Review: Stalin vs. Martians (PC)

Stalin vs. Martians
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Developer: Dreamlore/N Game/BWF
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: 4/29/2009

I first noticed Stalin vs. Martians (Stalin vs. Martians: The Unknown Pages of the Second World War: Game of the Year Edition to give you its full name) from the eccentric and offbeat music videos that the developers put up on youtube to promote the game. Naturally, a video of Stalin dancing around to some weird electronic music meant I had to play the game that spawned it. Now that I’ve had my Stalin dancing urges fed, should you too pay for the privilege of leading the Red Army against the Martian hordes?

1. Story/Modes

To call Stalin vs. Martians‘ nonsensical plot a “story” would be inaccurate. The game’s premise is that during 1942, an unknown Martian invasion force lands in Siberia and it’s up to the Red Army to kill the alien scum and protect the motherland. Really, with a name like Stalin vs. Martians what did you expect? Metal Gear Solid levels of political conspiracies and plot twists?

The story works well with the general crazy theme of the game and having Stalin himself brief you via a letter before each mission (Signed XOXO, Your Stalin) really drives home the absurdity of the entire endeavor you are participating in.

It is just too bad that the game only lasts 12 missions and you have no other mode than story mode. After you play through the single player campaign, you don’t have a multiplayer option, or skirmish mode or anything left to do. All you have is a useless lump of data on your hard drive whose sole redeeming factor is the silly soundtrack.

Story/Modes Rating: Bad

2. Graphics

Given that the game is an independent title by a Russian developer (or group of developers) it’s no surprise that that Stalin vs. Martians looks quite dated. You can’t adjust the settings for the graphics for some odd reason so you’re stuck with what you have. The character models look nice and colorful (especially the strange Martian units), but the lack of higher levels of anti-aliasing, good animation and lighting makes the game feel almost like it came out from 2003 and not 2009.

I’ve heard in some forums that the graphics can be improved by playing around in the .ini files, but then why wasn’t this simply included in the game itself? It certainly needed it.

Graphics Rating: Poor

3. Sound

Ask any fan of the cult hit Katamari Damacy what they liked about the game and they’ll invariably mention the game’s eccentric soundtrack as particular highlight. Stalin vs. Martians shares this delightful eccentricity, though unfortunately it shares little else with that series.

It feels as though the soundtrack is the area the developers spent the most attention. The score has many licensed (albeit Russian) bands and they are used to emphasize the silliness of the battle taking place. Everything from electronic music to Glam Metal and Korean pop are included in the game. Even some classic-sounding 8-bit tracks are played in the menu and loading screens.

The voice acting is limited but also carries the surrealistic tone of the game. Russian soldiers seem to have no qualms about fighting aliens from mars and reply with things like, “My name is Ivan! I like you!” when selected or “Speak Russian or Die!” when ordered to attack.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control/Gameplay

Stalin vs. Martians is one incredibly simple RTS game. No basebuilding, one resource and… strategy. That’s right – when you start your glorious career in the Soviet Anti-ET unit, you throw everything you know about strategy out the window. Your only directive is to crush the non-communist alien scum with sheer weight of numbers and firepower and collect the power-ups they drop. Yes you heard that right, power-ups. You collect them to power up(duh), to heal your units and to buy new ones.

The game descends into almost Dynasty Warrior levels of strategic thought (No, I don’t mean that in a good way) and there is no variety to the missions. You are tasked in every mission to kill Martians. The game attempts to disguise the monotony with clever objectives like, “establish a defensive line” but really it’s just go to location X and kill everything there, over and over again.

The only high point is you control a 50 foot tall Stalin.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Very Bad

5. Replayability

This game will last you a few hours, give you a few laughs and then you will promptly never hear from it again. No multiplayer and no skirmish mode is strange for this genre. (Not that you’d want to play this game for long periods of time, anyway.)

What you want the soundtrack? It’s in a folder in .ogg format so copy it somewhere and then uninstall the game.

Replayability Rating: Worthless

6. Balance

You don’t have to bother with any fancy tactics or counters strategies or anything like that. Just load up on the best tanks available to you and steamroll the enemy, while occasionally unleashing some off map special abilities.

No wonder the game doesn’t have any multiplayer. Who’d want to play it?

Even at the budget price of 15$, the game is overpriced for such a small amount of content.

Balance Rating: Worthless

7. Originality

I’ll agree with the developers here. Is there really any game out there that is like Stalin vs. Martians? The fact that such a quirky, funny game made it out the normally very hardcore Russian videogame industry is impressive in and out of itself. Aliens, communists, power-ups, Stalin and WWII. No other game ever made has all those and a fun random soundtrack as well.

Originality: Classic

8. Addictiveness

Too be honest, even though the game mechanics suck, the Stalin vs. Martians’ silliness is infectious. You’ll want to finish it just to see everything from 50 foot Stalin to the Gorbachev music video.

It’s really a shame that it’s attached to such a poor game and the addictiveness makes the experience bearable instead of enjoyable.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Stalin vs. Martians is an independent downloadable game made in Russia. That has about the same amount of mainstream appeal of joining your local communist (Stalinist, not that pussy Maoist faction.) party branch.

The developers have done a brilliant job marketing the game themselves with some crazy youtube videos and doing some of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever seen.

That and all the low review scores the game is getting will get some publicity going as well.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Everything related to this game is a joke. From the promotion to the soundtrack to the website ( btw) to the options screen (which asks you if you like cats or not) exist only for the lulz.

Not even the manual is immune from this, as it is only five pages long and filled with jokes (Like how the T-34 is required by law to be in every Russian videogame, even Tetris.) rather than useful information.

Generally, the Russians involved in the making of this act like they’ve had one too many vodkas and I commend them for their humor.

I wish I could say the same thing about their game design.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic

The Scores

Story/Modes: Bad
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Very Bad
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Classic
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Classic

FINAL SCORE: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Stalin vs. Martians is a good joke, but a bad, unbalanced mess of a game. At 15$, it’s also an expensive joke that I can’t recommend to anyone. If the price drops to 5$ or even 10$, it would be worth picking up for the soundtrack alone as it is the game’s true highlight.



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