Don't be offended by Stalin vs. Martians' subject matter. The genocidal communist leader may figure heavily in this budget-priced real-time strategy game, but it's hard to be outraged when he's gyrating his hips to the beat of Russian dance pop, or signing off his written missives with "xxooxx." No, be offended because Stalin vs. Martians is an abysmal game that represents the dregs of game design. It isn't strategic, it isn't fun, and as hard as it tries, it isn't even remotely funny. This is perhaps the worst RTS game ever created, worth neither the 1s and 0s that were used to program it nor the mental exertions expended on this creatively bankrupt waste of hard-drive space.
Actually, calling Stalin vs. Martians a strategy game is a bit of a stretch, though to its credit, you do control units in real time, so at least it gets that part right. You start each of the 12 missions with a given supply of units, and you generally move them all en masse across the map, killing a bunch of aliens while completing the oft-broken mission objectives. When Martians die, they frequently drop gold and power-ups; you spend gold on reinforcements or on special powers, whereas power-ups enhance a unit's armor or attack damage, or perhaps replenish the unit's health. It sounds like an interesting idea designed to keep the action moving. In actuality, it's an absolute mess. Power-ups disappear if you don't maneuver a unit over them, but moving forward toward a sorely needed gold drop may bring you closer to a deadly, goo-spewing greenie. Poor enemy placement and bad pathfinding make the whole process a lame, frustrating war of attrition as you slowly whittle enemy numbers down while summoning replacements for your lost units. And just as the "S" is missing from "RTS," there is no "I" in the AI; your foes either wait for your attack in their assigned position or follow scripted paths, but in no way do they ever require you to think strategically.
Premission briefings from Stalin give context to the proceedings: Martians are invading 1940s Siberia! The concept had potential, but the missions themselves are a complete disaster. A few are so easy and straightforward that you can complete them within 10 minutes or so. Others drag on endlessly, forcing you to move your sluggish tanks from one corner of the map to the other. It's anyone's guess why they move so slowly when you issue a move order but develop a sense of urgency when you issue an attack order. But even when you manage to get your units to their destination, you'll be banging your head on your computer desk out of pure frustration. In one mission, you can lose if Martian units invade a village. The final objective in the same mission involves killing a roaming, buglike alien, which might be near the village center when the objective is triggered, and thus can count as an invasion. This abysmal mission structure can lead to a loss not based on your actions, but rather on thoughtless game design.
Similar issues plague several missions, such as those in which units clip into level geometry and jitter around trying to extricate themselves, but even the functional ones are beyond irritating. Poor balancing and cheap attacks lead to numerous annoyances, such as in one mission in which you must use only infantry units to destroy enemy artillery that can wipe away almost all of your soldiers in one hit. This leads to a lot of trial and error, forcing reloads of your saved games until you know exactly what the game expects of you. But mission design aside, Stalin vs. Martians doesn't even get the basics right. Trying to drag a selection box around units can be nigh impossible if the mouse pointer is near the edge of the screen; the absence of significant visual and audio feedback makes it hard to tell if you've activated a special power, or whether you're actually firing at an enemy; and infantry units will go wandering off in some direction other than where you commanded the control group to go.
A few ear-splitting musical videos break up the putrid gameplay, and they offer the only seconds of so-bad-it's-good amusement that Stalin vs. Martians provides. You won't be inclined to laugh at scenes of zombified communists and be-bopping aliens, though, as much as you'll stare with your mouth agape. The game clearly aims for broad satire. Three-eyed Martians are ripped directly from Pixar's classic animated film Toy Story, and swarms of tiny ETs resemble the charming creatures from the acclaimed Pikmin games. Selected units bleat out such gems as "I am like Bolshevik on bicycle!" and the apparently homoerotic "My name's Ivan, I like you." But every lame grab for chuckles falls totally flat. (What image is a Bolshevik on a bicycle meant to convey anyway?) The forced humor lacks charm and wit, and though it aims for the tragically ludicrous mentality of a camp classic, it's just plain tragic.
The production values struggle with similar attempts at energy, but their exertions will exhaust both you and your system. The sound design deserves special mention for its limited selection of awful house music and tinny array of Martian bloops and beeps. Some onscreen activities don't even produce noise, which is a rather welcome glitch, given that your ears will need a break from the excruciatingly aggressive soundtrack and overlapping, nonsensical chatter of selected units. The environmental visuals are at least colorful, though all of the maps look the same until you reach the final missions. Some of the Martians are cute, though the art design displays absolutely no creativity; for a game featuring alien lizards and Russian tanks on the same battlefield, Stalin vs. Martians looks completely generic. That's a shame, considering that a clever visual slant could have helped veil the decrepit technology powering this dud. There are no graphics options whatsoever in the game menus--no antialiasing or anisotropic filtering, not even an option to change the resolution. How unusual, then, that the frame rate takes occasional dips, and that the game crashed multiple times on multiple systems during our testing. The mouse pointer disappeared after every musical interlude, forcing a restart each time. Changing the "Do you like cats?" menu option from "yes" to "no" had no apparent effects on these issues.
You can play only as the communist forces, and there is no multiplayer, but why on Earth, or on Mars for that matter, would you want to extend an experience like this? Don't play Stalin vs. Martians, even if you are a big fan of communism or Martians--or even both.