Monday, 10 April 2017

KGB - Codebreaker

Written by Torch

I start this chapter in my room at the hotel Gostinitsa in Leningrad. My inventory has been cleaned out, and I’ve received some new items. I’m now carrying 300 rubles, a camera, my ID, a transmitter with a mic and a receiver with a tape recorder. I’ve also been given some orders on a piece of paper and some intel on Leningrad KGB officers.

In chapter 1, I, playing as KGB Captain Maksim Rukov, have discovered a group of Moscow criminals, ( perhaps mafia-related, ) who are producing nasty snuff videos. At the end of the chapter, I found a coded message that revealed that one of the thugs, Romeo, has scheduled a meeting in Ladoga park in Leningrad, aug. 16 at 3 pm As per my instructions, I am to observe and photograph this meeting without being detected, then follow up new leads and suspects. Since this is merely a surveillance operation, I will not intervene in any affairs by the suspects. I should also avoid provoking officers at Department 7. Knowing me, that last bit will probably be the hardest….

Department 7 is, of course, a branch of the KGB residing here in Leningrad. As mentioned, I’ve received some intel on the officers there in advance, to prepare myself. There are four officers mentioned:

Colonel Kusnetsov - Chief of Department 7. Responsible for the surveillance of foreign tourists in Leningrad. Has been accused of abusing his position for personal gain, but no proof has been presented.

Major Agabekov - Second in command. A war hero from Afghanistan. Seems to be highly regarded by his peers.

Captain Chapkin - Operational officer. Colonel Kusnetsov’s son-in-law. There is some speculation that he may be involved in criminal activities with Kusnetsov.

Captain Drobnitsa - Administrative officer. His superiors don’t seem to hold him in particularly high esteem. His evaluation notes that his lack of enthusiasm makes him not very eligible for promotion.

I bet we’ll get to check them out later, but for now, I’m more interested in my current surroundings. I take a look around in my hotel room. There’s a bed and a table with a phone, and empty dresser and two doors. I would guess one of them leads to the bathroom, and the other to the hallway outside. As I try to go through the bathroom door, the phone rings. I pick it up and hear an unknown voice:

Whatever I answer, the voice claims to have dialed the wrong number, and meant to call 37452. Strange, but this being an adventure game, things like this rarely happen by chance. I go into the bathroom. It’s dark, but this time I feel pretty confident about turning on the lights. Hmm… what did the voice say again… “check the light”. I examine the fluorescent light and find a piece of paper. It contains a long string of letters and numbers, starting like this:
“S3I4S4R7B5S3R7S5I4S4I3R5B3S3….” and so on, for a couple of pages.
A coded message! But how to decode it….? As far as I can see, the numbers used only go from 2 to 7, and the letters used are S I R B O…. oh, BORIS! From the phone message. Actually, I don’t see any 6’s. So the numbers correspond with the digits in the phone number I was provided. If I pick up the phone, I can call the number, but a voice answers and tells me “You didn’t read the message, Rukov. Try again”. Ok, so this is clearly meant for me. Hmm, how do I solve this…. Letters and numbers are alternating all the time. There’s always a letter first, and then a number, like a pair. I try various alphabet-tricks, like with “S3 I4 S4” - moving 3 letters left or right from S, then 4 letters left or right from I, and so on. But it doesn’t produce anything I recognize as english words. Sigh.. 

I put the coded message away for a moment and check out the other call options on the phone. I try calling the reception, but they’re undergoing some sort of overhaul due to their progressive modernization plan. Which basically means that all of their services are unavailable, so in other words, no breakfast in bed. I can also call KGB Moscow, so I figure I’ll prank call Belov again. For old times sake. But the operator tells me the call can’t be put through at this time. The same goes for Vovlov and Galushkin. But I can also call Guzenko, the tech guy, who provided me with my gadgets. He gives me an interesting dialogue option:

Good ole’ Guz

Guzenko tells me to look at the bathroom tiles next to the mirror. There are 5 tiles across the top and 5 down to the left. I’m supposed to arrange the letters of the alphabet in a 5x5 grid ( hope the message doesn’t contain a Z ), place the letters (BORIS) at the top and the numbers down the side, and read the letter-number pairs as coordinates, if that makes any sense.

