Ukraine may not be the country that we associate with big names in video games, but there are a lot of people there who are not only passionate, but also succesfull in the field they love. Today we take a look at some of the most beloved and well-known games that originated in Ukraine. Even though a lot of the names aren’t really known to the Western audience, in recent years the industry in Ukraine has been thriving, and many market giants like Ubisoft have been opening new studious in cities like Kyiv and Odesa.
So, let’s remember the most important and respected titles and series from arguably the most successful country that separated from the former USSR when it comes to gaming.
It all starts with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. — possibly the most iconic video game to come out of Ukraine. Developed by GSC Game World and based on the legendary science fiction novella Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker, it became a cult hit, sprouting a couple of sequels. The first game of the series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, was released in 2007. The second installment, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, released in 2008. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat Was released in 2009. The long-awated S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 is set to release in 2022.
The first game tells a story about how in 2006, the second explosion of unknown nature took place at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This explosion changes the exclusion zone, making it not only radioactive, but also abnormal. The government decides to fence off the dangerous area of the zone with perimeter and military cordons. Despite this, brave daredevils, who are called stalkers, are not afraid to go deep into the zone to search for valuable abnormal formations called the artefacts. Many of them end their lives tragically among dangerous anomalies and ruthless mutants.
The games are mostly survival FPS with RPG elements: it means, along with elements of an ordinary 3D shooter, the presence of a constantly hostile environment towards the player, which should significantly complicate survival conditions. The main feature of this series is locations created on the basis of documentary footage taken in the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
And again we have to mention GSC Game World, which actually started their journey by making a series of historical RTS games titles Cossacks. The games have been immensely popular in Ukraine and Russia, but not quite so abroad, which is a shame.
The first game of the future series was released in 2001. This game is a real treasure for fans of classic real-time strategy games. Almost perfect gameplay for the genre, authentic atmosphere, variety of factions, wonderful graphics – all this allowed Cossacks to compete on an equal footing with such giants of the genre as Age of Empires.
GSC Game World, founded in 1995 by Sergei Grigorovich, was going to make a point-and-click adventure game their debut title. However, the developers did not have the necessary experience.
The debut was called WarCraft 2000. It was a large-scale modification of Blizzard’s famous RTS game. The game appeared freely available on the Internet in early 1999, after which GSC immediately took up a new project called DoomCraft. It was quickly closed, and the developers were closely involved in the completely unique project called Cossacks: European Wars.
The Cossacks series has been dormant for a while, but that can change at any time. And with the resurgence of RTS titles in recent years, it seems even more logical.
Best Mobile Game of E3 (GamePro), Best Mobile Game of E3 Finalist (IGN), Best Mobile/Handheld Game of E3 Nominee (Game Critics Awards), Game of the Year in the App Store… all this is Contre Jour, one of the biggest mobile successes to come from Ukraine.
In the game, the user is asked to control a bubble-like creature that must pass obstacles and collect items that add certain capabilities and skills. In total, there are 60 levels of varying complexity. The game was in development for 7 months, it took another 2 months to prepare for release. As a result, Maxim Gryniv’s Contre Jour became Apple’s iPad game of the year in 2011. In 2012, Maxim Gryniv received an award and diploma at the 8th IMGA Awards Ceremony in Barcelona.
To be fair, not many people even knew that the title was Ukrainian. In particular, Maxim Gryniv, its creator, wasn’t keen on being called a Ukrainian developer. In his harsh words, there was “no Ukrainian game market” out there for him.
Survarium is a massive multiplayer online game in the genre of first-person shooter with role-playing elements, distributed according to the free-to-play business model. Developed by the Ukrainian company Vostok Games, it has been quite popular ever since its first release, even though the title is expected to end service in 2022.
What’s interesting, most of the development team also worked on the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Survarium takes place in a post-apocalyptic world after the events of the environmental catastrophe. According to the plot of the game in 2020, environmental disasters occurring in the world lead to the extinction of entire ecosystems, which are replaced by flocks of parasites. Vegetation is mutating, its growth and distribution is increasing. Attempts to destroy the Forest by people through burning fail, only aggravating the situation. Due to the losses of power plants, the world lacks electricity; hunger and anarchy begin.
People are trying to destroy the Forest with a specially designed virus. After a while, the cities are covered with abnormal pollen, causing an epidemic of an unknown disease. It kills the vast majority of the world’s population within a year. You can definitely feel S.T.A.L.K.E.R. there, can’t you?
