and I would have preferred if they spent more time checking for bugs. But considering their focus, to create a game without visible or audible feedback to your actions, they really did outdo themselves.

I know you can kill the shadows, but I said above that you can't because, honestly, after hitting one once or twice with the crowbar with no perceived effect, I was too scared to try to attack it again and managed to complete the game by just locking them in rooms. In effect, I had taken Korsakovia and Conscientious Objector, meshed them both together and created something all the more terrifying, something even the Devs didn't realize could happen (They replied to an email I sent them).

The point is that making a perfect psychological horror was never their intent. The game was an experiment, nothing more. But the player's experience is so much more than the sum of the developers' input.

If this was more polished, it would get 10/10 without a doubt. At the moment, no matter what rating we assign to it, we are rating something we feel has great promise, but is incomplete. So whether I give 8/10 or you give 5/10, we both know the potential of perfection is there.

+4 votes   reply to comment
Mr.Walrus May 25 2010 replied:

Here are my ideas on what they shouldve changed:

Make the black floaty things occasionally fly around or take small pokes at you, but not do anything like what they did. Maybe more of an effect than an enemy. It just wouldve been more interesting and less annoying.

+4 votes     reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail May 27 2010 replied:

Honestly, it would've been boring. The idea of the collectors was to inspire fear, dread, anger and general annoyance. The worst parts of the human psyche, all manifest in a little screaming puff of smoke that you appear to be unable to dissipate.

In my case, I took one or two shots at them to no avail, then I ran and hid from my fears. I locked them away in rooms and hallways, knowing I may eventually have to venture back to those places as I backtracked through a map. I thought only of survival, not removing the problem. My first encounter with a collector led to me jumping out of an office window from the hallway in one fluid blurry movement. I'm not sure if the game physics bugged out at that time or not, I'm still unable to repeat a jump that long and accurate in any HL2 mod besides sourceforts nade-jumping.

Others just applied the 'hit it till it dies' rule and went on their merry way. For them, an FPS is an FPS, and Gordon's crowbar works on all headcrabs reskinned or otherwise. If not, quickload.
No doubt it's a tactic many of us employ, but you miss the best bits of a game when you probe it in that fashion.

There are other ways to play it. Some kill only the collectors they need to, others try to sneak past, some kill nothing and spend the entire game moving at top speed to get away (me), and some walk calmly up to every smoky blob and whack it square in the... smoky bits... while finishing a third can of coke with the other hand.

The game works for some, not for others.

If anything, the collectors should've been made more powerful. Had the game been redesigned to favor stealth or frantic running instead of going to the midground, it would've been so much better.

+3 votes   reply to comment
madcat1030 May 29 2010 replied:

For the 10,000 dollars this mod took the Chineseroom, they could have done a much better job, but it was still a good mod.

+3 votes     reply to comment
chineseroom Creator
chineseroom Jun 3 2010 replied:

I really thought we'd got over this. Come on: 10K is NOTHING - it is absolutely peanuts. It wouldn't even buy you a single room at normal game dev rates. If you want to put this in context, minimum UK wage is £5.93 per hour from October 2010. This budget is the equivalent of 210 days. For one person. Now knock of studio hire costs, voice actors (at appx £300 per day), split it down to a coder and an environment builder, writer, composer... Enough with the naive comments about budget. If you've got a problem with modders being paid for their work, that's your call... but this is just stupid.

+5 votes   reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail Jun 13 2010 replied:

Perfectly said. To be honest I was just going to ignore the stupidity of his comment ^^

+3 votes   reply to comment
Rikachu May 25 2010 says:

I prefer the game play style of Dear Esther, as in, no game play at all. Koroskovia was alright to me, but I didn't find it as great as Dear Esther. I guess I just prefer the simpler and more unique approach.

+4 votes     reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail May 25 2010 replied:

They are both different games with different purposes, and none of the chineseroom's games are aimed at the mainstream.

I love Dear Esther as well, but it's not a game, it's an experience. It pulls you in and evokes emotion, slowly building up to a great crescendo as you walk the final cliffs.

Korsakovia is also an experience, but it's more akin to the mod Flipside (Here on ModDB) than to a movie like Stalker (Which influenced the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.). It's purpose was to see how a player interacts with the world without visible feedback, but it also lets you see into the mind of a truly demented man and his perceived experiences.

