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Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Mario goes to the Kremlin: 14 games that stoke Cold War fears

In Soviet Russia, games reinforce binary geopolitical worldview of you.

By Anthony John Agnello, Nathan Grayson, Scott Jones, Joe Keiser, John Teti, and Drew Toal • May 15, 2012

1. Freedom Fighters (2003)

The revisionist history of Freedom Fighters posits what might have happened had the Russians ended World War II by dropping an atomic bomb on Berlin and established themselves as a peerless global superpower. In the ensuing decades, the Soviets apparently would have claimed much of the planet as their own, until they eventually launched a surprise attack on the United States, beginning with New York City. At the center of the 2003 third-person shooter is a pair of overall-wearing brothers who happen to work as plumbers. (One of the brothers even has a large “M” embroidered on his cap, in case the allusion is lost on anyone.) One brother is taken hostage, and the remaining brother, in a bid to rescue him, finds himself leading a rag-tag militia on a quest to reclaim now-Russian-occupied New York. By rousting the gun-toting Reds out of each level of the game and rescuing soldiers along the way, the player earns “charisma points,” and higher charisma means that more soldiers are willing to fight by your side. Earn enough charisma and even injured Soviet soldiers, not unlike those fickle turncoats in the crowd in Rocky IV, will opt to join you.

2. Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996)

Killing Adolf Hitler has to top nearly any list of time-travel priorities. In the 1996 real-time strategy game Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Albert Einstein invents the Chronosphere, travels back to the days before Hitler comes to power, and averts the terrors of Nazi rule by zapping the future German dictator out of the space-time continuum. But sci-fi has taught us that fiddling with temporal matters always produces unintended consequences. Without Hitler and his hordes goose-stepping across Europe, Stalin wastes no time sending out the Red Army to fill the power vacuum. It’s an unusual piece of speculative history. Who can forget the chilling image of Stalin as he dances around his office, hooting and waving his belt around to celebrate the Communist subjugation of Great Britain?

3. Rush’n Attack (1985)

Bluster can be an effective psychological armor. Make yourself seem powerful enough and other people will start to believe the tough talk. By the mid-1980s, the United States didn’t exactly need bluster anymore, as the economic decline of the Soviet Union was well underway, but Cold War chest-puffing was a tough habit to break. Hence Rush’n Attack.  A single soldier is sent into an unnamed country—though the fourth level is called “Siberian Camp,” so it’s not hard to read between the lines. Playing as the soldier, you are equipped only with a blue jump suit, a knife, and the task of destroying the enemy’s secret weapon. From there, you proceed to stab every single soldier in the Soviet army. It seems the infantrymen of capitalism are so superior that the only weapon they need against rocket-pack-equipped armies is a giant knife and an impressive vertical leap.

4-5. Tetris (Game Boy and NES versions, 1989)

The pack-in game that originally came with Nintendo’s Game Boy was famously habit-forming, causing untold millions to become so hooked on Alexey Pajitnov’s Tetris that they’d see the four-block “tetrominoes” descending the backs of their eyelids as they fell asleep. The strange “space shuttle” ending of the game, seen only by the most masterful players, seems to suggest that the mass addiction was all part of the Soviet plan. After a group of traditional Russian dancers rejoice at your success, we see a Buran space shuttle leaving the launchpad. See, while you were wallowing in capitalist decadence by playing this dumb game, brilliant Soviet engineers were building a glorious vehicle to the stars. So, yeah, nice job putting all those make-believe blocks in the right place.

The officially sanctioned NES version of the game is even more disturbing. In this version, the dancing Muscovite revelers are none other than your favorite Nintendo heroes—Mario, Link, the whole lot. Having presumably rejected the corruption of the West, the iconic characters appear to have assimilated wholeheartedly into life behind the Iron Curtain. And as if to hit home the inevitability of Soviet dominance, the spires of St. Basil’s Cathedral suddenly launch free from their foundations, suggesting a nuclear armageddon initiated from within the Kremlin itself. Yet through it all, Luigi doesn’t miss a beat in his Trotskyite jig, the traitorous bastard.

6. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Fantasy combat with the USSR tends to involve wild space-age technology. The original Metal Gear was a prime example, with its titular walking, nuclear-missile-launching tank. But Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater went even weirder. The game opens in 1964 with the world’s greatest Cold War fears realized as a nuclear bomb detonates on Russian soil. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. president Lyndon Johnson, being reasonable sorts that don’t want the world to end, send in the grizzled badass Snake to apprehend the responsible terrorists before mutually assured destruction becomes unavoidable. Snake has to fight a personal war against Soviet separatists and their giant all-terrain nuclear tank—not to mention the supernatural soldiers of Cobra Unit. It’s got everything Cold War intrigue needs: a struggle between the old and new worlds, espionage, and Sputnik-esque paranoia-inducing tech.

7. Strider (1989)

The makers of Cold War-inspired pop culture were getting a little stir crazy by the time Mikhail Gorbachev got his perestroika on. You could see it in the stories. The James Bond series and Vietnam fallout like First Blood had given way to stuff that was downright weird, like Rocky Balboa ending the Cold War by punching a blonde guy. Strider wins the award for clearest evidence of psychic fatigue setting in as the U.S.S.R. disintegrated. The game’s story is zany across the board: By 2048, an evil dictator rules the world, and a badass ninja has to bring him down by infiltrating what remains of the Soviet Union. Strider’s idea of what the Soviet Union would be like if it were allowed to thrive for another 60 years is alarming, even beyond the robot dragons. Sky pirates lead the military, and enormous robot apes are standard-issue weapons at Siberian bases. Strider makes Red Dawn look both plausible and comforting by comparison.

8. Super Punch-Out!! (1984)

In a pre-NES arcade iteration of Nintendo’s boxing game Punch-Out!!, the thick-jawed Russian boxer Soda Popinski was known as the somewhat more problematic Vodka Drunkenski. Today this overt reference to Russian drinking culture would likely create an international incident. In the early ’80s, though, there was plenty of leeway when it came to denigrating the Soviets. Still, Nintendo thought discretion the better part of valor when it renamed the character for the home version of the game. Despite the downgrade in alcohol content, Popinski continues to profess a love of drink—“I can’t drive, so I’m gonna walk all over you,” he says—and also demonstrates a certain immunity to cold. Popinski’s hulking size makes him one of the most intimidating characters in the game; the alcohol angle only amplifies his fearsome qualities, making him seem like an angry drunk who could pop off at any moment—which is pretty much how Americans perceived the Reds for the better part of a century.

9. Communist Mutants From Space (1982)

By 1982, the threat of space aliens was a well-worn premise in video games. So the developers at Starpath Corporation must have known they needed an extra hook for their Space Invaders knockoff. If extraterrestrials were old hat, what about extraterrestrials who espoused a stateless form of government in which a collaborative system of production distributes abundant wealth based on need? Now that was truly frightening. And so Communist Mutants From Space was born. Piloting your private-sector laser cannon, you chip away at the mutants’ defenses until you land a death blow on the mother alien, which cuts off the creation of new mutants—thus proving that all implementations of communism are doomed by the impossibility of true decentralization and the inevitable formation of a corrupt power core. Or maybe it was just a crappy space shooter with a dumb name. Hard to tell.

