Three words is plenty to describe a game. I always think that games with names like “Proud Legends of Knightly Valour: The Ballad of Asmodeus’ Magical Beard” always seem a little pretentious to me:, when “Another Fantasy RPG” would probably suffice. On that note, props to “Stalin vs. Martians” for making its intentions clear.
Respect is also due for staying true to what was clearly the original design goal: To create something utterly, utterly weird.
OK, so the only thing that’s not immediately apparent from the name is that it’s an RTS. You play commander of a bizarre imagining of the Red Army circa WW2, with your forces made up primarily of various tanks and a few varieties of infantry. Arrayed against you are… what are those things, Nerds? Skittles? Midget Gems? It’s hard to tell at first as swarms of brightly coloured dots come screaming toward your troops. Zoom in a bit and… no, I still can’t really make it out. Teletubbies perhaps?
This isn’t your usual RTS.
The pace is… entirely too frenetic for anything approaching careful planning. The music. My god, the music. Sometimes, I can still hear it, in my most fevered dreams. It is impossible to do justice using the limited vocabulary of mortal man, but it’s like the Cheeky Girls in a recording studio IN HELL, filtered through a Commodore Amiga. The endless, pulsing, saccharin, gibbering insanity of it begins a slow decline in your brain that combines with the meaningless blitherings of your troops and the martians’ high-pitched squeals of death-joy to create a sound that has to be heard to be believed.
As I stared in complete bemusement at the game unfolding before me, I could actually feel myself getting stupider. This must be how all videogames look to old people.
However, this is clearly the exact thing the designers were going for. It’s a send-up of World War 2 RTS games, but that makes it sound ironic and wry, when it’s actually just barking mad. It’s a constant, merciless assault on the senses. It’s like having your eyes and ears repeatedly smacked by a giant pink foam hammer, wielded by Zangief from Street Fighter II. It’s like sharing a bottle of absinthe with Jeff Minter, in a clown car. It’s like…
Okay, I’ve taken a moment to calm down.
Hopefully, I’ve made it clear now that it’s honkingly insane. But beneath all of that heavy-duty weirdness is, when all is said and done, a videogame. And I’m supposed to be reviewing it.
Now, as RTS games go, there’s little to really recommend it. Tactics generally stretch to lassoing all of your troops and mass-rushing the nearest group of enemies. Dead aliens sprog powerups, but you’ll never choose – for example – to collect the +30% defence bonus powerups with your armoured vanguard or whatever. You’ll just blast all of your troops right through them and see what happens. The pace of the game is just too fast for actually thinking about what you’re doing. Which is, I think, the point. It’s billed as an action-RTS – which just means it has the same basic mechanics as a traditional RTS without any requirement to really consider what’s going on. It’s not unfair to say the feeling is similar to playing an RTS while really drunk.
However, it’s cheaper than a night on the gin down the Nag’s Head. The low price makes value for money a little easier to talk about when what you’re buying is really a big, loud joke posing as a videogame. It makes you smile, that’s true, but not because you’re enjoying in-depth videogaming at its best. It makes you smile because a thirty-foot tall Stalin is murdering those aliens out of Toy Story while your ears are being attacked by Russian techno.
There are certainly worse ways to spend a weekend if you want a break from sane RTSes this summer.