Mother Russia Bleeds

Mother Russia Bleeds is a classic beat’em up, both in form and function. Where the classics tend to stay within the arcade trope of cheap deaths and continuously forcing the player to avoid being hit, this game delivers both the classic feel of the arcade with adaptations that are largely unavailable when the primary means of progression is quarters being pumped into a machine.

The graphics are what you’d expect from a typical beat’em up from the arcade era, but the biggest upgrade here is how smooth everything looks and feels. I never encountered any undue flashing or frames drops. The sound design also receives a nice upgrade; each punch or elbow sounds solid and appropriately violent. The music-full of synth and big “epic” sounding pieces fit the story and gameplay well. There was never a song which felt like it was out of place. It’s an edgy soundtrack for an edgy game. Check out the trailer below and make your own judgments.

Moving on: while the enemy AI is simple and repetitive, you are able to add an AI companion to simulate having a buddy sitting on the couch and playing with you. He’s a dumbass, but, so are the enemies. In true form, I found him hitting me as much as I was hitting him. Neither of us seemed like we really wanted to be friends with each other. A few times, he did glitch out and refused to revive me. I imagine that if I was at his house, his mom would have made us play something else because of our arguing. I also had a problem with a story companion not moving after I revived him, so the friendly AI suffers from a similar level of “intelligence” as the enemy. Overall however, the few minor glitches I ran into were easily taken care of and it’s unlikely the player will encounter them unless they are trying to. I did remove my companion AI when I realized how much of a hassle he was going to be, though disabling friendly fire would mitigate this issue as well.

This review isn’t exactly timely, as this game came out early September last year, but that gives me the opportunity to argue some of points other reviewers had. One criticism I’ve found is that – as there are no enemy health bars and the game fills the screen with so many minions at once—nothing feels personal about the slaughter. I agree to an extent, however, I believe the point was to make them faceless and nameless. One particular hero in the game (unplayable, but important to the story) is heralded as a communist who is fighting against the corruption and class discrepancy that existed during the alternate reality USSR’s last days. This is an important distinction that works extremely well in the game. Making the enemies look and feel like a faceless horde seems to be an intentional and effective stylistic choice on the developer’s part – and exactly how the heroes would view them.

Our four anti-heroes are your basic beat’em up tropes – Sergei is your average jack of all trades, Ivan is your big dumb muscle-head with high damage and low speed, Natasha the only female of the playable cast, is fast and has the highest jump. Then there’s Boris, who is kind of a hybrid of Sergei and Ivan, (who looks like a homeless thai boxer!) heavier than Sergei, but faster than Ivan. Basically, there’s a character for everyone. All of the characters are Roma, a group of travelers living in the slums of this alternate USSR, and develop an addiction to a drug that gives them hallucinations and ultimately sets them on a path of vengeance. You use a syringe to pull this drug out the veins of your enemies and using it to heal or to go into a rage mode. Cheesy, but helped explain how the health mechanics worked while intertwining them with the story. I’m a big fan of “show, don’t tell” in game design, and replacing random food or health-packs with something relevant to the story was definitely appreciated.

While there seems to be a lot of this edge-lord ultra-violence, it doesn’t really seem to be the point of the game. It’s just the backdrop for a compelling story about your character, or group of characters forgoing a noble quest to overthrow a corrupt, socialist government for their own violent revenge fantasy. It’s not a thick story, – it’s a beat’em up, after all – but there’s more to it than you’d EVER get on an arcade machine. Definitely of note: the boss battles change the formula in ways that wouldn’t work in your local fun room. Environmental hazards and unique events are sprinkled in – and a few of the bosses just cannot be hurt by normal attacks. This is what truly makes this game stand out from the pack. One example that stuck with me is fighting a boss next to a truck with a meat grinder attached to the front – unable to harm them with your normal attacks, you are forced to throw enemies at them to knock them into the grinder while avoiding it yourself.

Guns are present as generally one-shot kill weapons, and while that seems like it would cheapen gameplay, the developers were very careful about how they were distributed. They were useful, but never became a crutch. There are areas that practically require firearms, and this serves to give you a sense of a bigger conflict, in which you are just a part. It’s a masterful way to show the revolution instead of just mentioning it in cut scenes.

There also seems to be a lot of controversy about the game’s use of transgender characters as enemies. Is it a targeted attack? Have the developers stereotyped anyone?

This reviewer doesn’t think so. The idea that using someone in an enemy role in a video game automatically makes them an object of mockery seems like a big stretch to me. There are male enemies, female enemies, and – if those pig-head enemies are transgender—I guess there are transgender enemies. If anything, I would credit this game as more inclusive for potentially having enemies of diverse genders and sexes. As there was actually no mention of any character’s sexuality nor gender identity in the whole game, I interpreted that section as a kind of knock on BDSM, but maybe it’s a little overkill to try and create controversy here.

Without ruining the story, I will warn you – it’s no Shakespearean epic. It’s a game about vengeance in a world that is crumbling due to the corruption of the Soviet Union and unchecked power of a group of elites in a society that was supposed to be equal. The slums, medical testing on unwilling people, all of that is the background for a tale of vengeance. That’s not really the most promising story available, but tell me: is it worse than two guys saving the president who was kidnapped by ninjas? How about the classic tale of two brothers trying to save one girl? Honestly probably the most unique beat’em up story ever told – and it’s got two endings!

In the end, I definitely suggest you give it a run. It’s not long, but it’s fun. Especially if you can get a buddy to bring his controller over and you can duke it out together, provided you don’t just beat each other up the whole time.

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