The former USSR was presented to us in the West as a place of misery, poverty and, at times, evil. During the cold war, the USSR was the bastion of the villain in movies and books. Look at Rocky IV to get an idea of what I’m talking about. But we never really knew about the real stories of the country and the day-to-day lives of the people – at least not until recently. 

In the game Bright Lights of Svetlov, we are transported to a fictional town, situated in 1980s USSR, as we follow a family through a horrible chain of events. 

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The setting for Bright Lights of Svetlov

The story is the main element of Bright Lights of Svetlov. Based in the fictional industrial town of Svetlov, the stories that play out are based on true events from that era. You follow the life of a family – a husband, wife, and daughter – who live on a housing estate in the town from the early to mid-1980s. Most of the action happens in the apartment they live in, yet told from the point of view of a soldier who finds their diaries in 1989. 

The story examines the life of this family; working, cleaning, and coping with life in their small world. The father is trying to wallpaper his daughter’s bedroom, the wife is attempting to fend off an admirer and ignore the KGB, and the daughter is being a teen, rebelling against her family and the world she knows. As things unfold, tragedy strikes and the family experiences loss, illness, and despair. 

The story comes with a great sense of atmosphere and tension. I was engrossed in this period and location, and the developers do a great job of showing you this world and the ramifications. The truth of what happened is generally very shocking and has stayed with me, long after finishing Bright Lights of Svetlov and the couple of hours in which it lasts. 

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Atmospheric? Yep.

The gameplay is very simple, played in the first person. You walk around the flat and each day have a set number of tasks to complete. This might be to wallpaper the spare bedroom, to hang the washing out or cook some leftover stew. These tasks are normally glorified fetch quests but I never grew bored of them. When the tasks are done, things progress, pushing some event in the story and then another day in the life will kick on, from across different dates and sometimes years. 

It’s all very simple in terms of gameplay and the journey will only take you a few hours at most. It’s quite nice to just explore all the details, from the letters found or photographs on the wall or the local newspaper. Some might find the lack of gameplay or options in terms of what you can do frustrating, but I’ve been used to this style for a while now. And besides, there’s a strange trippy section later on in the game that turns what you’ve learned on its head. 

Visually, Bright Lights of Svetlov does a good job with the realistic setting of the flat and the view from the balcony. There is a moment when you go outside to the garages, but as a whole, the game loses some of its effectiveness because of this. But it does a good job with the stranger sequences and the attention to detail is very affecting and fascinating. 

The soundtrack is extremely good. It comes with its own sparse score, but it is highly effective. There are also some realistic effects and extracts from media from that time. 

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Exploring the world of Svetlov

Bright Lights of Svetlov is cheap to purchase and over fairly quickly – but occasionally that’s all you want in a game. It’s helped along by delivering an interesting and intriguing short story about a certain time in history, in a country that many won’t know much about. The characters are relatable and ultimately the story is tragic, pulling at your heartstrings but not in a soapy way. 

The gameplay could be too simple for some and if you don’t get immersed in the story then there isn’t going to be much for you to enjoy. But if you want a quick lesson in history, Bright Lights of Svetlov could be the game you’re looking for.