Doing this I derive this string:
The words are clearly backwards and without spaces, so it’s pretty easy to reverse the letters and split them up, which produces this message:
I’ve had variable success with light switches in this game, but this sounds like something I should do. I flick the lights on and off three times as prescribed, then call the number I was given.

A man answers. He wants me to meet up in the alley behind my hotel at 7 pm this evening. He’ll identify himself by saying “Cut-throat”, and I’ll respond by him showing my ID. He’ll want certain information about the video cassette operation:
  • Who’s holding the cassettes in Leningrad 
  • Who’s acting as go-between for the Moscow and Leningrad gangs 
  • Who’s going to transport the cassettes out of Russia 
  • What will the cassettes be exchanged for 
  • Who is Mr X 
Finally he tells me to visit Department 7 before going to Ladoga park, so I might learn something about their so-called hero major Agabekov.

Of course, I don’t have any of this information, so I’ll have to find a way to figure it out… Anyway, with nothing more to do in my room, I head out to the hallway. There are several doors, probably leading to other hotel rooms. I try them all, for good measure, and one actually opens. It’s an empty room, like mine, but I don’t find anything useful there. Maybe there will be later.

I head down to the reception. I can talk to the receptionist and give him my opinion on their service ( he’s not going to get a tip ). As with a lot of other NPCs we can discuss various topics, political or otherwise, and if I want to, I can give him some serious lip about his opinions.

This time it’s MY turn to be Belov

The only potentially useful thing I learn is that the reception closes at 9pm, but I’ll be able to get in by knocking after that. I leave the hotel.

Now, for the sake of completion, I DID try to find out what would happen if I left the hotel without complying with the instructions from the coded message, and you may not be terribly surprised to learn that I was killed by a gunshot the moment I stepped outside.

Outside the hotel is a phone booth. I can go left around the corner and into an alley with a couple of trashcans. Good to know, should I need to dump any more dead bodies…. Further down past the alley is a street, along a canal with a bridge over it. If I continue, I can choose a destination to travel to. I can also travel directly from the hotel entrance. At the moment my only possible destination is Department 7, so I go there.

I’d like to see this guy and Vovlov do a grump-off

The staff at Department 7 is possibly even less friendly than the one at Department P, which is no mean feat. The front guard wants my ID and needs to know who I’m visiting. When satisfied, he gives me a pass that I need to show to the next guard, who is ten feet away and probably heard the whole conversation. But anyway. The guard searches me and practically cleans out my inventory, leaving me with only the pass and my stupid rubles, that nobody wants, ever. Then he takes me upstairs.

When I get up, another guard also wants to see my pass, and then takes me to see colonel Kusnetsov, who is happy to see m…

So... I didn’t have you at hello?

Shucks, maybe when visiting the Department 7 officers, I shouldn’t bring memos detailing lots of negative info about Department 7 officers. I end up on the street outside, after which the game tells me that my mic was crushed, and that I’m unable to proceed any further. So it’s game over. Again.

I can’t backtrack far enough, so I just restart the chapter, and play through again. This time I leave everything except my ID and rubles on the table in my hotel room. Kusnetsov is more forthcoming now, though he still tells me that Department P is not very popular within the rest of the KGB, going so far as to call the creation of the department a treacherous act. I guess they don’t like people who want to police the police. He doesn’t have anything to contribute to my investigation, but I’m allowed to talk to the other officers. The guard comes in and takes me straight to major Agabekov.

As I enter, major Agabekov stubs the remainder of a cigar, and throws it in his trashcan. He tells me to wait while he finishes some paperwork. It’s a little bit strange, but maybe he’s trying to establish his authority by making me wait. While I’m waiting I can look at things in his office, but not interact with anything. I manage to read the number off his phone, but not much more. I decide to just forward time a bit, and he’s ready right after.

