RPS Vs Mezmer: Stalin Vs Martians Impressions

By Kieron Gillen on April 29th, 2009 at 9:27 pm.

So. Stalin Versus Martians has been released. I thought I’d have a quick crack at the full code and bring back some initial thoughts on the Eastern front. Initial and probably final, as I strongly suspected I’d never go back there. Because… well, it was clear it was going to be absolutely terrible.

Or was it?

Okay, after a level or two, this is how I thought this feature would go:

THINGS I LOVE ABOUT STALIN VERSUS MARTAINS:

  • Its name. Like, obv.
  • The fact that instead of an opening cut-scene for the game, they put up an image of the USSR flag and play all its national anthem.
  • That it has a tick-box in the general options to mark whether you like cats or not. It appears to do nothing.
  • Its loading screens feature spot-the-difference games in the style of touched-up communist party photos. Except instead of taking watches off the wrists of soldiers or disappearing the purged ones, it’s pasting in random bears or a random incongruous aliens.
  • That characters say things like “My name is Ivan. I like you” when you click on them, with either camaraderie, bonhomie or homoerotic glee. Maybe all three.
  • The gags in the manual, especially the one about the T-34.
  • That it has an intermission after four levels for more music video dancing Stalin metal-screaming retro-Commie-chic fun.
  • That people seem to be spending a lot of time debating whether this is in good taste on forums. Of course it isn’t. Move on!
  • The interview they did with us.
  • That I didn’t have to pay for it.

THINGS I HATE ABOUT STALIN VERSUS MARTIANS:

  • Every-fucking-thing else.

Except then it clicked. And I realised it wasn’t actually abominably awful.

Was there a sketch where Benny Hill dressed up as Napoleon? I seem to have a memory of one. Anyway – Stalin Versus Martians bears as much resemblance to the normal RTS game as Benny Hill did to Napoleon. While pause-able, the game moves at hyperspeed levels, which made me presume that there was something wrong with the game and it was running at 300% of normal speed.

(And that wouldn’t be an enormous surprise if it was – at least on my machine, it’s twitchy to say the least. The mouse-cursor disappeared after a cut-scene which I had to restart to get back and I keep on dropping down to low-textures occasionally when the game has a little think.)

If you try to play it as a methodical RTS, you’re basically screwed. The second level when you get the slower-moving longer-firing anti-artillery weapons is where you may go awry. You start trying to use that range… except the basic straight-from-Toy-Story-surely-Disney-will-sue aliens still outshoot you if you have to get close to fight them. So you lose your men, run out of money and you can’t call for reinforcements (i.e. no basebuilding) and you have to play again. You wonder what you’re missing. At which point, it clicks. I was being too clever. I had to embrace the game.

You remember Dune 2, where you used to rush around in your tanks, crushing anyone even vaguely squishy beneath your treads? You do that, with dozens of tanks at a time, moving back and forth to squish everything. By moving at range, you dodge the heavy enemies, and the masses of foot soldiers (who will be mowed down by your machine-gun too) drop power-ups. This is the game’s currency, and they disappear if you don’t get ‘em quickly. In other words, by rushing around, you’re maximising your pick-ups, boosting your troops’ abilities and getting cash. When your soldiers die, call in another mini-division of T-34s and send them on a Blitzkreig. You end up using these units something like a shotgun in a First-Person Shooter. You move while they’re re-loading their main guns, then right click on a target to annihilate it, and repeat. It’s very silly, almost completely brain-dead, a bit of a giggle, and not actually totally abominable after all. It’s merely just a bit rubbish. Well, a lot rubbish, but just-about-playable which is better than the active horrible un-fun gulag of a game which it initially appeared.

Would I recommend you buy it after my experience of five of its twelve levels? For fifteen quid? Not on your nelly. But there’s certainly car-crash value, especially if you tie yourself in theoretical knots deciding exactly how much of the game is satire. As Troy Goodfellow just noted on his twitter: “…is beginning to think that this game is a satire, but not sure of what. Games? Communism? Communist Games?” I think satire may being over-generous. I’d go for the far more earthy description of “piss-take”. And as far as piss-takes go, occasionally a funny one. And, as such, I suspect the majority of its consumers will be people who bought it whilst drunk.

Which probably makes it lucky I got it free.

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74 Comments »

  1. MOST GLORIOUS COMRADE says:

    Benny Hill does Stalin doing Aliens sounds awfully appealing to me, with, or without the rakia. Though, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

    Also: первый!

  2. theleif says:

    Well, i will certainly buy this game the next time me and my computer gets drunk.

  3. Max says:

    I was never really sure why everyone was so excited about this game. I’m not all that surprised that it isn’t anything amazing.

  4. SirKicksalot says:

    The optimisation seems to be fucking terrible, when some particle effects show up my quad/9800 rig is choking way under 20 fps.

    But I find the game absolutely hilarious and I totally dig the mad arcade style and pace. There’s nothing wrong with a game that gives you a ton of units and asks you to destroy everything that doesn’t speak Russian, especially when it’s so freakin’ funny. Everything on screen is a lulz source, from the graphical design to the glorious cacophony that is the soundtrack.