10. Fortress America (1986)
Fortress America

One of the five board games released in Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster Series, Fortress America is set in a near-future of American hegemony. It pits one player as the U.S.A. against the combined forces of the Asian Peoples Alliance, the Central American Federations, and the Euro-Socialist Pact. The game was released in 1986, soon after the quintessential Soviet invasion film, Red Dawn. In both of these scenarios, the American technological advantage is nullified and then eclipsed by the incomprehensible hugeness of the Red Army and its fellow traveling allies. The U.S. player must defend three fronts, each commanded by an opposing player. The only border that isn’t a warzone is the northern front, held by our peace-loving Canadian brethren.

11. Street Fighter II (1991)

Back in the glory days of the WWF, nothing got crowds more riled up than Nikolai Volkoff waving around the hammer and sickle on a field of red and belting out the Soviet national anthem. By the time Hacksaw Jim Duggan ran into the ring with the stars-and-stripes and a two-by-four, the arena would be on the verge of frenzy. Street Fighter II’s Zangief plays off this same nationalism. Like Volkoff and Soda Popinski, this hairy grappler wears the trademark red Soviet speedo, and he sports scars that he allegedly received while wrestling bears in Siberia. The “Red Cyclone” isn’t all bad. At the end of Street Fighter Alpha 3, for instance, he teams up with sumo wrestler E. Honda to destroy a wanna-be dictator’s “Psycho Drive,” making the world safe for fat Japanese guys and hirsute Russian dervishes everywhere.

12. Vanquish (2010)

The essayist George Santayana famously said that those who don’t remember the past are doomed to live through it again. But Santayana probably didn’t expect anything along the lines of the U.S.S.R. 2.0 seen in Vanquish. After the Unites States and Russia call off friendly relations amid a new space race, the ultra-nationalist Order Of The Russian Star assumes control of a gigantic satellite microwave laser, which it immediately uses to vaporize San Francisco. Fortunately, America has a man in a fancy spacesuit who can perform rocket-powered knee slides—a proud symbol of the triumphant Western individualism and ingenuity that those Russians, with their heartless mega-lasers, will never understand.    

13. Twilight Struggle (2005)
Twilight Struggle

This board game simulation of the Cold War by designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews retroactively raises the specter of the mid-20th-century Soviets. With one player manipulating the geopolitical dealings of the United States and the other doing the same for the U.S.S.R., the game appears to be evenly matched. Yet Struggle is subtly weighted so that in the early, post-World War II stages of the game, the Great Bear has a small but distinct advantage—one that can be used to conquer the space race and various proxy wars, not to mention the global battle for hearts and minds. Before they get the hang of the somewhat trickier U.S. position, it’s not unusual for novice players to find themselves repeatedly overwhelmed by the People’s Revolution. And, given that the game is based on real events, they may be left wondering how Eisenhower and Kennedy ever managed to keep our little ol’ capitalist nation intact.

14. Krazy Ivan (1996)

Produced well after the Berlin Wall had been reduced to rubble, Krazy Ivan may not take place in the U.S.S.R., but it’s a prime example of how pop culture held onto Cold War tropes past their real-world expiration day. In Krazy Ivan, the formidable Russian military has given control of a giant robot suit to a Russian soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is so deranged that the normal spelling of the word “crazy” cannot contain his madness. Krazy Ivan only takes about an hour to finish—one hour of shooting alien spaceships and bases while saving prisoners. It would all be pretty dull if it weren’t for the astounding live actors playing Ivan and his support crew in a handful of story scenes. The cartoony Russian accents, the dinner-theater-ham performances, and the soft playing of Ivan’s theme song, Chic’s “Le Freak,” elevate Krazy Ivan from a mere throwaway game to a legitimate indignity for a once-terrifying superpower.

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  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    I really need to get my hands on Twilight Struggle. I’ve been eyeing it for a long while now, but I’m worried I may not like it/may not find someone to play with. 

    Also I’m gonna go ahead and plug the Gameological Steam group I made the other day. JOIN HERE http://steamcommunity.com/groups/gameological 

    I’d love to play some games with you people.

    • HobbesMkii

       Yeah, there’s only 10 of us, so far. It’s far too tight-knit. Fyodor keeps invading my personal space.

    • caspiancomic

       I used Steam once, to download Portal when it was free. In the future, I intend to purchase Psychonauts and play it. At that juncture, I imagine I will join the group. Don’t expect me to do anything interesting or log in ever or anything, I’m more of a console man. Still, though. Solidarity!

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         You can get Psychonauts from gog.com without the drm. Price-wise, I’m not sure how they compare (it’s $10 on GOG, Steam might have better deals).

        • Aaron Riccio

          Yeah, the trick with Steam is really a matter of having patience. I picked up a double-pack of Psychonauts and Costume Quest for $5. I probably should’ve waited for them to include Stacking — I’m too cheap to pay $15 for it.

        • caspiancomic

           DRM free sounds like a good cop (didn’t even know Steam used DRM), but GOG doesn’t have a Mac version available. Internet sad face.

        • dreadguacamole

          A lot of people consider Steam itself to be DRM. To be fair, they do have their proprietary DRM solution – Steamworks – but not all games use it.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Yeah, I would consider Steam itself DRM – a program that installs itself alongside other programs and has to run in the background phoning home to make sure you’re not stealing anything.

          It’s a not-very-invasive DRM system, and one that is generally well-regarded, but it’s still one.

          I prefer gog.com when I can because I know programs I download from it I can hang on to and install and re-install as many times as I want, whether or not I have internet or whatever. But I imagine at some point I’ll use it to download a Valve game (still haven’t played Portal 2), or some exclusive like Bastion.

    • doyourealize

      I joined, though I haven’t really spent any time on Steam playing games with others.  More of a single-player adventurer.  That said, I still haven’t gone through Portal 2 co-op, and I’d be up for any other suggestions.  Still haven’t tried Team Fortress 2 (was never a huge FPS fan, but I have a better attitude towards them since I’ve started playing on PC), and I tend to get bored of MMORPGs quickly.

    • LimeadeYouth

      Ditto, joined but probably won’t be the most active user ever. As it is, I’ve got $10 burning a hole on my online purchases debit card and I’m not sure what spend it on.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        What kinda game do you want to get? I could probably whip up a list of recommendations. Or you could wait for a game you want to go on sale. The summer sale is coming up soon-ish.

        • LimeadeYouth

          I ended up picking The Binding of Isaac and Civ 3. I never played anything in the Civilization series and I don’t really know why, it’s a lot of fun. Isaac is a bit frustrating, partially because my fighting skills are always suspect, and because nothing gets held over as I thought would.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          @LimeadeYouth:disqus Ah, those are some pretty great choices! Isaac can be frustrating, doubly so if you didn’t know what you were getting into. My best advice would be to treat it like an arcade game. It actually isn’t too long really, but you need to learn how to counter enemies and all that, and there is a lot of luck to it as well. There’s also a wiki with tons of information if you’re not fond of the whole trial and error thing. 

          Civ is always fun though. and a great way to unwind (or if you want to get really into it, get stressed out).

    • boardgameguy

      I’ve played Twilight Struggle twice and both games ended when my opponent accidentally induced nuclear war.  It was fun, but you have to like war games.  My friend who owned it ended up trading it away because his wife never wanted to learn the rules.  I’d suggest trying to find someone who owns it and give it a run-through before purchasing.