Ah, my reputation precedes me

Like Kusnetsov he either doesn’t have any useful information, or he just doesn’t want to give it to me. He informs me that his job is to “organize the running of the department, in line with directives”. Well, how exciting for him. He does talk about having access to informers, in order to keep track of criminal activities in Leningrad. I try asking for a list of these informers, but to no avail. I also ask him about the cigar, and he says he got it from someone. I try looking in the trashcan, but the game hints that it wouldn’t be very discreet to do that in his presence. Hmm. maybe I need to get him away. I don’t know what I’d need it for, but it seems like it could be significant.

After exhausting all conversation options, I go out to check on the other officers. Captain Drobnitsa. His job is to “execute the essential administrative tasks of the department”. How very generic. I half get out of him that he has a hand in most business that passes through the department. Maybe he can be useful later.

Yeah, keep telling yourself that

Captain Chapkin ( say that ten times fast ) isn’t in his office. But he has a phone. I try calling Agabekov on it and make up some bluff about having information about a visitor from Moscow and tell him to meet me outside in 3 minutes. I think he buys it ( they obviously didn’t have caller-ID in the KGB ), because as I step out into the hallway again, I see him leaving his office. I go in there, search his wastebasket and find a cigar butt, as expected. I quickly look around, but find nothing else of interest. Before I can leave Agabekov comes back. I ask him about the cigar butt, and he says he got it from one of his agents. We’ll see, we’ll see. He didn’t seem very upset that I rummaged through his trash, though.

Finding nothing more to do at Department 7, it’s time to go to Ladoga park, but first I need to pick up my spy gear at the hotel room. I hurry back, get my bug, recorder and camera and then travel to the park. I arrive a couple of minutes before the meeting is supposed to take place. Of notable things, there’s a tree, a statue of Lenin and a bench. I figure I should try out this transmitter-thingy, so I place it on the bench, since that’s the place they’re most likely to be. I then hide behind the tree and wait. After a while a man enters, and sits down on the bench. I start recording and wait a little bit longer, then suddenly Romeo enters

The symbol on the left is Rukov hiding behind a tree. In case you were wondering.

He sits down on the bench and talks to the other man for a few minutes. I whip up my camera and try to take a picture of them, but the game informs me that the shutter mechanism is broken, so that’s a no-go. Suddenly Romeo gets up and leaves without taking his briefcase. Shortly after, the new guy leaves too, WITH the briefcase. The swap has been made. Seeing as my orders included following up new leads, I go after him ( after stopping the recording and picking up my transmitter, of course ). He heads to the Metro station, where he meets another guy. They talk for a bit, and this new guy says he’ll go back to the department to inform “K”. Could he mean Kusnetsov? Is this Chapkin?

They split up, and I have to decide which lead to follow. The last guy said he was going to the department. Well, I already know where that is, so go with my initial decision and follow mr. briefcase. Good call. He leads me to a warehouse. I get a warning from the game that the suspect is about to punch in a code on a keypad, and it’s imperative that I see the code. Well, my camera may not be able to take pictures, but hopefully the zoom still works. Luckily it does. I manage to see the code: 14C9A. He goes into the warehouse, and shortly after comes out without the briefcase. Right next to the warehouse is a bar, which he enters.

Ok, snooping time. I punch the code and slip into the warehouse unnoticed.

Haha, what if I just take the briefcase now. I’m sure Vovlov will think that’s funny

I immediately locate the briefcase and look inside to find a bunch of unmarked video cassettes. Since my order explicitly said to not intervene, I put everything back the way I found it and continue exploring the warehouse. There’s a garage and and office further in, and there’s a ladder that takes me to an attic above the office. The attic has a skylight window that I can open and squeeze through to get to the roof, where there is yet another skylight window leading down into the next door building ( the bar ). The window’s currently locked, so I head back in.

