Being able to manage your own Soviet Union and its puppet states in a video game sounds great, but that’s it. The good bits are hindered by fundamental flaws.
Genre: History, Simulator
Release date: 20 March, 2017
What is it about? Tell me more!
Crisis in the Kremlin is a kind of spiritual successor to the 1991 game of the same name, which is funny considering the Soviet Union did fall due to internal crisis and reformism in 1991.
Players are given the position of Head of State of the Soviet Union: a role which allows for extreme power and authority. As the game progresses, gamers receive political points, which are used to interfere with foreign nations and start nationwide reforms. These reforms allow for a diverse amount of customization, the creation of trade deals, and, of course, pulling the strings of political adversaries.
Crisis in the Kremlin has a short campaign where it’s up to you lead the USSR from a set date (1985 – 1989) into the 90s, and, during the 1991 crisis, players choices and reforms dictate which path is followed: liberalism, conservatism, Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, or moderates. It is very important to keep in mind that even though you have to lead the USSR into the 90s, it is possible to trigger the DEFCON counter depending on the actions you take. The lower the DEFCON, the closer the world is to nuclear warfare and annihilation.
Even if it does seem attractive to be able to rule over so many things, there are fundamental flaws which actually hinder the game’s deep and well-considered political mechanics. Have no doubt, the amount of customization in the ministries is insane, allowing multiple play styles. Players interested in weakening the USA and winning a military victory can use favourable ministers that support terrorism in the US, for example. Very interesting ideas, but … eh.
Sounds good! Where do I buy?
Not so fast! Although the game does have deep mechanics that allow players to name ministers for the soviet ministry; ban, suppress, or allow different socialist ideologies (Leninism, Stalinism Trotskyism); or interfere with countries, using influence to help weaken the USA or just to expand your sock puppet empire; there are major flaws that hinder the game’s ability to be rewarding, intuitive, and enjoyable.
Upon opening the game, you’ll find there are no tutorials teaching the basics of the game and how to play it properly. It is possible to learn or guess how things work with trial and error, which is not fun, and makes what should be fun gameplay become boring. For example, there is no information about how science points work or how budget spending works, or even what benefits come from them. Another good example of how the game falters when providing information is the occurrence of monthly events, which show the names of politicians of whom players may not even be aware!
Crisis in the Kremlin awards political points to players every game month, which starts whenever the brown book in the above image is opened. Each month spawns random events, where the available choices depend on the selected character — yes, it is possible to play as certain politicians of the time — but that’s where the problems begin. There is no information regarding the consequences of the player’s actions. A good example is having to decide between two random politicians little known by most players, who have no idea of the consequences of either decision. Of course, Soviet or history enthusiasts may have no trouble deciding with which politician they want to side, but regular gamers would probably not have heard of many of them.
By spending political points, you are able to open closed ministries, allowing for further control of the USSR, be it through new Generalissímo powers or the dependency of the legislative to the executive power. And in this regard, the game plays well indeed. The way players can reform the system to their liking makes for an interesting concept, but it is sadly misapplied here due to a lack of any tutorials or user friendliness, and a cumbersome user interface.
User Interface? Huh?
The interface is very confusing and the inclusion of both Russian and English on many screens makes it even worse. For example, in the image above, “Congress of CPSU” would be enough, but there is also a Russian translation on top, polluting an already complicated and unexplained interface. The lack of an intelligible interface tends to hide the potential of all the other deep and actually interesting mechanics, making for a not-very-friendly experience.
Although that might not seem like a big issue, it is. To make it even worse, the ENORMOUS amount of grammatical errors and nonsense during random events, together with the problems listed above, makes for a confusing and unfriendly experience where it’s hard to understand what is happening, and the lack of sound effects do not help. There are no sound effects for clicking buttons or performing certain tasks. Players will find it hard to categorise something as a tragedy or a favourable random event due to the lack of any sound effects; for example, a negative-sounding tone could play once a tragedy occurs during random events, helping users define a useful course of action. There is Soviet music included, though, and it’s AMAZING!
It’s buggy, but is it worth it?
While Crisis in the Kremlin does try to bring the old Crisis in the Kremlin (1991) experience to modern PCs, it fails in making the game actually playable. The effort is there, the content is there and the fun is there, but most players will feel locked out from truly experiencing the game’s depth. A big chunk of the problem is the lack of user friendliness in both history and usability, as there are no indicators to whom some people are, or how to use certain mechanics to one’s favour. These problems, summed up with the lack of sound effects, make the game all but unplayable.
Even with these issues in mind, Crisis in the Kremlin does achieve what it proposes, but is not user-friendly. Soviet history enthusiasts and simulator lovers may find themselves some entertainment if they can ignore the issues. But overall, I’d suggest waiting for fixes and future improvements.