A uniformed policeman sits wistfully in the centre of a provincial Russian town, his arms folded on one knee in a position resembling that of a bored child confined to the naughty step after a particularly egregious tantrum. You'd think his occupation would require him to adopt a more alert, focused posture, but that's hardly necessary for this authority figure.
You see, the police officer in question is at least ten stories tall, and thus more than capable of watching over the entire town from the comfort of his reclined position. Should anything catch his attention, he's one stride away from quite literally stepping in. This is the world in which Militsioner takes place, and it's your job to escape it.
"There is no specific source," says game designer Dmitry Shevchenko of Militsioner's inspirations. "The idea of the game was born organically in the process of development, though we relied on literary references like Trial by Franz Kafka and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky."
The eyes of the law
Shevchenko's comments speak volumes about the mercurial nature of Militsioner's subtext, from which different people will draw different messages. Some have interpreted the titular policeman as a literal manifestation of Big Brother, particularly when it comes to the overreach of governments and their exploitation of law enforcement as a tool for oppression.
A state-owned media channel within developer Tallboys' own nation, Russia, even recently suggested that Militsioner was an unpatriotic piece of "informational warfare". And though the studio addressed these comparisons on Twitter, Shevchenko says that political commentary was never the original intention: "People very often draw parallels between the political situation in our country, but we originally didn't even consider the political context in the game. We’re just trying to capture our own sense of reality that surrounds us."
For what it's worth, the concept of the Militsioner himself, which literally translates to "policeman" in Russian, draws directly from a Soviet Union-era set of children's poems about a noble, exceptionally tall officer of the law named Uncle Styopa. Postmodern interpretations have since re-envisioned the character as a more sinister figure of state omniscience, however, and Tallboys' upcoming project seems to lean towards that latter depiction. This isn't to say that the Militsioner is an inherently evil figure, but he certainly casts an uncomfortable presence over the entire experience – and will act as the primary obstacle getting in between you and your character's yearning for freedom.
How you achieve that freedom, however, is up to you, as Militsioner's immersive sim structure is all about exploring the world, and figuring out potential avenues for escape. The town itself is a micro sandbox of usable objects, working vehicles, and non-linear paths, while Shevchenko states Tallboys has been working hard to build "an interesting gameplay system that allows the player to experiment."
"We wanted to convey a sense of escape and connect it to a giant, without losing the identity of a policeman," adds art director Vladimir Semenets. "To make the player feel like they're playing against a real giant policeman, not against a video game. It was also important to bear in mind that the most important thing in escape is crossing the line between the safety of the prison and the risk of actually running away. That’s why we needed to find interesting communication and planning so that when the escape itself came, it felt stronger."
If the Militsioner notices you getting up to no good, for example, he's more than likely to intervene, extending one giant arm to pick you up and, well… let's just say it's best to avoid his ire entirely. That said, another aspect of Militsioner's gameplay, dedicated voice chat integration, offers a potential workaround to the policeman's wrath, allowing you to speak with the town's denizens, and even the officer himself. Who knows, maybe you'll be able to negotiate a compromise?
"Physical interaction alone is not enough to fully show the profession of the policeman," Semenets explains. "He can’t keep catching you all the time, so most of your interactions with him must be between the action. It must be some sort of communication with him. Knowing that it would be an important part of gameplay, we tried to find a fresh perspective on interactive communication. But at the same time we try to limit the voice input mechanics a bit, we don’t want to make the game with a lot of dialogue."
It's unclear why your character has been arrested, or if they were even deserving of incarceration in the first place, but Tallboys has said that the Militsioner is bound by a prison of his own making, too – a strict moral code that you, the player, might be able to exploit. It makes for an interesting quandary: are you willing to break the law in order to escape it?
Semenets tells me that Militsioner is "far from being released" right now, but it's already captured the attention of the internet with its compelling pitch, abstract tone, and stark messaging. Indeed, all of us can relate to the need to escape from a confined space right now – just another way in which Militsioner's surreal conceit is tapping into some very real topics.