I figure that the other window could lead to the next-door bar, so I head there to check it out. The briefcase guy is there, along with the bartender and another drunk. Talking to them leads to nothing but trouble, so I head through a door that leads to the bathroom and a staircase that goes up to an attic with ta-da… a skylight window, which I can open. I now have an extra way to the warehouse. I can also unlock the window in the bathroom, so I have a complete path into the warehouse without being seen. Now if I leave through the bathroom window, then later go in through the front entrance to the bar, the bartender will be suspicious and throw me out. He will also lock the bathroom window again, but not the skylight window, so I’m not dead-ended. I can’t show my face in the bar anymore, though.

A recurring theme in this game is how friendly everyone is

Now this next part was somewhat frustrating, so I’ll try to summarize it a bit.

After some time a new suspect will arrive by car at the warehouse. He’ll talk to his accomplice, the suitcase guy and after a little while yet another suspect will arrive, talk to car guy and then leave. Then come back again. I have to record and/or listen in on their conversations to get answers for myself and for this Cut-throat, who I’m meeting later.

On my first attempt, I put the transmitter on the desk in the office, hide in the attic, then start the recorder when I hear the guy with the car arrive. After waiting for a while, I listen to the recordings through the headphones that came with the recorder, but some of them are too far away from my transmitter. So I backtrack and experiment with climbing down at various times and sneaking about, to see if I can pick up some conversation tidbits. Oh btw, fun fun: Car guy has a dog, with which I got VERY familiar during this section:

His bark couldn’t possibly be worse than his bite

After managing to overhear a piece of conversation in addition to the recordings, I decide that I must be done, so I leave via the skylight window and go back to the hotel to wait for Cut-throat to meet me at 7 pm. I have to wait a while, since I was done relatively early. That could’ve been a warning sign, but I did Kursk street with lots of time to spare, so I’m thinking it doesn’t matter. I’ve listened to all the conversations I recorded, but when Cut-throat shows up, I can only answer a couple of his questions. The first question I answer incorrectly, leads to this:

Had I known the stakes were this high, I wouldn’t have entered a soviet quiz show

It’s back to the drawing board. I have no idea how many backtracks and/or restores I use to streamline this process, but finally what happens, is I discover that I don’t need to carry the recorder on me for it to work. I set up everything with the skylight windows, start the recorder, run down to hear the piece of conversation the transmitter can’t get, then when the last contact arrives, I drop the recorder on the floor in the attic, go out the window, through the bar bathroom and run around to the front of the warehouse in time to see the suspect, a well dressed man, leave the warehouse again. Phew. He goes towards the metro, so I tail him until we end up at the hotel Syevyernaya Zvyezda. Yay, new location!

He goes inside and heads for the hotel bar, so I follow. After a little while, who shows up, but major Agabekov?! I’ve apparently levelled my hiding skill to max, since none of them spot me, even though I’m not even actively hiding. They chat a bit, then move to the reception again. I follow, and they still don’t see me. They chat a bit more, then they both leave. I go outside in time to see Agabekov leave in a car with registration number KU210. Not sure if that’s important or not, but now we have it on record.

Is it just me, or does the bartender seem to have unnaturally long arms?

I already know where Agabekov works, so I follow well-dressed guy back to the warehouse. I hurry back to my attic through the bar and the skylight windows. He talks to car guy once more and then leaves again. This time, I can’t follow him, since he disappears from me on the metro.

Time is starting to run out on me. I can’t get my transmitter back, since car guy is still in the office, so I’ll have to leave it for later. I pick up my recorder, rewind it, then listen to all the recordings to prepare myself for Cut-throat. Finally I leave and go back to my hotel. I get there with 11 minutes to spare.

To sum up the information I’ve uncovered, that Cut-throat wants to know:
  • The guys in the warehouse are called Mechulaiev and Savchenko. They handle the tapes in Leningrad 
  • A guy named Yakuchev acts as a go-between for Savchenko and Romeo’s gang 
  • The tapes will be transported out of Russia tomorrow by someone named Viktor Matsnev 
  • In return for the tapes, the thugs will receive a shipment of crack 
  • As for the identity of Mr. X, that seems to be major Agabekov 
Cut-throat is satisfied with my answers, and tells me he represents a group of people who are interested in the truth. They are working on discovering and eliminating threats to the Soviet Union.