Warface was developed by the Kyiv branch of Crytek – Crytek Kyiv. However, this information became known to the general public only in August 2011, after the official announcement of the game.
Warface is a multiplayer online shooter distributed on the Free2Play model. And it’s extremely successful. Extremely! On January 26, 2013, the game broke the record in the category of “The largest number of players simultaneously on the same online shooter server”. It was listed in the Guinness Book of Records.
Warface is a military first-person shooter set in 2023. The game offers both classic full-fledged PvP battles with division into character classes and cooperative missions in the PvE concept. For a long time, the Ukrainian division was one of the most successful and productive in Crytek, but its paths have diverged with the German company. Crytek Kyiv announced its departure from the parent company and the renaming of the studio to Blackwood Games.
Ukrainian shooter game, the plot of which is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky. It’s one of the most notable Ukrainian AAA-level games after S.T.A.L.K.E.R, and now, who knows, maybe it’s even bigger than that. The first game in the series was developed by 4A Games, which had been founded by developers from GSC Game World a year before they released the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl. The plot of the game takes place in post-apocalyptic Moscow, mainly in the Moscow subway, starting from the station where the main character Artyom grew up. The world press spoke positively about the game. In June 2011, 4A Games announced the Metro: Last Light, which became a huge success.
Also in 2017, Metro Exodus was announced. It was released in 2019. Like previous games in the series, Exodus received positive reviews, and in the first month after its release, the game took second place in the British charts.
On May 12, 2014, due to the political crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation, the studio announced the move to the Maltese town of Sliema. Since then the main studio is located in Malta, and the Kyiv office became secondary.
In August 2020, 4A Games was acquired by Embracer Group through its subsidiary Saber Interactive for $36 million. Koch Media, as well as their subsidiary Deep Silver, which is the publisher of the Metro series, have also previously joined the Embracer Group. After Russian troops invaded the territory of Ukraine in February 2022, Saber Interactive said that all employees of the Kyiv studio could move to other companies owned by Saber.
Collapse is a Ukrainian third-person shooter game with elements of a slasher. Collapse tells the story of the last surviving Lord called Rodan. The game takes place on the territory of the so-called “Dump”, located in the city of Kyiv and the surrounding area.
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So, what’s it about? In 2013, a terrible catastrophe occurred in the center of Kyiv, the causes of which remained a mystery. Most of Ukraine has turned into a huge anomalous zone. A huge number of people died or went missing, and those who survived told incredible things. The anomaly was not visible from the satellite, and any attempts to study it yielded meager results. Five years later, something happened what people would later call “First Aggression” – the anomaly began to grow rapidly, capturing Europe and generating thousands of bloodthirsty creatures.
Once again, we find ourselves in the middle of Kyiv — sadly, not much of it left. Unlike Metro, the game wasn’t a huge success, but it was an expensive, epic and impressive game. And lots of gamers in Ukraine and abroad remember it fondly.
Frogwares, an independent Ukrainian company headquartered in Kyiv, was founded in 2000 in Dublin and is mainly engaged in the development of story-based video games. We mostly know it thanks to it epic Sherlock Holmes games.
The most popular game in the series is probably Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. The title combines 2 artistic universes: directly works about Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle and myths about Cthulhu from the father of the horror genre Howard Lovecraft.
Further in the franchise we can highlight the fairly successful The Testament of Sherlock Holmes and the ambiguous Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter. In 2019, the studio released its first open world investigation video game, The Sinking City.
Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason
Action Forms studio, founded in 1995 in Kyiv, is not widely known and is now defunct. The largest franchise of the company is the dinosaur hunting simulator called Carnivores, but most people remember their hit Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason.
The survival horror title was released on December 5, 2008 and told the story of meteorologist Alexander Nesterov, who by chance got on an atomic icebreaker stuck in the ice of the Arctic many years ago. The hero’s unique ability to penetrate the memories of the dead characters and change their actions committed shortly before his death allowed him to correct the mistakes of the crew and prevent the death of the captain, which in turn saved the ship itself from the disaster.
The game received mixed reviews from critics, who claimed that despite all the atmosphere and good plot, the gameplay seemed somewhat monotonous, and the combat system was quite clumsy. However, the key feature of the game, namely the scary atmosphere that kept players in constant suspense, resonated with the gamers.