      • Aaron Riccio

        Did your opponent attempt to force you to participate in the Olympics with him, have you decline, and subsequently watch the world burn? Yeah, it’s that sort of game: and it’s terrific. My only gripe is that knowing that certain territories can be quickly flipped by the opposition (Japan’s the big one, I think) is necessary if you’re going to successfully invest/defend against Russia in the early game.

        • boardgameguy

          Yeah, I would suggest any first time player reading a brief strategy guide before a first play to help orient what to do since there are many, many things available

    • ElDan

      On the flipside, for those of you who are console gamers, I’m ‘Gino Falino’ on XBOX Live, feel free to add me if you want.

      • MisterLou

        Oh man, shooting racist, squeeky-voiced preteens while talking with AV Clubbers about Community? Count me in. My Xbox gamertag is “Mister Lou” (shocking, I know). I’m fairly consumed with schoolwork right now, but once summer rolls around I’ll be much more active online.

        @ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus:disqus and other console gamers, what are your games of choice?

        • ElDan

          This will probably ensure that I’ll never get any friend requests, but my main multiplayer game is Modern Warfare 3. I haven’t played it in months and months because all of my friends are burned out on it, but everything else I’m playing is single player.

          OH, I’ve been playing Rock Band 3 lately, but as shameful as it is to play that by yourself, I feel like playing it by yourself with other people over the internet might be worse.

        • MisterLou

          @ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus:disqus I picked up MW3 and Battlefield 3 when they came out. I played B3 more because that’s what most of my friends got, so I haven’t had time to play much MW3, especially Spec Ops. As a result, it has been collecting a fair amount of dust. (I played through a few rounds of deathmatch the other day, but it’s kind of boring by yourself.) So no judgement from me; I’d be up for some mindless shooting.

          The wife and I have been addicted to Rock Band lately, but I totally agree, it’s a weird game to play online.

    • http://profiles.google.com/marcnelsonjr Marc Nelson Jr.

      I second boardgameguy’s recommendation to try TS first. It is a great game.

      If you do like it, you can play online with VASSAL http://www.vassalengine.org/ or in real-time via Wargameroom http://www.wargameroom.com/

    • alguien_comenta

      I have a Steam account, but I don’t use it that much. Most of the games I have are from “Humble Bundles”.
      BTW, I’m “kajigger desu” from AVC but stupid Disqus only has this other account registered

  • http://www.cmondoyouhonestlythinkImTHATdisciplined.com/ Mattman Begins

    In Soviet Russia, games play you!

    Hey, somebody had to say it.

    • HobbesMkii

       In Soviet Russia, jokes call Yakov Smirnoff and want him back!

    • Raging Bear

      In Soviet Russia, beds are under the reds!

  • HobbesMkii

    It’s interesting that Tetris and the Soviet Union could be mentioned in one article without mentioning that Tetris is itself a Soviet videogame. It’s also perhaps one of the first ever games to be pirated (although, this time it was corporations doing it, not consumers).

  • caspiancomic

    I cannot begin to convey how much fun I had trying to explain the Metal Gear Solid series to a friend who, having never played one, thought they were “just another shooter series”. How do you explain a game that takes place in a universe where the depictions of government, military, and international politics are drawn with chilling realism, but where one of the bosses is a fat guy on roller skates who flies around planting bombs? Or a flying, anorexic psychic who knows I like Castlevania? Or a vampire?

    I think MGS3 is pound-for-pound the best in the series, and it’s no mistake that its politics are the most realistic while its bosses are the most outrageous. Something about having the main plot set up by a phone conversation between two real historical figures juxtaposes beautifully with the game’s first real boss being a man whose entire body is full of bees.

    Man, Kojima is confusing though. His games are amazing, and they have amazing stories, but they are absolutely crap examples of good storytelling in games. It’s all kept so separate: it’s like the story and gameplay were having a fight so Kojima forced them to sit in opposite corners of the room and think about what they’ve done. This is a man who has the genius to make a boss like The End, who can be defeated in like six different ways depending on your own level of creativity, or The Sorrow, who actually punishes you for being sloppy or reckless throughout the game and forces you to consider the moral ramifications of your actions. But then he has literally all of the storyline delivered to the player through indulgent hour+ long cutscenes, or the even more boring hour+ long Codec conversation. How can you be so, so good at making both of those things, but so terrible at combining them in a meaningful or satisfying way?

    • Staggering Stew Bum

      I only played Guns of the Patriots and had no idea what the hell was going on. Halfway through I looked up the plot for the previous games on the net to give me some context but didn’t help. But you get to wear a cardboard box ‘disguise’, so whatever.

    • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

      I for one have never minded the long cut scenes or codec conversations

      would I want EVERY game to be like that? no, is it ok for the Metal Gear series? yes 

    • dreadguacamole

        I can’t stand Hideo Kojima, which is a shame because I really want to like his games. But while others rave about elements that I recognize are extremely clever, I’m cringing at the execution…

      • caspiancomic

         As a quick clarification of my opinion to both @dreadguacamole:disqus and @STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM:disqus, I actually really love the Metal Gear Solid series. Those games are among my all-time favourites, especially the first and third entries. MGS1 and Snake Eater are some of the only games I’ve ever played through to the end and then started a new game without even getting up. I once played the original Metal Gear Solid like four times in one day. I think they beautifully reward creativity in gamers in a way that few games successfully can, they’re challenging and fun, the world is perfectly balanced between realism and crazy-trousers insanity, the boss battles are fun and memorable, blah blah blah high praise for hours.

        But I am capable of recognizing when something I love is doing something extremely badly. That day I played MGS five times straight? Let’s just say I skipped a lot of cutscenes that day.

        • dreadguacamole

           That’s ok; There’s quite a few gamer things I guess I’ll never like – Nintendo, Post WC2-Blizzard, FFVII, and well, Hideo Kojima. I get why people like them, and understand the things they get right, but they mostly leave me cold.
           The first MGS is probably the only one I can say I honestly like; it just felt like good fun, without Kojima trying to show everyone how clever he is.

    • http://grantb.net GrantB

      I picked up The Twin Snakes for GameCube, a two-disc game that clearly intended to provide hours of fun.  I didn’t even get halfway through the first disc before I sold it back to GameStop.

      I thought the gameplay was merely ok, but the cutscenes were brutal.  ”I like anime, so call me Otacon!”  No, dude, I’m calling you a failure.

      • caspiancomic

         The Twin Snakes was a bit of a failed experiment. The idea was basically to update MGS1 with MGS2′s engine, which was a fine idea in theory, but the execution was a nightmare. MGS1 was simply not designed for things like a first person camera, and the design of the new game didn’t change enough to accommodate the engine upgrade, so the difficulty curve tanked and the design overall was really sloppy.

        Plus, the cutscenes were absurd. I know this is MGS and all, but there really is a fine line- Snake is not a fucking acrobat. There was so much Matrix/Equilibrium style bullet-time martial arts wackiness, with characters just barely dodging bullets, and a retired dog-sledder being brought in for one last mission fucking breakdance fighting a guy with a revolver. It probably speaks to how specifically and intricately built MGS’s world is that an invisible robo-ninja fits right in but if Snake does a backflip suddenly the whole thing is totally unbelievable.

