On August 12, 2000, nine years after the Cold War, the Russian nuclear submarine K-141 Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea. High-test Peroxide (HTP), used as an accelerant in torpedoes, leaked into a kerosene tank, causing a massive explosion in the submarine. A second explosion minutes later with the force of 2 – 3 tonnes of TNT blew a hole in the hull, destroying the first three compartments of the sub. Everyone in those first three areas, 95 of the sub’s 118 men, died instantly.
The submarine sank, taking on water in the hull in the middle, and fires burning in the back with the remaining 23 men. Russia set up a rescue mission, but still stuck in the Cold War mentality. They refused help from offered by Britain and Norway, and then newly “elected” President Vladimir Putin stayed on vacation in Sochi. The rescue took at least five days, and by that point the survivors all died from drowning or suffocation, due to the fire consuming all the oxygen.
Now, Russian game studio Jujubee is making a first person narrative action game based on the disaster, called Kursk.
A Web of Conspiracies
The Kursk tragedy is, as cold as this sounds, ripe for a video game. Being Vladimir Putin, post-Cold War Russia, the exact circumstances around the sinking are unknown. While the HTP leak is officially recognized as the cause, there have been other theories. One, from Russian state media Pravda, is that the US and UK sank the sub. The submarine was an “aircraft carrier killer,” one of Russia’s elite submarines, so Western powers would want it destroyed.
Being a nuclear submarine, there are conspiracies about how it was a ploy to get nuclear material. Or maybe it was on a top secret mission from Putin to attack the US. Or maybe the sub never sank. Aliens?!
However it happened, Jujubee is playing up the mystery angle. The game’s website states “The exact cause of the disaster still remains unknown.” Kursk may go the direction of Kholat, another game about a Russian disaster shrouded in mystery, with a slight supernatural bent. As the developers promise this will also be an action game, and with the trailer showing the protagonist pick up a gun, who knows?
A New Angle
Kursk is a first person, narrative adventure game at its heart. A new trailer for the game shows dialog options, NPC interactions, and even mini-games and side activities. It also seems a decent portion of the game will take place above ground, before you ever step foot on the sub.
There’s no getting around that Kursk looks rough around the edges. Everything from the bland, uncanny valley character models and lack of animation, to the detailed environments with over emphasized lighting effects scream “basic Unreal Engine assets.” That could be why the trailer has such an even like-to-dislike ration on YouTube.
Still, as janky as the game may be, it sounds intriguing. If the story, dialog, and characters are good, then that alone will make Kursk worth playing, no matter how rough it may be. Plus, there aren’t enough history-based games that aren’t about war. If Kursk sticks to the facts, this could provide a better understanding of a disaster that never got the attention it deserves in the West.