    They should sell the soundtrack!

  5. yns88 says:

    Today is not a good day for grammar.

  6. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    @ Max: I imagine most were revelling in the silliness of the marketing efforts surrounding the game rather than actually expecting the game itself to be much cop.

  7. DMJ says:

    It has always been my plan to buy it when the price drops to about half what it is when it is released.

    The fact that the price appears to be starting at half full whack doesn’t change it, I’m waiting until it drops to a quarter of full whack.

    Sounds a bit like a Diablo RTS – grab everything, click on what you want to die, rinse, repeat until cutscene?

  8. LewieP says:

    I got a copy too, not bothered downloading it yet.

  9. Sam says:

    You forgot to mention the obnoxious and AWESOME music that constantly plays.

  10. Psychopomp says:

    You noticed that too, yns?

  11. Jezebeau says:

    What does S.T.A.L.I.N. stand for?

  12. Lewis says:

    Diving into this tomorrow, I suspect. Still flabbergasted by the name. Stalin. STALIN. versus martians. MARTIANS.

    Stalin vs Martians.

    Stalin vs Martians.

    Fuck me.

  13. SirKicksalot says:

    Sounds a bit like a Diablo RTS – grab everything, click on what you want to die, rinse, repeat until cutscene?

    Yes, definately. And mixed with Mario.
    The arcade-ish gameplay works, it’s funny, fun and it delivers everything they said it will deliver (including the shit performance from the gameplay trailers).

  14. Mumface says:

    Is alcohol a necessary prerequisite to playing the game then? Because you appear to have been drunk when you wrote this article…

  15. Helm says:

    Perhaps now that this is out and apparently not very good it will put a dent in the consumerist internet proclamations “pop culture artifact + unrelated pop culture artifact = this will be the best thing ever!!”.

    Then again perhaps not because Mr. T is teaming up with Will Wright and I’m sure that’s transiently funny enough for a lot of people to start hyping it up the next best thing ever.

  16. Nate says:

    It’s easy to mistake Communist way with bad grammar. See, in Soviet video game, characters click YOU.

  17. Mister Yuck says:

    This comment thread is a pretty good indicator of which people don’t have senses of humor.

    Helm, I’m looking at you for “consumerist internet proclamations”.

  18. A-Scale says:

    I think we all saw this coming. I think game devs have a lot to learn from these guys as to how one should market, and can market on the cheap. As to the game, I’m glad you could pinpoint where I had seen those aliens. They are absolutely stolen straight from Toy Story. Let’s hope Pixar’s forthcoming suit doesn’t completely destroy this company. I want them to make more games, or more accurately I want them to advertise more games.

  19. Gap Gen says:

    Too busy beating up birdmen. In other news, bony crossbows can fuck the hell off.

  20. Schmung says:

    I’m sort of drunk and actively considering purchasing this anyway, so I ‘spose that part is true.

  21. Helm says:

    I’d rather be deemed humourless by the internet than celebrate this sort of stuff.

  22. Stupoider says:

    Aaah well. I don’t think I’ll be able to stand playing it, but as long as I have the knowledge that such a game exists, I’ll be able to live a happy life. :D

  23. DK says:

    “This comment thread is a pretty good indicator of which people don’t have senses of humor.”
    See, there’s a difference between a good joke and a good game. This is the former – but you get that part for free by simply reading the name of the game/watch the trailers.

    Purchasing a horrible game because it’s got a funny set-up just reinforces the developers view that a funny game doesn’t have to be a good game.

    Short version: Laugh at the funny joke, do not buy, move on.

  24. Ozzie says:

    I demand a sequel! Now!! Let’s call it…

    Hitler vs. Venusians!

  25. Ilya Chentsov says:

    Is it a good time and place for me to promote Super Ulyanov Bros.?

  26. PleasingFungus says:

    @Gap Gen: Aww, come on. The crossbow is the best weapon in the game. (As long as you have it, that is. If other people are pointing it at you… maybe that is not so good.)

    EDIT: Hooray, the edit button really is back, just like everyone said it was!

  27. Wulf says:

    I actually thought it was a lot of fun, and that’s exactly what it set out to be.

    I also wonder if I’m the only local spod bright enough to have figured out that twiddling with a few ini settings results in things looking a hell of a lot better (higher resolutions) and windowed mode, which means being able to play it in short bursts whilst chatting (this works well).

    Also, fiddling with some of the settings can create some rather crazy and hilarious results, I won’t spoil anything, but to those brave few who’ll tinker with the assorted inis and cfgs, you’re going to have fun exploring those options.

  28. Nimic says:

    I’m definitely not going to buy this game. Never really expected it to be any good. It’s a great joke, but that’s not enough. I’ll have a giggle reading about it and watching videos, but that’s as far as that goes.

  29. Spd from Russia says:

    How would you feel if Stalin got replaced by Hitler? Would you still find it humorous?

  30. Bret says:

    Yes.

    Horrible and tasteless, yes, but still very funny.

  31. Thirith says:

    To be honest, I think the best thing that can happen to megalomaniac dictators is being made vicious fun of.

