The Last Dead End: Azerbaijan’s first horror game
Video games don’t seem to last long in Azerbaijan. The few that are released are mostly for smartphones, while the rest run up against a number of oftentimes absurd issues.
There was a first-person shooter game by the name of Operation Caucasus, but it ended up embroiled in an LGBT scandal when the Azerbaijani studio Dream Games refused to provide game access to a person who had a rainbow avatar on Facebook. The cherry on top – the company cussed him, too.
The game was deleted from Steam – the largest internet game store available online, and the studio was closed.
Azdimension came out with its Ishgal Altinda [Az. Under occupation] series about the Karabakh war. The project was sponsored by the government. Much to the credit of the developers, they wanted to be known for more than just creators of a game that manipulated feelings in regards to such an important topic. Thus, in 2018, they released the action/horror game Sonuncu Dalan – The Last Dead End.
The game was also sponsored by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Sports and Youth, with the possible intent of creating a good PR opportunity for Azerbaijan. The subject is closely connected to Azerbaijan’s history and culture: the name of the protagonist is Farhad (as in Azerbaijani fairytales), while the action takes place in Baku’s historic old town, Icheri Sheher. The game’s mystical elements to the game is also patriotic – Zoroastrianism is the religion of Azerbaijan’s far-removed ancestors.
Farid Haqverdiev is the main programmer and director of the studio:
“I have long wanted to do a game involving old Baku – its narrow and entangled streets work perfectly for a fantasy storyline. And what could be more mysterious than the ancient religion of the fire-worshippers, Zoroastrianism? We found a lot of interesting ideas with our story writers in the Avesta, the holy scripture of Zoroastrianism.”
Developers tried to reproduce Icheri Sheher as accurately as possible. “Even the stars in the sky are a real map,” said Farid Haqverdiev.
I think the studio’s choice in genre was a good one.
Usually, small studios go for horror-themed games, and often the game ends up being some a sort of simulator in which the player barely has the ability to survive the onslaught of monsters.
In this way, The Last Dead End is quite different from its rivals: Farhad makes beautiful use of various weapons, destroying zombies and slashing snakes with enormous axes – and overcoming bosses.
The bosses really turned out spectacularly. An unprepared gamer is unlikely to expect such strong boss battles, and this pushes the player to completing the game.
But here’s where Azdimension failed: in the graphics. The textures are not quite at a modern level, the animations are strange, the streets of Icheri Sheher are empty (this is particularly offensive!) and the few non-player characters are ‘clones’. It is immediately apparent that the budget did not allow for much. However, the developers obviously tried: the darkness hides certain flaws, and reflections have been well-accounted for. Farhad is more or less decent as a character, and the snow levels in Icheri Sheher have been well-replicated, reminding many Azerbaijani gamers of their fond feelings for the location.
Still, we have to admit that the game does not quite reach the same levels as that of its foreign competitors.
The sound was also a bit lacking. A strange decision was made for an Azerbaijani game: it was released in English, and was recorded with poor quality and actors. There are no emotions, with the text simply being read without even a drop of enthusiasm. While fighting with werewolves, cyclopes and zombies, his reactions would lead one to believe that this is just another day for him.
But that’s not to say that the game is all bad. First off, its an original game, not comparable to much else, thanks to its national symbols and motifs, and a reasonably well thought-out story. While the game isn’t necessarily inventive in its use of certain gaming elements, the pieces fit well together and provide coherence.
Secondly, its not every day that gamers have the opportunity to walk about in Icheri Sheher. And third of all, the main thing is that the game has a volatile and exciting atmosphere which it retains until the very end. Not all western games are able to accomplish this.
Here’s what the creators did and did not like about their own game:
“We worked on the storyline the most; we changed the scenario and script a few dozen times until it became coherent, interesting and logical,” says Farid Haqverdiyev. “For that reason, players and myself like the storyline most of all – there almost hasn’t been a single negative review in that regard. I like the atmosphere of the game, the graphics in several locations and the fighting system to a certain extent. I will openly say that I don’t like the graphics in some parts of the game and the animations during the cut-scenes.”
It’s unlikely that The Last Dead End will become this year’s hit, mostly due to a lack of funding. However, it’s still good to hear that Azdimension is working with such ambitions in mind.