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.