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

        Twin Snakes was an inferior remake
        and son, let me tell you, if you’ve never played the original Metal Gear Solid you have no business calling yourself a gamer 

        • http://grantb.net GrantB

          My cred is old-school.  I beat the original Metal Gear with an actual NES.  I’m secure.

    • Djur

      Snake Eater is amazing, and I have a personal theory that Kojima had less to do with it than the other games in the series. MGS2 was what happens when you give Kojima free rein.

      MGS3 is just perfectly executed camp. The theme song, Naked Snake’s hilariously rumbly voice, the fact that the game requires you to run around punching out snakes and rats and toads and shoving them in your mouth to stay alive… Volgin is awesome, the Shagohod is better than any Metal Gear, and there’s no Otacon and no annoying kid with Asperger’s.

      And Ocelot. Ocelot! So great.

      And the ending fight is genuinely affecting. The only ending battle in the series which begins to rival it is MGS4, surprisingly enough, because otherwise that was pretty much the worst game ever made.

      • RidleyFGJ

        Kojima was very much the brains behind MGS3, but a lot of it only came together because of him responding to the criticisms lobbied against MGS2, as well as figuring out a way to continue the series without having to continue the story threads from MGS2 that he really never intended to continue in the first place.

        I mean, when you think about it, MGS3 is even further from the norm than MGS2; it abandoned the radar, it largely takes place outdoors in fiercely asymmetrical environments, and there’s a boss battle that can take hours to complete. The only way you could have followed up something as completely batshit loco as MGS2 was to make an even crazier and potentially more alienating game, and by god did Kojima succeed. We need more of that Kojima and less of whatever the hell has happened to him these days.

      • caspiancomic

         While I think Kojima still had a pretty firm grip on the reins for MGS3, I’ll admit that one could potentially draw a parallel between Kojima’s particular brand of self indulgent insanity and a certain once adored now reviled director of wars in space.

        I agree with @RidleyFGJ:disqus about how MGS3 came to be as good as it is. I think it was still Kojima’s baby, but unlike a lot of proud eccentric creative types, he was actually willing to listen to, capable of understanding, and willing to update his vision to reflect the criticisms of his previous work. But then he made MGS4 right afterwards which, while great in the gameplay department, is probably the worst offender in terms of gameplay to cutscene ratio in Kojima’s catalogue. So maybe he forgot everything he learned after making Snake Eater. Or maybe since Guns of the Patriots took place right after Sons of Liberty, and Sons of Liberty was a big bowl of Crazy-Os With Marshmallows, Kojima had nowhere to take the story but Crazy Town.

    • Ff88

       i could not disagree with you more

  • http://www.cmondoyouhonestlythinkImTHATdisciplined.com/ Mattman Begins

    On a more reverent note, I’ve played and freaking loved practically this entire list.  You’d think I’d have some sort of congenital bloodlust for murdering communists, considering how much fun I had doing it in pixels.  Based on my political leanings these days, the enemy clearly conquered me in the end. 

    I was going to make some comment here about “you sure couldn’t get away with selecting a political/national/ethnic/different group of non-fictional contemporaries today as your universally uniting gaming antagonists!”  But, who am I kidding?  In modern gaming, in modern art, you can find hatred, if you want to.  It will just be uglier and less…mmm…quirky than it was during the mostly-perestroika-era gaming you see here.  And these were cartoon Soviets in practically every iteration you see up there; it’s not like these games were genuinely engaged in battling concepts like, say, a centrally planned economy, or state-funded higher education (well, maybe Strider is, somewhere in all those symbols you fight).  Anyway, I’ll let somebody else make a point about the bigger picture here, for villainy or for gameplay.

    Strong gaming memories include: 

    - the time-the-stab-juuuust-right-to-kill-the-jump-kicking-soldier routine of Rush’n Attack
    - the cringeworthy bedroom FMV scene in Red Alert (and don’t forget the communist squid in Red Alert 2!)
    - setting up those charming little plastic hovertank pieces and poring over every “Partisan Uprising” event card in Fortress America (just like Red Dawn, the game’s fiction presupposed a Mexican front in an inevitable U.S.-Soviet conflict, but Canada, home of socialized medicine, opts to stay neutral, those hosers)

    And then there’s that daffy item of propaganda postmodernism known as the arcade version of Strider.  If you look really closely (this was the case with the SEGA Genesis version, anyway), you can see that Hiryu is using a miniature sickle to grab on to every surface he climbs up.  Hammer not included, apparently.  I genuinely enjoyed the reverse-gravity final stage; it was shades of the “am I falling down or falling up?” vertigo I felt when Luke is falling through all those Bespin shafts toward the end of The Empire Strikes Back.  I don’t know what I liked more from that game:  the Duma turning into a gigantic mechanical centipede boss, or the cut scene text of an expressionless, random Asian girl shouting, “You idiot!  We control the world as long as there is the flyng [sic] battleship ballog.”

    Surprised at no mention of the bizarro NES version of Strider, which was a completely different, Metroid-style affair involving several different countries, disk collecting, and battles with giant purple trees, meant to reference Yggdrasil.  It was like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Strider.  Kind of awesome, kind of nuts.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Don’t some of those Call of Duty/Battlefield/Modern Warfare games sometimes make the Russians cartoonishly aggressive militant baddies? And engage in some facile Middle-Easterners == terrists steteotyping?

      I’m going on hearsay, as I haven’t played those games, but my understanding is that modern games are just as likely to demonize a people to conjure up a nemesis as older games. Maybe less cartoonishly.

      • HobbesMkii

        Yep. Except for the Call of Duty games set during WWII (for some reason no one feels inclined to include the Holocaust in videogames to explain why the Nazis are bad, you’re just encouraged to shoot Germans), all those games are about one step away from Team America in terms of how they portray their enemies. And not one step away in a good direction.

        • dreadguacamole

           Has anyone here played Homefront? I got it as a rental, and honestly felt dirty for playing it as far as I did. Not just the demonization of North Koreans, but the things it depicts… I’m sure the devs would defend it as trying to portray war-as-hell, but it comes off as cheap, sleazy, jingoistic, manipulative, exploitative… fuck, I’m out of adjectives – what a shit, shit game. It makes other shooters look like LeCarre.

           The battlefield: bad company games, on the other hand, come off a lot better simply because they’re relatively light-hearted; It’s one of the few modern shooters where I didn’t fail any missions because I shot my companions (don’t judge me – it’s cathartic). Turns out it’s a lot better to draw inspiration from Three Kings rather than some batshit insane Bond/Tom Clancy fanfic…

        • HobbesMkii

          @dreadguacamole:disqus Well, what did you expect from the guy who wrote and directed Red Dawn?

        • Vervack

           @dreadguacamole:twitter  Oh, God, I know. I did not come into it expecting much, but I was not prepared for the joy it took in wallowing in human suffering. The thing that probably freaked me out the most was the beginning of the third level, where you had to call in a mortar barrage on a platoon of North Korean soldiers in a parking lot. However, this was a barrage using munitions filled with white phosophorus, which means that rather than just blowing them up (which is pretty horrible on its own), you were killing them by basically burning them from the outside in and the inside out (through smoke inhalation). And if you decided to just sit back and watch them burn to death rather than shoot at them and put them out of their misery, you got a fucking achievement. It was honestly one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in a video game.