  32. daphny says:

    now you all suffer
    suffer

  33. jalf says:

    How would you feel if Stalin got replaced by Hitler? Would you still find it humorous?

    Yep. If anything, I think there are far too few games making fun of brutal genocidal dicators.

  34. Alexey says:

    The game contains a lot of jokes about Russian game development. The game itself is a kind of trolling of the industry, really.

  35. Gorilla says:

    Wow, lots of hostility here. I don’t think it’s fair to fault the developers for all of the hype, they’ve opnely admitted right from the start that SvM wasn’t going to be all that great.

    Also, the reason Stalin is a giant in this game is because to Russia, at the time, Stalin was a giant. An unstoppable giant.

  36. Alex Vostrov says:

    I think there’s a pretty useful lesson to be learned here. If you want to be noticed as an indie developer, don’t bother with trying to actually talk about why your game is good. Release a bunch of crappy Russian music videos, and you’ll get straight to RPS’s front page. The writers will know that you’re jerking them around, but it won’t make much of a difference.

  37. Muzman says:

    Could this be an example of Exploitation Gaming?
    Forget gaming’s general resemblance to Exploitaiton Filmmaking, in terms of narrative quality and love of violence and gimmicks, for a moment. This is cheap, scandalous and more notable for its marketing and sheer gall than anything else. That’s like the textbook definition man.

  38. Larington says:

    Judging from the write-up this isn’t a game for me since I kind of like considered tactical stuff, but kudos to the developer for trying to avoid falling into the same habitual collective decisions that RTS developers the world over seem to drift into time and again without even thinking about it.

  39. h4plo says:

    I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the following, but ..

    The wariness above about satirizing Stalin – or, as Spd says, Hitler – isn’t out of a sense of bad taste or ill-though humor. It’s about a fear of celebrating, in a sort of fashion, not only Stalin/Hitler but the actions that they committed. By making anything involving the two charming, endearing and entertaining, you allow at least the image of them to become more pleasant and upbeat than is deserved.

    By rendering them into absurdity you cease to recognize them as crazy genocidal fucks, and instead as potentially charming, albeit goofy, idiots from history. If you’re allowing perceptions of them to change into these images, doesn’t it sort of follow that more light can then be made of the atrocities committed by them? Think SimAuschwitz or something.

    I dunno. I can’t help but think that the joke ‘omg Stalin is doing something asynchronous to history!’ would get old rather quickly.

  40. Beef says:

    Stalin vs Indie Game Developers.

    And Stalin won.

  41. DigitalSignalX says:

    This reminds me of porn that mimic plots and names of popular films. All they have is the knee jerk laugh of a name, satire nature of “plot” and whatever comic value they can bring into it going for them. But inevitably, in the end, it’s just another crappy porn flick. This game is the exact same, it’s a crappy game in a sea of crappy games which tries to stand out solely on the merits of it’s satire and comic aspiration.

    A lot of people evidently buy porn though, so maybe it will work for them. I’ll pass though… wouldn’t even pirate it.

  42. Jazmeister says:

    But you didn’t say whether or not buy it or not!

  43. pepper says:

    h4plo, this happends all the time with dicatators/rulers from the past and even those alive today, If one would take the world too serious then one would want to end ones life ASAP.

    Next up: Kim Yong Il vs mutant ants

  44. Dinger says:

    That’s right, sniveling indie kids. It’s not enough for your game to be good; people have to want to play it. The same holds for media access. People have to want to read about it. 50-foot Stalin (or S.T.A.L.I.N., even better), semen-stained mountaintops — that makes for good reading.

    Attack of the Mutant Camels: would it have had the same impact if it were named “Jeff Minter’s Empire Strikes Back Clone”?

    And Mr. Gillen makes a good point: the market for after-pub games is woefully underserved.

  45. Ian says:

    Important question: Is the “like cats” checkbox checked by default?

  46. Megazver says:

    I demand a sequel! Now!! Let’s call it…

    Hitler vs. Venusians!

    The front page of the game’s site has “HITLER VS CRAB PEOPLE FROM JUPITER” in the title.

  47. cHeal says:

    I’ll buy it if I see it around.

  48. Rei Onryou says:

    @Jazmeister: Would I recommend it to buy after my experience of its five levels-of-its-twelve? For fifteen quid? Not on your nelly. There’s your answer.

  49. redpandaredpanda says:

    @Gap Gen Steel croosbows, FTW!!!

  50. Lewis says:

    Been playing this all morning. And, yeah. It’s… well.

    It’s clearly awful. I’m reviewing it for Reso and it’s very obviously going to get a terribly low score. But at the same time, it’s a sort of knowing awfulness that makes it far from hateful. It’s actually quite charming. I’d never recommend anyone to actually buy the thing, but I’d happily show it to drunk mates after a night out. It’s sort of gleefully surreal, and often very funny for it. As a game, it’s just totally madhat, nonsensical and almost completely without any requirement for talent at all. You just right-click on everything until it goes away. Which gets incredibly tedious after a while, but you still just sit back and laugh, wondering what the hell exactly is going on.

    Rubbish – but amiable rubbish.

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