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Stalin vs. Martians has been billed as a fun, ridiculous, over-the-top arcade approach to the real time strategy genre. It was obvious we were in for something weird when the music video style trailer came out featuring a dancing Stalin and some neon cartoon aliens fighting tanks. It is all terribly funny until you pay out money for this appalling piece of drek. Published by Mezmer who are in turn owned by Paradox, this title was developed by an odd amalgamation of three development companies based in Eastern Europe.
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The game takes us back to the time of Stalin, but things aren’t quite how the history books would suggest. Instead of the Nazi invasion or the capitalist monster, it is Martians that threaten the freedom of Mother Russia. This bizarre collection of slimy looking giant bug-eyed aliens is trying to take over and Stalin wants you to repel the assault. Each mission begins with a briefing from Stalin and then you are plunged into the action to send troops to their gory and colourful deaths.
The complete lack of a tutorial, anything beyond cursory descriptions of your own units and a complete lack of enemy descriptions makes things puzzling to say the least. However the basic game mechanics are so broken that you’ll be distracted from the trial and error approach by your general struggle to play the game. You have to kill enemy units to get gold and power ups so you can charge up your forces or hire reinforcements. This positive feedback loop is dwarfed by the chronic toxicity of the mission design and tempered by the fact that the path finding is so bad you can’t always get the pick ups anyway.
The missions range in difficulty from laughably easy to insanely difficult and the focus is purely on moving troops around. There is no building aspect, no tech tree and no resources other than the pick ups dropped by dead aliens. The controls are awkward and the lack of feedback leaves you wondering if you have triggered a command correctly. The wonky path finding is infuriating and the AI is intensely dumb. In short this plays like a dog, a dead rotting dog.
It claims to be arcade style which just means it lacks any strategy or depth as far as I can tell. I suppose it is accessible and some people might get a laugh or two from the “comedy" but for RTS fans this is pure torture.
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It’s bright, it’s cheap, it’s colourful and it’s very ugly. The game visuals are deliberately kitsch with brightly coloured visual effects and cartoon style monsters. The basic buildings and human units are fairly dull. The alien design is a bit more fun and there are some comical animations. The detail level is decidedly low and the textures leave a lot to be desired. It is also tough to make out the smaller units on the maps and sadly units often clip into the environments.
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Never before has a game featured such horrendously annoying sound. There’s all sorts of awful music on show here from house to hard rock. The only thing it really has in common is that I don’t want to hear any of it ever again. In between missions there are some truly mind boggling music videos with aliens playing guitars and a badly modelled and animated Stalin boogying on down. The sound effects in the game are also annoying and cheap sounding and there is a lack of sound effects to confirm actions in the game. Units on the battlefield also frequently shout bizarre lines of voiceover. It is all meant to be funny but sadly it just isn’t.
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You will need Windows XP or Vista and a 1.5GHz processor (Pentium 4 or Athlon XP). You’ll also want at least 1GB of RAM, 2GB is better, and 2GB of hard drive space. You need a DirectX 9 3D graphics card (NVidia Geforce 6,7,8 or 9, ATI Radeon HD 2xxx series or Matrox Parhelia) and a sound card that supports DirectX 9c. The game is full of bugs, the frame rate is dodgy and it crashes frequently. There are very few options in the menu and you can’t even change things like the resolution.
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On their website the developers say it is “a good real-time strategy game", in fact they claim it is “one of the best in years" followed by the statement that you can quote them on that. Well in actual fact it is a car wreck of a game, a horrendous brightly coloured, noisy irritation which is one of the worst real-time strategy games in years and yes you can quote me on that. It is obviously supposed to be a joke game but if you end up shelling out money on this then the joke is on you.