          And the worst thing is that I’m a strictly PC gamer, so I actually bought it. I thought it would be good for a laugh, but I just felt bad about wasting my money afterwards.

      • SamPlays

        I’ve recently played COD4 and WF2 and the Russians in one of those game (MW2?) are aggressively cartoonish militant baddies. I believe COD4 engaged in tremendous amounts of facile Middle East-terrorist stereotyping. I’ve never been a fan of FPS since recently but I must admit that I enjoyed the hell out of both of those games. However, I can’t imagine taking part in those multiplayer maps – just too many bad stories about the people who play online.

        • HobbesMkii

          Online play is definitely a totally different animal from single-player. I enjoy the hell out it–if there’s one thing that CoD does without error, it’s multiplayer. But if you don’t generally enjoy FPS games, I doubt you’d find multiplayer to be that much fun.

          That said, I have been called some things that would make a sailor blush by some very, very young children, so there’s that.

      • leave_the_silver_city

        I don’t know if I’d call it cartoonish, but the Modern Warfare games of the Call of Duty franchise do feature stereotypical villain Russians and Middle Easterners. COD4 (the first Modern Warfare) at least had Russian allies in the loyalist government forces helping your guys fight the Ultranationalist rebel forces, but aside from that, the bad guys are basically an axis of evil between the Russian Ultranationalists and a fictitious Middle Eastern nation ruled by a dictator willing to nuke one of his own cities to stop the American advance in his country, using nuclear materials acquired from the Ultranationalists (and in the aftermath, you get to play as your U.S. Marine character who survives the blast as he dies a slow, agonizing death from his injuries/radiation poisoning). I haven’t played MW2 and only one level of MW3, but my understanding is that they’re an updated Red Dawn.

        I haven’t played Battlefield 3, either, but what I’ve heard is that there’s Middle Eastern militants, a war with Iran, and once again, an axis of evil-like conspiracy between Middle Easterners and Russians to set off dirty bombs in Paris and NYC in an attempt to provoke the U.S. and Russia to war.

        I will say that I did have fun playing MW and the one level of MW3 (until the disc stopped working on my friend’s XBox). I try not to think too much about them, because those stories are ridiculous.

        The Call of Duty games set in World War II had the Russians as good guys, but they became Communist baddies in Black Ops. The upcoming Black Ops 2 has a Cold War between the U.S. and China, once again, with a faction trying to provoke them into a hot war.

  • PugsMalone

    Man, fuck Stalin in the first Civilization. He’d always fortify his units and pin mine right next to the sea.

  • The_Misanthrope

    Ahem…I think you forgot about a little game called Paranoia:

     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranoia_%28role-playing_game%29

  • Enkidum

    OK, I’m not even going to pretend to be on topic here (but just for the record, I’ve barely played any of these games, which is unusual for me).

    I just got a PS3 second-hand and a bunch of games: Portal 2, RDR Undead Whatever, Infamous 2 (which I’ve now won), Arkham Asylum, Ico, and the GOW collection. I know all of these are excellent, and there’s a few others I’ll be getting once I’ve played through some of these, and I still have a backlog of awesome 360 games I haven’t played through – GOW 1&2, Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed, Kameo… (Holy shit that’s a lot of games I haven’t played through, but in my defence I’m getting these off Craigslist for 5-10 bucks each, for the most part.)

    But what I’m really interested in getting in the nearish future is a good online multiplayer FPS, preferably for the PS3 since I don’t want to pay for Xbox Live, and preferably one which has a slightly less awful online community than some of them. And preferably with a decent single-player campaign, although I guess I’ve got Halo 3 and Reach for the Xbox that I could play through. Any suggestions? I was a huge fan of Unreal 2004 for the computer, so something like that might be up my alley…

    • Staggering Stew Bum

      Online MP FPS’ seem to bring out the worst in people. Mute button is essential.

      As far as what the PS3 has to offer:

      Battlefield 3 had a relatively reasonable pool of players when I played that, and the MP is fun. Though you need to buy an online pass if you pick up the game used. Single player was horrible though.

      Goldeneye Reloaded is awful. Do not buy it out of nostalgia for the N64 version, you will be horribly disappointed.

      Killzone 3 is ok, the PSN store has a free trial download of the KZ3 multiplayer if you are interested in checking it out.

      RAGE has an okay single player, and you’d think the online PvP MP would be at least worth a go….but it is buggy racing. Yep.

      I liked Resistance 3, the campaign was pretty good. Online is alright but has some really cheap perks which people exploit, like cloaking which used to drive me nuts as it was my most common form of death after the bane of the FPS, campers with a sniper rifle.

      Bioshock 2 online is fun and the single player is great, though online is pretty dead nowadays.

      I prefer third person shooter games though. Uncharted 2 MP is/was fantastic (though Uncharted 3 is ordinary). The Uncharted online community is as abysmal as you’d expect. Red Dead was ok when it launched but pretty much everyone on there is at the maxed out level now so you get slaughtered, though the Undead co-op is pretty fun. I’m still waiting for a decent replacement for Uncharted 2. Mass Effect 3 co-op will have to do for the time being.

    • Zachary Moore

       Battlefield Bad Company 2. I’ve never had any issues with assholes, and you don’t have to buy an online pass, I don’t think. Plus you can get it new for like $20. Also, you can blow holes in buildings and drive vehicles.

      The single player is fun but nothing special, though.

    • CivilizationHasFailed

      Unreal Tournament III is good for you, if you were an unreal fan. Not sure how the community is these days.

      Buy Battlefield Bad Company 2 before Battlefield 3. It has a built in community, BF3 is a bad PC port, poor game, especially compared to Bad Company 2.

      I strongly suggest Uncharted 2. I wasn’t a huge fan of Uncharted 3, but many like it. It has a really fun multiplayer with one of the best singleplayer action games ever, hands down. UC3 has a co-op mode though.

      Try Killzone 2 and 3, I was never a fan though. And Max Payne 3 just came out, could be interesting.

  • HobbesMkii

    I’ll add another three games to the “you missed this” pile: Every Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game features the Russian “Ultranationalist” party as their bad guys, who seek to return Russia as a Soviet state (their little symbol is the Red Star with a Sickle and Hammer superimposed on it). Which apparently isn’t a terrible idea, because once they win the elections, they’re able to launch invasions against both the United States and all of Central and Western Europe at almost exactly the same time a la Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. Communism is seemingly so potent it immediately militarizes a country and turns it into a military-might-projecting world superpower overnight!

    Those games are so poorly fucking written it blows past the line of funny to tragic.

    • caspiancomic

       To this day I’m really shocked to see how vilified Russians still are in our pop culture. Even that new Jason Statham movie has him fighting shady Russian gangsters as though the threat of Soviet Invasion was still teetering somewhere near 98% certainty. Everytime I see “The Russians” used as stock boogy-men in movies and games I always think of John Malkovich in Burn After Reading exclaiming, stupefied, “why did they go to the fucking Russians?

      • Shain Eighmey

        I think it is because so many of the people who are responsible for this crap just have that “Cold War” mindset hammered into their brain. Just look at the suddenly soured relations between the US and Russia over a “missile defense system” that doesn’t work, being installed in countries that don’t want it, to protect us from the “bad Russians”. 

