I was expecting Calm Down, Stalin to be a little like Goat Simulator with a more, well, authoritarian tone.
At a guess, I thought I’d be ousting a few rivals, admiring my mustache and arresting innocent civilians. Maybe hammer a sickle into a statue of Lenin; y’know, all that usual knee-slapping tomfoolery. Developer Cartboard, however, has other ideas.
Yes, this carries all the outlandish laughs you’d expect. It is an eye-sore, sporting a rendition of Stalin that looks cut straight from Socialist Weekly and folded over a mannequin. Your arms, however, appear like misplaced stilts in the mirror, and casually leaning over your desk to shoot a bothersome spy provides unending giggles. But at the core of Calm Down, Stalin is actually one of the better takes on frantic VR multitasking I’ve seen.
This is an entertaining manifestation of Stalin’s paranoia if there can be such a thing. Signing documents, shooting invaders, answering phone calls and managing the Doomsday Clock by hovering a finger over (but never pushing) a big red button all must be juggled with keeping Stalin calm by smoking a pipe or knocking back what can only be described as medicinal vodka.
Each of these core interactions is considered for VR. Signing requires you to trace Stalin’s signature, a task that becomes increasingly impossible the more stressed and shaky he becomes. Reaching over to grab phones is made frightful by the risk of nudging the button. There are other great little touches, like the option to swipe away bothersome flies that add to the fluster, or having to smack your lamp when it starts flickering and making writing impossible. A particularly excellent element is the mirror, which breeds a certain unease when you spot spies trying to quietly sneak behind you. It’s brilliantly alarming.
And yet, somehow, you laugh through the stress. Even in its most trying levels, Calm Down, Stalin remains an entirely replayable romp. Despite overwhelming odds, I was enthusiastic to restart levels as soon as I’d failed them, somehow confident I’d suddenly gained the mental fortitude to succeed.
Going in, I expected maybe five minutes of fleeting fun before this was forgotten. How nice, then, to have been pulled in for an entire hour and only completing a handful of the moreish levels in that time. Yes, Calm Down, Stalin is stupid. But it’s that welcome brand of slapstick idiocy that does actually hide some substance beneath the surface.