Different, but no less amazing.

+3 votes   reply to comment
rhysthomas May 28 2010 replied:

oooh, another lover of Dear Esther,

Our game, Romley Court has taken heavily from Dear Esther, a narrative environment as apose to a game with atmosphere build on top. Our game and Beta download is here:

+3 votes     reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail May 28 2010 replied:

Forgive me for being blunt, but why bother to borrow from Dear Esther at all? It's a great experience, no doubt, but from your comment I get the impression that you're just ticking boxes to make your novel or story fit an interactive environment.

I understand that it's obviously more than just what you've described above in your advert, and I understand that the original concept was no doubt original, so why 'pollute' your experience with ideas from another, regardless of how good it was?

What I look for in a game besides the story, the experience and the gameplay is simply a new way of looking at things. Dear Esther did that. Korsakovia did that. Conscientious Objector did that. Even Antlion Football did that. I'll track you, but I just hope that at the end of the day, your game is more than just Dear Esther with a new map and script.

Sorry if this comment appears offensive, it isn't meant to be. I just have a particular viewpoint among many.

+3 votes   reply to comment
ptc5010 May 25 2010 says:

I liked Korsakovia, just not as much as Dear Esther. My only gripes are the combat and the mapping. The maps I felt were too open spaced at parts, while some of the indoor environments were too alike, too monotonous. Fighting the invisible creatures, which as everyone knows were invisible fast zombies, was annoying I found. Mainly a nuisance at the end of the game when you are ascending that surreal junk pile. Personally, I felt that the way the enemies were designed and implemented into the mod actually broke my immersion a little bit. It's cool that Chinese Room keep trying new things, but I flat out didn't like dealing with the enemies. What I'm dying to wait for is the Dear Esther remake.

+4 votes     reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail May 25 2010 replied:

I would argue that the combat is the best they could do for an HL2 mod with no focus on combat, and the mapping was intended to be confusing. They did re-purpose the fast zombies, but you have to admit that your first encounter with a screaming shadow that jumps at you was a terrifying event. They re-used whatever they could grab from HL2, and familiar AI movements are a caveat to that approach. They aren't perfect, but they serve their purpose.

Also, I'm with you waiting on the Dear Esther remake. It's looking amazing so far, and considering the person working on it made some of my favorite maps in Mirror's Edge, I have great expectations for it.

+4 votes   reply to comment
ptc5010 May 25 2010 replied:

Yeah. The primary source of frustration came mostly towards the end and also the very end of the game. Whenever you were trying to ascend a series of objects especially as in the finale was really annoying because they kept knocking me off. Again, I did like the mod. I, like you, gave it an 8 when it came out in 2009.

+5 votes     reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail May 26 2010 replied:

Yeah, I actually noclipped that bit out of frustration. I'm generally pretty good at trick jumps in HL2DM and counterstrike but I just couldn't get those ones at all!

+3 votes   reply to comment
jjawinte May 26 2010 says:

I'm a big fan of the work of the " chineseroom " team. Mainly from the wonderful style of the team leaders writing, which truly made Dear Esther so great. The same unconventional exploitative style was the base of Korsakovia, and was just as good, but the transition to the mods environment(s) and atmosphere just wasn't strong enough to immerse me in it and it felt a bit clumsy.

Very well done, granted, but I won't be playing it twice.

+6 votes     reply to comment
CaptainLagfail Author
CaptainLagfail May 26 2010 replied:

I understand. Yet again it comes back to the fact that the visual style of the mod was rushed. The atmosphere is actually very immersive, at the level of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on it's good bits, but it's ruined by certain bland environments and the fact that every single patient in the hospital seems to be afflicted with being turned into a Hazard Suit (start it up and read the labels for lols.)

+4 votes   reply to comment
Cremat0r Jul 28 2010 says:

"The paramedics report that they were unable to find his eyes. We think he may have eaten them."
This mod loops too often and sometimes is just annoying, but, hell, the mood created in this mod tops all.
The Chineseroom makes their work very, very well, they don't just create mods, but real games!

+3 votes     reply to comment
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Released Sep 2009
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