        It’s as poorly written as any Call of Duty. 

        • HobbesMkii

          I think anyone who came of age before the 90s is probably stuck in it. And that’s why we get so much heated anti-Russian rhetoric. I mean, one party’s presidential candidate is literally making opposition to Russia the centerpiece of his foreign policy platform.

          There will probably be a ten year gap when all the children of the 90s write their bad guys as Euro terrorists, and then the kids of the 2000s will turn them into Arabs and that’s where we’ll be for another fifty years or so. Hooray, ideological conflicts!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Well, to be fair, Russia hasn’t exactly left behind Cold War ideologies, either. There’s still belligerence with respect to neighboring countries, and a rhetoric of lofty nationalism, and plenty of macho marshal posturing (they still parade ICBMs through Red Square while unfurling Soviet standards on Victory Day, and fly jets on training missions into other countries’ airspace just to show that they can).

          Despite the Cold War ending, the US and Russia are still kind of bizarre fun-house mirrors of each other. Both countries seem like the most likely (or only possible) candidates to be a developed nation brazen enough to start a new world war, so if you’re making a military action game and want a “big bad” rather than a bunch of disparate terrorist cells, a US/Russia face-off is still the way to go, it seems.

        • leave_the_silver_city

          @bakana42:disqus I definitely agree with your assessment of how both the U.S. and Russia are still so seeped in the Cold War mentality. You kind of see the same thing happening with the U.S. in the discourse surrounding countries like North Korea and China, where the former becomes a stand-in for the almost cartoon-ish villain-y but still threatening Stalinist image of Communism, while the latter gets the “best of both worlds” so to speak of being an officially Communist country and the successor to Japan’s status as the upcoming Asian economic superpower that we should all fear.

          What makes the Russian case much more interesting to me (I studied history in college and developed a fascination with Russian history, which is mostly what I studied for like 70% of my undergrad career) is how much post-Soviet Russia seems to be going through an identity crisis. On the one hand you have these Soviet symbols being brought out, e.g. Soviet banners used during parades, the Victory Day parades on May 9 (a Soviet tradition), and even the national anthem went back to using the tune of the old Soviet anthem with altered lyrics, and then you also have all these old imperial-era icons, e.g. two-headed eagle, tricolor flag, rebuilding the Orthodox cathedral in Moscow that was demolished during the Soviet period.

          The Russian government seems to be reaching into different eras of the past in order to find legitimacy and to create this sense of continuity in Russian history despite having had two regime changes and a tremendous amount of turmoil within a single century. The use of Soviet-era symbols and posturing toward the West and neighbors do seem to tie into this appeal both to nostalgia because there’s still plenty of people in Russia who were alive and remember and even had good memories of the USSR (those who grew up in the late ’60s and even the early ’80s) and of having been a world superpower, as well appealing to the past by calling on the historical memory of Russia as having been the biggest motherfucking continental empire of the modern world.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @leave_the_silver_city:disqus : Totally, and in addition to that multifarious imperial/Soviet past, there’s also the contemporary love affair with capitalism, pursued to extremes. After decades of Western capitalist goods (blue jeans, rock records, etc.) being extremely precious, rare, and often forbidden commodities, the mentality now is akin to a kid who gets to have ice cream for dinner every day – and chooses to. (I actually had an adult student in Moscow who summed up her political ideology thusly: “Before Putin, I had no blue jeans. Now, I have lots of blue jeans. I love Mr. Putin!”) That mentality is reflected at a national level with respect to the oligarchs and their use of the plentiful oil/gas money, and on a cultural level in contemporary Russian pop culture (especially music and film), which tends to ape the most egregious and immoderate elements of American commercial pop culture (see: Timur Bekmambetov).

          Moscow as a city is a real exemplar of Russia’s layer-cake history. You’ll have the restored glittering cupolas of a pre-revolutionary cathedral adjacent to some Soviet concrete brutalist building, both down the street from a newly constructed apartment complex that looks like something straight from Dubai (and is priced accordingly).

      • Vervack

         I’ve wondered this a lot too, and I tend to go for a combination of two explanations. First of all, there is a very long history of antagonism between the English-speaking world and Russia. The old fears of communist expansion and domination still linger on, but these go back even further than 1917 to the days of the Great Game. Hell, after the Crimean War the British managed to get a solid hate-on for Russia that lasted damned near the rest of the century. In general, though, I would say that the trope of the antagonistic Russian state endured because it’s always been easy to characterize Russia, tsarist, Soviet, or otherwise, as a backwards, cruel, autocratic place that can be easily contrasted to the egalitarian, free, democratic societies of the West. (I’d also say more things about this trope tapping into fears of immigration from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the minds of nativists whilst simultaneously appealing to said immigrants as reflections of why they left in the first place, but I’m starting to ramble and you get the idea. It’s a rich tapestry of hate, is what I’m saying.)

        The other explanation is that Russians are one of the few groups you can depict badly and not be hit with accusations of racism. You can’t do that with the Arabs or the Chinese, so they go with the Russians and the Germans, and it’s a lazy, cowardly move. Of course, given the way China has become a big gaming market and labor pool for the American gaming industry, you can’t really say bad stuff about China without the risk of shooting yourself in the foot and losing a ton of money down the line.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    You’re not gonna believe this… he killed sixteen Czechoslovakians, guy was an interior decorator.

    • HobbesMkii

       Really? His apartment looked like shit.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    My mind immediately went to Raid over Moscow from 1985 for the C64. It was one of those typical old home computer frankengames where they basically glued a couple of game concepts together. You’d start by getting your fighter planes out of a hangar (exciting), then using them to destroy Russian launch sites in side-scrolling shooter fashion, and then you’d shoot… some gates or something, with a tank or a bazooka. Not exactly like a shooting gallery, but similar. No idea what happened after that, but it probably involved blowing up the Kremlin. There’s really nothing especially noteworthy about the game, except of course its stupid eagerness to, in typical 80s fashion, turn the Cold War into a hot one because those are more entertaining.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Ah, beaten.  I feel like there were a handful of helicopter games around that time that did the same.

    • Patrick Holman

      Yes! Depending on the level of difficulty, getting out of the hanger could be tricky. The Kremlin bazooka stage was all about getting closer to the reactor, which you had to stabilize (or blow up – I can’t quite remember) by bouncing disks off the wall into a moving robot of some sort. It’s up there with Beachhead for epic C64 games. 

    • Grimbus

       I believe Raid Over Moscow was the one where, after the shooting gallery part you refer to — wherein you had to keep shooting at the fortress’s defenses, and its doors, until you had the correct door opened and all the defenses down at the same time — you went into a room with a nuclear core or something in it and basically played Discs of Tron against a robot.

      Easier to show than explain: http://youtu.be/bEw7yvWoxrQ

      The robot is maintaining the reactor’s cooling system, I believe. And the robot’s front surface is shielded, so you have to bounce a disc off the wall and hit the robot in the back.

