The North Korean Video Game for People Who Hate Fun
Whenever the hermit state of North Korea decides to put its own spin on global pop culture, the world takes notice, as it's not unlike witnessing familiar arts and entertainment performed by Kryptonian warlords trapped in that Phantom Zone.
"You can't hear us, but we're totally performing the score to Oklahoma! right now."
Yes, the North Korean take is inevitably a few ticks more sinister -- look no further than Kim Jong Un's unexplainable entourage of unlicensed Disney characters, the ghost town theme park outside of Pyongyang and Kim Jong Il's 1985 giant-cow-monster movie Pulgasari, the production of which required the dictator/kaiju auteur to first kidnap a South Korean film director and his wife.
Special effects like these were apparently worth irrevocably ruining a life or two.
The latest example of North Korea's "Anything you can do, I can do stranger" aesthetic is Pyongyang Racer, a browser game developed by North Korean programmers for the software firm Nosotek. As of press time, it appeared that the Internet masses totally crashed Pyongyang Racer's website, but we at Cracked had the opportunity to play the game before it became a casualty of its own popularity.
Spoiler alert: The highlight of the game is getting barked at by insecure traffic cops.
In a nutshell, Pyongyang Racer resembles a no-budget racing game circa 1998. But instead of competing against other motorists, your automobile must make a mad dash through a pixelated simulacrum of the DPRK's biggest city while checking out Pyongyang's hottest monuments depicted in polygon.
"Ah, this must be the rectangle where they store their tools of oppression."
Save a few eerily frozen cars, you are alone on the road, as party dogma and a crap economy prevent basically everybody from owning a car in North Korea. It's gunning for realism, sure, but it's an experience akin to playing Madden 2013 and only being able to select players from a single Arena Football League team (we mean you, Iowa Barnstormers).
"Another raucous turnout for National Independence Day Parade here, folks. Next float up over the horizon: The Average Sedan of Great Leader's Infinite Wisdom."
This makes screenshots like the one below all the more depressing, particularly when you take into account that women recently regained the right to ride bicycles in metropolitan areas for the first time since 1996.
"Our nation is poor in resources, but rich in power-walkers."
Players must also collect barrels of (wood?) fuel before their gas guzzler sputters out, like the 11 or so other unmoving cars and buses that dot the highways of Pyongyang Racer. If you hit too many, the game ends. Are these abandoned cars party bureaucrats who ran out of gas, or simply Kim Jong Un shedding his automotive fleet all over town as a symbol of Stalinist insouciance? Is Pyongyang secretly located on Planet Star Fox? We're not sure.
Also, if you drive off the road (but not on the incorrect side of the street), the screen blackens and the game restarts after an ominous pause that wouldn't seem ominous in, oh, just about every other video game ever made.
It's equally unclear what Beijing-based travel agency Koryo Tours -- which commissioned Pyongyang Racer -- hoped to achieve with this game. Obviously they want to boost tourism to the DPRK's very own "Big Fermented Cabbage."
Come for the rampant starvation, stay for the towering Obelisk of Tetanus.
But Koryo Tours lowers players' expectations from the get-go. As the company explains, Pyongyang Racer "is not intended to be a high-end techological [sic] wonder hit game of the 21st century, but more a fun race game (arcade style)." Are they attempting to make the best of a mediocre product? Are they trying to ease arrogant Westerners into tittering complacency? Is this just to obfuscate the media fallout from UnicornGate 2012?
Beats the hell out of us. In any case, here's a complete eight-minute play-through of Pyongyang Racer. The soundtrack is sublime, like a circus calliope being thrown into an active volcano. The horn is loud and pointless. It is your tool to terrorize the populace.
You can find Cyriaque Lamar on Twitter.