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Review – Calm Down, Stalin

I don’t remember how I found Calm Down, Stalin. All I did know is that I purchased it almost immediately after its discovery. I don’t regret that decision.

Calm Down, Stalin is a comedy simulation game, putting you in the shoes of former leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin. You control Stalin’s hands as he performs stately duties, manages his stress levels, and tried to maintain the ‘cold’ aspect of the Cold War.

Let’s get this out of the way: Calm Down, Stalin is absolutely fucking ridiculous. It’s a glorious work of satire through absurdity, boiling down the complex and brutal machinations of Stalin’s regime into a collection of time-sensitive minigames akin to Surgeon Simulator mixed with the cutscenes from the Red Alert series.

It begins as Stalin, the main character, has moved into a brand new office. It’s barebones, but the State slowly populate it with more items, be they decorations or more tasks to perform (after choosing an optional mission path that led me to focusing on my Stately duties, I was given a portrait of Vladimir Lenin to hang on the wall behind me).

There are two primary components always present: the enemy invasion timer, and the nuclear detonation button. Stalin must perform a series of tasks in order to maintain the “State Integrity” meter, but must also be wary of the “Tiredness” meter, which can affect motor functions. If the timer reaches zero minutes to midnight, then the West will invade and there will be Nuclear War, and the means through which you prevent this is by threateningly hovering your finger over the nuclear detonation button, while being careful not to actually press it.

As well as tiredness, your motor functions are also affected by stress, caused by failure to perform your stately duties. These include answering the phone, stamping important documents, executing enemies of the state, and whacking a faulty lamp. If your stress and tiredness are too high, it can make not only performing these tasks more challenging, but also your ability to simply threaten nuclear war, rather than letting your hand slip and pushing the big red button. It becomes a high-pressure game of maintaining state integrity, holding back the threat of war, and managing your stress through pipe-smoking, shots of vodka, and working out your frustrations on a punching bag.

Stalin moving into a new office is a nice way of explaining the slow progression, and gives you a steady learning curve to get to grips with the best ways of performing each task as they come about. And that steadiness is definitely needed, as all of the tasks require constant attention in order to ensure there are no slip-ups. Once you really get into the meat of the game it can be frustrating, stressful, but ultimately more entertaining.

It’s quite a basic, small game, as reflective of its price tag, but much in the same way as Surgeon Simulator and its progression into a (debatably) fuller, higher production value game, I feel like a bigger budget and a larger team working at Calm Down, Stalin could lead to a genuinely funny and compelling experience, perhaps even more-so than Surgeon Simulator ever did. Which isn’t to say that it’s not fun and worthwhile in its current state, it certainly is for me at least: but there’s potential for even more, perhaps with a greater story angle and dialogue that could enhance the comedy of the game.

It does at times feel unnecessarily slow, with some levels feeling twice as long as they might need to be. Calm Down, Stalin is a game that I’d like to enjoy in short bursts, and its levels don’t feel concise enough to qualify. And as competently as it functions with its mouse and keyboard controls, I can only imagine it’d be a lot more fun to play with a dual-analogue controller, with each stick controlling either of Stalin’s arms, rather than having to switch between the two. It’s little things like this that come together and hold the game back from being an outright recommendation, but if you’re a die-hard Communist shit-poster or enthusiastic about silly simulator games, then I’d say give it a go!

Calm Down, Stalin put a smile on my face, and while there are pitfalls that keep it from being the short burst game that I want it to be, there’s a lot of potential at its core and it has the framework to become something really compelling. Also it’s got Stalin in it, which is a bit funny, isn’t it?

Steam Link || £2.79 || $3.99 || €3.99

[Disclaimer: any nonsensical connections made between video games and Communist themes, zealous and self-righteous dictator-esque behaviors, and perceived support and/or apologism of oppressive regimes like the Soviet Union are purely instances of self-satire as a means of comical introspection, and in some cases have no basis in truth or personal belief.]

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