Retro video game lets players fight for survival in post-apocalyptic Czechoslovakia

The old-school game takes you back to 1986 Prague, which is teeming with mysterious evil figures in hazmat suits.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 26.05.2023 16:00:00 (updated on 29.05.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

You can travel back to an alternate Czechoslovakia via a new video game called Hrot, based on a never-explained disaster in 1986 that has created a grim world full of hazmat-cloaked figures and socialist decor.

The graphic style and play of the game are also retro, similar to games from the early 1990s. The game works on basic PCs with an operating system of Windows XP or higher, and keyboard commands can be used by people who don’t have a controller.

The game is the brainchild of a person who goes by the online name Spytihněv. Hrot, which has both English and Czech versions, is available for purchase on the Steam platform for a nominal fee of EUR 16.79, but a demo is free. So far, 97 percent of the 2,500 users who reviewed the game on Steam have liked it. Many of the reviews are from people who had early access before the May 16 official release.

The game took several years to develop, and while some parts have been previously available, this new release brings everything together into a complete and finished version. The first-person shooting game (FPS) uses Prague locations, rendered in a very blocky manner, in a style from back when 256 colors were considered high-tech. Jitter and wonky perspectives are features, not flaws, meant to give it an authentic retro feel.

The maker of the game chose the era to help set the mood. “Those times were dark and terrifying and so is the game,” Spytihněv says in the game's description.

A grim building among the paneláks. Photo: Spytihněv
A grim building among the paneláks. Photo: Spytihněv

Finally there is a use for the hammer and sickle

In the full version, you start in a civil defense shelter deep under a Prague metro station. “As a proud holder of the military readiness badge you know what your duty is: put on a non-functioning gas mask, load the vz. 52 pistol and protect the peace and your socialist homeland from the strange intruders,” the description states.

The vz. 52 was the standard military pistol in the communist era. Default weapons also include a hammer and a sickle, which can be surprisingly useful for once. As you wander in the game, you find more weapons such as a shotgun, a submachine gun, a rocket launcher, and an experimental Soviet battery-powered weapon.

The settings are all inspired by real locations and include historical details. “Every level contains socialist paraphernalia which nowadays can only be found in museums or your grandma's attic (Eastern Bloc only),” the description says, adding that the game is filled with “conservative values that never disappoint.” Attention to detail covers everything from the manhole covers to the look of the motorcycle and the rough outlines of the buildings.

A cultural center in Hrot. Photo: Spytihněv
A cultural center in Hrot. Photo: Spytihněv

The demo version starts at night in Vyšehrad, where you can find a few items including a motorcycle, and fight off the mysterious figures. A trailer on YouTube shows even more of the game, though the rapid editing is a bit at odds with the actual slower place of playing.

Retro style is reminiscent of of some old-school classics

Many users have compared it Doom and Quake, popular FPS games that have a long history. Older players who grew up with those types of games and who remember the era depicted seem to appreciate it the most, though even people without firsthand knowledge of the locations or era appreciate the effort of the solo developer to create something original. In the game description, Spytihněv even says it is not recommended for people under 30.

Czechia has a large game development community due to its technical universities in Brno and Prague. Titles such as Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and the Mafia series all come from Czech firms. Hrot can’t really compare to these, which were created by large teams with a big budget. But it is clearly a labor of love from a single developer who had a vision for something a bit off the wall.

For another retro look at Czechoslovakia, you can check out an authentic game from 1989 made by a computer student. The Adventures of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square in Prague on January 16, 1989 used to circulate clandestinely back when programs were stored on cassette tape. It has now been translated into English and ported into a version that is playable online.

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