A Big Red Flag
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Being a student of history, I was a little concerned when assigned Stalin Vs. Martians to review. Although he gets better PR because he was part of the Allies in World War II, a move he was forced into and didn't really want to make, Stalin was as big a bastard as Hitler. In fact, there is some debate over who killed more innocent people in their time. Both killed millions, and depending on how you count, and who you count, Stalin was the bigger murderer.
So a game that glorifies him in any way kind of sticks in my crawl a bit. I doubt there would ever be a game called Hitler Vs. Martians, and by the same token, there probably shouldn't be one about this murderer of a different flavor either.
But then I started playing the game and found out that it was so horrible, so mind-blowingly bad, that it is in fact a perfect tribute to this genocidal maniac. Stalin would be turning in his grave if he knew how bad this title was, and that sits just fine with me.
The plot of the game is that Martians are invading the Soviet Union. You need to use the Russian army to stop them. The title is billed as a real-time strategy game, though the word strategy is used very loosely. I suppose technically, it fits the bill.
In fact, the concept of the game is not too bad. The developers were apparently trying to make an RTS that was easy to play and accessible to anyone. As such, you don't have to build barracks or anything like that. You start out with some units and can get more by collecting enough gold coins to buy them, which you can grab when an alien dies. Sometimes when an alien dies they instead drop a power-up, which gives a temporary boost to your units.
It all sounds pretty simple, but falls apart in the execution, to quote what must have been one of Stalin's favorite words. The aliens themselves are pretty stupid, which is good because your units are dirt stupid as well. For the most part the aliens run down assigned paths, or simply stand there and attack you when you get in range. It's not too hard to beat them, if the game didn't cheat. You see, there are objectives that have to be met in each game, and on several missions I found myself failing because the event goal would trigger after (or just before) an alien met a goal that would kill you. Your only choice would be to reload the mission and guard the secret objectives so you would not be flash killed the next time around.
There are also stability issues. From time to time, the game refused to load. Other times, it would crash in the middle of the game for no apparent reason.
Overall, the only strategy is to group up as many men and tanks as you can and have them rush across the map (keeping your secret objectives safe at the same time) to be slaughtered by the aliens. Then you basically buy up reinforcements and eventually beat them back in a war of attrition. In a sense this is how a lot of the Eastern Front battles went against the Germans, but forgive me if I don't want to relive this against aliens.
There are also selection problems. I don't know why, but when I dragged and selected a group, not everyone in the group would obey me. Perhaps this is a Russian thing, but I thought their armies were pretty disciplined, you know, or the commissars would shoot them. Anyway, here about eighty percent of the units will head where you tell them and the others will wander off as if looking for the bathroom or something. I suspect that there is a really bad pathfinding engine and the weird behavior are guys looking for another way to reach their objective, you know, off the screen somewhere.
Graphically, I actually like the look of the game. It's kind of cartoon-like graphics. The aliens are colorful and, I don't know, fun to blow up. Kind of like what it must feel like to punch Sigmund the Sea Monster in the face, which I bet is pretty fun. There are some serious frame rate issues though when running on even a high-end single core system.
The sound, oh, the sound! There is not enough bad I could say about the sound. Units have catch phrases that are highly annoying and make no sense. One guy yells "I am like Bolshevik on bicycle!" which might be funny in Russia I suppose, but is lost in translation. But the worst part is the music. They could use the musical score from this game to torture Al Qaeda agents without ever laying a hand on them. Put anyone in a room with this horrible techno pop crap for 30 minutes and they will tell you anything you want to know - or simply go mad from the experience. Adding bad sound to a bad game is, well, just double bad.
Between levels you are "treated" to music videos featuring aliens jamming out and Stalin dancing. Horrible is not a bad enough word to describe how awful, dreadful, terrible, appalling, horrendous and just plan shockingly bad these are. I just sat there stunned that those videos were so bad.
I'm not stupid. I realize that the developers are trying to make fun of Stalin by putting him in weird situations. But I don't think that extends to making him the leader of a bad game. If you get me to waste my money on a game this bad, you aren't making fun of Stalin, you are making fun of me. And for that, I sentence you to Siberia. Sorry comrade, but you have let the motherland down.
Dominic reviews odd games for GiN that don't exactly fit into main categories. He loves the odds and ends of the industry, and sometimes finds a real gem.