      Hard as hell, and a really fun game.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    Freedom Fighters was a great game, too bad they never made a sequel (even though I believe one was planned at one time)

    I’ll never forget that amazing opening cutscene of the Russian submarines sailing into New York harbor while that awesome Jesper Kyd music played, perfectly set the mood

    • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

      also another thing that was interesting about Freedom Fighters was the downer of an ending *SPOILER*

      after fighting your ass off trying to drive the Russians out of New York and succeeding, the main character laments at the end that the consequences of fighting the Russians is that most of New York is now in rubble and that they’ll only be back with reinforcements and still occupy the rest of the country 

      for a game that never got a sequel, that’s a bummer of an ending  

    • dreadguacamole

        It was a great game. Fun, tons of fun, and the charisma mechanic made for a lot of memorable emergent scenes.
       If I remember correctly, it was one of the first games that implemented ragdoll effects correctly; seeing bodies slide and roll down stairways was such a blast.

  • dreadguacamole

     The Battlezone remake.

     You guys can keep your quaint, pedestrian invasion scenarios – I’ll be on the dark side of the moon, fighting the commies in my SPACE TANK.
     Except you, Strider; you’re cool.

  • flowsthead

    I was never a big Command and Conquer guy. I played the first game a bit but found it kind of slow and boring, and at the time I was little so I couldn’t appreciate RTS complexity very well. I played a bunch of Starcraft, but never 1v1s, just UMS maps.

    I did love Red Alert though. I played the Red Alert games a lot, and always as the Soviets. I just loved the Mammoth Tank. It fulfilled all of my dreams as a little kid with its immense destructive power. It just felt so satisfying to be able to get enough money to make one of these and then rip apart your enemy.

    I also loved Red Alert II, but because I was older the game had less of an appeal to me. When it first came out, I got it pretty much immediately and I thought the graphics for the buildings were amazingly realistic. The first scene with Statue of Liberty blowing up blew my mind. And then later you had the Eiffel Tower and the Pentagon. I was going crazy at first just appreciating the buildings. Nowadays it has the look of a good browser game, but at the time I thought it was the most amazing thing in gaming. Starcraft was still more fun for me, but Red Alert had the realistic buildings. Of course, those buildings couldn’t sustain my interest in the game, but I don’t think I will ever forget the emotions I felt as Tanya helplessly tried to stop the Soviets before they took out the Statue of Liberty or the look of the Laser Array protecting the Pentagon in the Soviet missions.

    I wonder if kids playing Modern Warfare today feel about these games the way I felt about Red Alert. When I play them, they just feel so lifeless, but maybe I am just too old or too different from who I used to be to appreciate the bombast.

    • Johnny Canuck

      I know the feeling – Red Alert 2 was a really formative experience for me as a child. Aside from being my first to some excellent character actors (Ray Wise! Udo Kier!) and one of my first fictional crushes (the Soviet advisor who wore tight leather…) it was just good, campy fun. It really had none of the self-seriousness of the Command and Conquer tiberium games, not to mention your Halos and your Call of Dutyses.

      One scene I remember: President Ray Wise is addressing the nation from a “secret location” following the Soviet invasion, with some soldiers behind him putting up a sheet. In the middle of the speech, one of the soldiers drops the sheet and scrambles to put it back up, revealing a giant Canadian flag. Cracked me up as a kid.

      • leave_the_silver_city

        I definitely love Red Alert 2 more than any of the other C&C games. Red Alert 1 was fun, but I loved playing as the Soviets in RA2 as well because immense firepower + female adviser in leather. The camp factor and some of the novelty weapons on both sides were definite bonuses, and the expansion Yuri’s Revenge was fun too, though it was a lot harder to beat, and I never finished either campaign. Still, those games were awesome.

        I never played RA3. It looked like they tried to top themselves by adding in the third faction of the Japanese Empire with all sorts of anime-influenced ridiculousness, but I’m not sure how that translated into game, if it worked just as well for the camp or if the series went too far and jumped the shark. I thought it was kinda strange that they didn’t use China as the third faction, but I guess it would make sense since Japan was seen as the rising power in Asia for most of the 20th century, and you just can’t have 2 Communist countries to fight against. Plus they already used China for Generals, which was officially banned in China because Tiananmen Square got nuked in the beginning, even though the Chinese were portrayed relatively positively. (The official ban didn’t stop Chinese gamers from getting it, though.)

        Speaking of Generals, that was an interesting concept in that it tried to be more grounded in reality with the U.S. as a global power having to share the world stage with a rising China, while both powers have to confront a global terrorist network. It was a decent game to play for a bit but I never finished any of the campaigns because it felt kinda bland: no camp factor, no cut scenes, and base-building + units felt like basically every RTS game out there. It was a gritty, realistic reboot gone wrong.

        • flowsthead

          Although the camp factor was there in Red Alert and Red Alert II, especially in the cut scenes, I felt like the gameplay itself wasn’t really that silly. Both games still played like standard-ish RTS games, and they played really fun.

          Red Alert 3 was actually just too silly. I don’t know if it jumped the shark necessarily, but I couldn’t take any part of that game seriously. The Japanese faction was fun with its robots and such, but it was kind of forgettable. They tried hard to make it different enough from the other two factions, and I guess it succeeded on some level. I just never felt a huge desire to keep playing that game after I had checked out all the units. I didn’t really want to replay it, the way I wanted to replay the previous two games.

        • Vervack

           @leave_the_silver_city:disqus: The camp factor did get upped a bit in the expansion Zero Hour. That’s the one where the Not!Al Qaeda group steals an American superweapon and uses it to saw an aircraft carrier in half, and where the whole game ends with America going isolationist while Europe and China form a comprehensive strategic alliance. It also a a bunch of mini-campaigns where you face off against a bunch of generals with specially enhanced armies, and all those guys are pretty hammy.

          @flowsthead:disqus : I’m in complete agreement with you. with RA3 I got the feeling EA wanted to make RA2 again, but they made the mistake of thinking everything was a joke. RA2 didn’t take itself too seriously, but it played its premise straight, and the stories in the Allied and Soviet campaigns both had some manner of narrative progression. In RA3, I never had any idea why anything was happening or how anything related to the “real” world, the world as established in the older games, or even to anything that happened five minutes ago. RA2 stuck with the idea of the USSR invading America and the idea of every crazy Cold War research project bearing fruit and stuck with them; RA3 was a sprawling three-way mess with a Transformer laying waste to Moscow.

          I think RA2′s expansion Yuri’s Revenge was the tipping point, since the missions did get sillier, and they had you fighting the equivalent of a Bond villain. Still, I can’t stay too mad at it because of its gameplay upgrades and its Soviet campaign (where you got to kill the Allied version of yourself AND go to the moon!)

  • sirslud

    Man I forgot how much I loved that music during the Tetris shuttle closeout scene. Apparently I was a “masterful player.”

  • LimeadeYouth

    Is it wrong I keep hitting the A button (ok, right arrow) somehow thinking I can speed through these vids? 

  • Isaac Marx

    Twilight Struggle – Hell. Yes.  

    One of the best board games out there.  The only problem is finding someone to play it with – my wife is not usually game for a three hour brain burner.  On top of that, if you aren’t lucky enough to know someone who already knows how play it takes about 10-15 hours worth of game play to get a novice to the point of having some idea of the strategy (especially since the two sides play very differently).  

