Stalin vs. Martians (PC)
Stalin vs. Martians is even stranger than its name suggests. Though it looks like real-time strategy, the thematically ridiculous and unquestionably bad game has power-ups, new enemies on every level and little in the way of tactics. It's almost impossible to speak of it as having gameplay beyond collecting more men and pointing them at the enemy. You have objectives to meet and gold to spend on reinforcements, and that's about it.
Stalin vs. Martians is a mess. The sound effects and voice cues are ear-bleedingly terrible. Much of the alien art seems to have been lifted from other sources, and the Red Army troops and vehicles are indistinguishable from each other. Pathfinding for the units is atrocious, and even the act of selecting units is more difficult than it should be. There is nothing to recommend this game as a game.
But what if those mechanics are part of a satire? Stalin vs. Martians opens with a stirring four-minute rendition of the Soviet national anthem as you stare at the hammer-and-sickle flag. Then Stalin sends you mission notes -- one signed with hugs and kisses, and another asking you to help secure the secret Red Magic by sacrificing expendable soldiers. Your fearless leader refers to his men as cannon fodder, while loading screens between missions show photos from World War II with aliens Photoshopped into them. So is this a satire of Stalin as savior of his country? After all, some people hold that a single-minded brute won WW2 on his own. What are a few Martians?
More likely, Stalin vs. Martians is a satire of real-time strategy games in general. You have a monster of a master giving you piecemeal instructions and no incentive to preserve the units you are given. Gold is easy to come by, troops are cheap, and tanks magically heal when they run over a red cross. Everything is close enough to RTS conventions to underscore how distant those same conventions are from the wars more serious games purport to portray. Seen as a satire on gaming, the horrors of the visuals, sounds and basic mechanics take on a new light.
So we are left with a problem. If SvM is merely a clumsy attempt at using humor to rescue a botched game, then you should avoid it -- even at its low price. The dancing Stalin video is as clever as it gets, and that's not especially clever. If it is a satire, then it is a muddled one that goes on too long. Once you get the point, then there is no reason for level after level of the same crazy stuff. After a while, you are simply playing a bad game.
Had I any confidence that the developers had the faintest clue what they were doing, Stalin vs. Martians could be an amusing commentary on how ridiculous the RTS genre can seem when reduced to bullet points. But sometimes bad is just bad. Intentional or accidental, it may not matter in the end.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.