Must… resist… Trump…. jokes…

Finally, I get to ask HIM some questions. He makes a claim that most KGB officers are corrupt, so it’s a question of concentrating on the most dangerous ones. Kusnetsov and Chapkin are apparently not very important, in this regard, but it’s rather Agabekov who seems to be the big fish. Cut-throat suspects that the good major is in contact with foreign spies, and may be working towards destabilizing the USSR. The scope of this case is ever expanding… Finally, I ask him if any foreign intelligence agencies are unusually active, and he tells me there’s a female CIA officer roaming around. Not much info about her exists yet, so we’ll see if I run into her some time later on. Enough questions. Before he leaves, he tells me to meet him at the same spot at 11 am tomorrow. He also wants me to inquire about this Viktor Matsnev, discover who gave Agabekov his cigar, and try to learn all I can about something called “New birth”

Very well. My next move now is to get up to my hotel room and wait for my controller, who should arrive at 7.30. But that’s for my next post. до свидания!


  1. You can hide in one of the boxes in the back of the warehouse, where you'll be able to overhear everything said in the front without being seen by anyone walking towards Mechulaiev's office or the garage. There's no need to hide in the attic and constantly make risky trips down the ladder to listen to conversations.

    1. Oh, the boxes! Why didn't I think of that..?

      I'm guessing I didn't miss any vital information(?), but maybe I should back to check.

    2. *should go back to check

    3. If you made it through the Cut-Throat meeting alive, you learned everything crucial. You might have missed one of the conversations between Savchenko and Obukov, I don't remember exactly who says what at which point.

  2. Also, the guy Savchenko met at the metro was indeed Chapkin. The game will even identify him as "Chapkin" if you put the cursor on him (unlike Savchenko, who the game will just identify as "Man" until you actually learn his name), and talking to him will make it clear Rukov recognizes him, so it's rather clumsy writing that the narration text doesn't make it clear who it is.

    1. Interesting, I hadn't noticed that. I went back and followed Savchenko again from the park, then talked to Chapkin at the metro. He even had a close-up. I can't recall if I've seen that before. Certainly not during this play-through. I totally blew my cover and got transferred to Siberia, but that was to be expected.

  3. "Ninja wearing a Stetson" seems like it would be too conspicuous a look for espionage.

    Do you actually have to acquire all the information fairly to proceed, or could you, now that you know the answers, just wait in your hotel all day and tell Cut-Throat the answers?

    1. You have to gather all the intel. You answer Cut-throat with multiple choice options, like all conversation in the game, and the required answers won't be available if Rukov doesn't know them.

    2. There's a couple spots you can just "magically know" things, though. Pretty sure you don't actually need to find the hidden message at the start of the chapter, for instance; once you receive your phone call, you can just turn on and off the lights right away and call back.

    3. Also, I'm fairly sure the game just tosses a game over screen at you if you're anywhere other than Ladoga Park when the clock hits 3pm, since you obviously blew your mission by missing the meeting there.

    4. Yes, that's correct. I just fired up the game, restarted chapter 2 and waited in my hotel room until 3 o'clock. And as you say, at precisely 3, you just get a game over screen.

  4. I'm really enjoying the write-ups for this game. Great stuff, and looking forward to more!

    1. Thanks! It's my first attempt at this, so I truly appreciate the feedback

  5. I agree. Your writing is very good!

  6. Hey look! Corey did an interview about Hero-U:

    Understanding that we are a RETRO review site and we won't get to 2017 games until my son is old enough to blog, I am looking forward to this game and hope we can do something to support them as a community.

    1. Nice catch! I really hope the game does well, when it's released

    2. I'm looking forward to it. I was only able to support the first kickstarter for it, but it at least gets me a copy. If I really enjoy the game I might order a physical copy if they're still available.

    3. Nice interview. Despite not having played the Quest for Glory games back in the day, I'm looking forward to it.

  7. This game seems like the most spy-like spy game I've heard of. I'm being continually impressed with it.

    1. Yeah, no wonder it has a devoted fanbase.