May 29, 2017 Last Updated 11:00 AM, May 29, 2017

Calm Down, Stalin Review

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Life isn't easy when you're a dictator.

There are papers to stamp, people to shoot, invasions to stop, and of course, vodka to drink. When you're governing a major world power, it's understandable that your hands might get a little shaky. However, when your finger hovers over trigger to launch a nuclear attack, maintaining your cool is vital.

Calm Down, Stalin puts players in touch with history by allowing them to experience the sweaty-palmed, gut-wrenching stress of being a despotic ruler of a country on the brink of war. That you have the unfortunate handicap of only being able to control one clumsy, flailing arm at a time adds to the fun.

First Impression

For those that appreciate the absurd, Calm Down, Stalin does not disappoint. It has everything you want as an autocrat: A curly pipe, a prodigious mustache, and a big red button capable of unleashing untold destruction on the world. Not having bilateral control over one's limbs is an acceptable sacrifice for absolute power.

GamePlay

The goal of each level is to end the day without ending the world. The “end” can be brought on by two fronts: an enemy invasion, or the launch of a nuclear attack. To ward off an invasion, you must hover on the edge of pushing the button while never actually going all the way. If that were all you had to do, it would be easy.

Managing a regime is never as straightforward as it seems. Each level introduces additional complexities in the beleaguered Stalin's day, such as negotiating with enemy states, or swatting away a fly. Once-easy tasks become difficult struggles as new duties are piled on top of already-difficult-to-balance responsibilities.

There are only four controls in Calm Down, Stalin. The left and right mouse buttons activate the corresponding arms, “Space” drops held items, and the mouse controls movement. Game advancement requires maintaining an equilibrium between Stalin's tiredness, State Integrity, and progression. Each level gives you the opportunity to play two sub-levels which can help improve the stats for tiredness or state integrity. Unfortunately, they act against each other, so playing them both on the same level doesn't accomplish anything. The ability to progress halts if state integrity gets too low, so it is vital to prevent it from reaching zero. Although progression is possible if Stalin's tiredness maxes out, controlling him in that state is like trying to dance with a drunk baby.

My favorite "task" was shooting the gun. Not only was it one of the rare items that served the dual purpose of reducing stress while increasing state integrity, it also employs the classic Wilhelm scream movie trope.

Problems

Real-world physics are only a suggestion in Calm Down, Stalin. Dropped items may decide to yo-yo frantically around the room and then land unceremoniously on “The Button.” Keep in mind that your primary goal in the game is to NOT press the button. It can be frustrating to lose a difficult level because of an errant object. It is, however, amusing to watch.

In one level I dropped the handset of the phone. It fell off the desk into, what I can only assume from the thudding rattle that followed, was a hidden drawer in Stalin's desk. It continued to thunder there until the end of the level when it popped out like the cork in a champagne bottle. Fortunately for Stalin, phones were more durable back then.

Wish List

I am not certain I would fix the bugs, because while they can be annoying, they're also ridiculous enough to be funny. The appeal of the game is its absurdity, so its flaws are a part of its charm.

6

The Verdict

I didn't notice how tense I was until the end of the level. My body unclenched, my fists uncurled, and I breathed a sigh of relief. The pressure of playing reminds of the feeling of playing Five Nights at Freddy's, without the horrible jump scares. If you enjoy that kind of tension, you will like Calm Down, Stalin. I prefer to appreciate it as a spectator, as it is hilarious to watch others fumble their way towards inevitable doom.

The issue with Calm Down, Stalin is that it doesn't offer a lot of replayability. It is an amusing novelty that quickly wanes. I enjoyed it while I played it, but I am not likely to pick this one up again.

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Phoebe Knight

Phoebe Knight is a freelance writer and novelist. She cut her baby teeth on the original King’s Quest, and has loved gaming ever since. Phoebe’s favorite games are usually weird ones with quirky storylines, but she has also logged an embarrassing volume of hours in sweeping open-world fantasy games like Skyrim and Witcher 3.

Website: www.phoebeknight.com

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