  • Colonel Mustard

    I never played Freedom Fighters, but am curious about that storyline’s proximity to 9-11.  We were still pretty jumpy in 2003.  I wonder how foreign forces attacking a major American city played into the marketing of the game, or if people bought it with the sole intention of fighting insurgents without actually having to fight insurgents.

    On an unrelated note, I remember feeling funny stirrings every time I played Zangief in Street Fighter II that I didn’t quite understand.  Nowadays, I go to bear festivals during Pride month.  Mystery solved!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Apparently Zangief is an exemplar of the Japanese gay stereotype, which tends toward bearish bodybuilders than the sort of mincing stereotype more prevalent in American pop culture. (The Japanese game “Cho Aniki” pushes the bodybuilder angle to insane extremes.)

      Somewhere I had read that Zangief was actually the first gay SF character, and thought that was pretty cool – but apparently that was conjecture based on a weird translation in an instruction manual making it sound like he said he “disliked beautiful women” or something.

      Not that that really matters – whatever silly backstory a video game character “officially” has can’t preclude him from being a resonant figure for gay folks (or a regular fixture in their wank bank, or whatever).

      • HobbesMkii

        I’m always surprised when people mention that fighting games have backstory for their characters at all. It reminds me of the old days of videogaming when the manual had 90% of the story.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        That’s what far too many people have told themselves about Poison.

        (And there are WAY better communists.  http://snk.wikia.com/wiki/Ivan_Sokolov  There’s even a virtuous one: http://capcom.wikia.com/wiki/Biff_Slamkovich  Karnov’s also suspect, though he’s from Azerbaijan or something.)

      • caspiancomic

         I think an inventory on gay characters in games would be a pretty cool exercise. Extra Credits did an episode on sexual diversity ages ago where they mention a Persona character whose sexuality is a core component of, but not the entirety of, his identity, and I was wondering how many characters like that you could possibly name from gaming’s history. Would you even need to use both hands?

        I was thinking about this recently because in one of my own pipe-dream design documents there’s a lesbian character, and I was trying to think of a lesbian from a game who wasn’t basically eye candy for male players. And I’m still trying to think of one. There were those two chicks from that one cel shaded game that I can’t remember the name of, but they were clearly put there by and for men, so they don’t count. Are there any in Mass Effect? Haven’t played ‘em.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          If we widen the scope to LGBT characters: Birdo from Super Mario Bros. is transgendered, according to the American manual for Mario 2, and winkingly corrobrated by the Japanese Mario Kart site, which mentioned “[Birdo] appears to be Yoshi’s girlfriend… or does that mean boyfriend!?” in her character bio. (The fact that Yoshi is a male dinosaur who lays eggs only confuses things further…)

          Also, in the Japanese-only game “Captain Rainbow,” Birdo is arrested for using a women’s restroom despite being a man. Your task is to bring Birdo’s vibrator (!!!) to the police as proof that she is a woman.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Oh! And in the wonderful adventure game Last Express there are a pair of women on the train who are travelling companions, but their diaries indicate that they are a couple. It’s treated in a low-key (and appropriately Victorian) way, and is probably a good example of a non “by-dudes-for-dudes” lesbian relationship in games.

        • caspiancomic

           Excellent choices, @bakana42:disqus. Actually, that Last Express example reminds me of a couple I overlooked from one of my favourites series’. In Suikoden V, your main tactician Lucretia and her bodyguard are implied to be in a romantic relationship, although it’s never out-and-out stated. While we’re on the subject of LGBT characters, wasn’t Kaine from Nier transgender? They played it down as much as they could in the American release, but apparently it’s still there if you go looking for it.

          (Wikipedia tell me that Kaine was actually intersex, which due to my own crippling ignorance I have no idea where that fits into the whole LGBT scene. The intersex article is part of the LGBT portal though, so I guess that counts for something?)

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           I’ve never played Nier, but if I remember the story correctly from the coverage of the “controversy” she was a female character possessed by a male demon?

          I’m not super well-versed in terminology, either, but I think intersex is when you physically are neither completely male or female. Apparently a fair number of babies are born intersexed, and are surgically “corrected” at birth (there was a girl in Freaks & Geeks who had undergone this). Maybe a side-effect of the possession was her growing man-parts in addition to her extant genitals? Or maybe the Wikipedia writer was purposely using a vague word.

        • rvb1023

          Kaine is indeed intersex, seeing any of her DLC costumes makes this very obvious.  It is never explicitly stated in the English release of the game and the heavier allusions to it do not occur until the second playthrough.  She is also possessed by a male demon, though it really has nothing to do with her sex.

          I don’t think she is gay, though.  The game makes it very clear she would like to be treated as a woman.  And now this is making me want to play through Nier again.

      • themagnificentsluggo

        Now that whole section in Final Fantasy VII with the gym makes a bit more sense. 

    • Vervack

       I actually don’t remember being much in the way of any marketing push for Freedom Fighters. I think I found out about it sometime around 2005, when it had just appeared on shelves. As for the game itself, I actually thought it was more of a satirical response to the buildup to the Iraq war. Most of the background for the word was provided in excerpts from a 24-hour news network run by the Soviet military, complete with an eye-candy newsreader, puff stories about diligent Soviet engineers working to restore utilities, and plenty of homilies about the invasion was done to liberate the oppressed American people from their corrupt government, and how a new age of Soviet-American cooperation is flourishing. A lot of it is very tongue-in-cheek (hell, they got two of the guys who played Soviets in Red Alert 2 to voice the major antagonists), but I took it as a subtle jab.

      As for the game itself, it plays fairly straight as a “lone man and his posse fights for freedom” story, but it never descends in rank jingoism or childish cruelty. I’ve always assumed that the reason for this was that the developers, IO Interactive, are actually based in Denmark, so they didn’t feel the need to get quite as…passionate as an American developer might have.

  • IrmaSDean
  • George_Liquor

    I’m surprised the Fallout games didn’t make this list. Those games are steeped in cold war paranoia. Though I guess in that universe, it wasn’t really paranoia.

    • HobbesMkii

       My favorite Liberty Prime quote: “Democracy is non-negotiable.”

  • JokersNuts

    Wow, I can recall that Tetris NES ending as if from some half-remembered dream.  Highly doubt I ever reached it myself, but can remember insisting to friends that you could “beat” tetris and if you do the mario bros, link, bowser and donkey kong show up in front of a castle.  (I had no clue what the Kremlin was, I was 6).  They didn’t believe me.

    Soda Popinksi was always a favorite because of his unique look. and the fact that he was always drinking Soda, which I assumed was Cherry flavored due to the man’s skin color. 

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    I still found it to be a shocking piece of Agitprop when I saw the Punch-out roster with Vodka Drunkensky air-brushed out and replaced with Soda Popinsky.
       Poor Vodka was sent to a Siberian Gulag, where the forced labor permanently ruined his ability to individually flex his pectorals.

  • alguien_comenta

    I loved Vanquish, awesomely over the top, great mechanics, tons of “oh, shit!” moments. Why can’t we have a sequel of this? (and Bayonetta for that matter)

    • SamPlays

      The ending was clearly set up for a sequel considering the final boss(es) were drones. I thought the story was disposable but this was one of the best arcade-action games to come out in a long, long time. My favorite “oh shit” moments include the collapsing freeway, the slow dirge through the darkened transport tunnel and the “Vectorman”-style boss showing up in the anti-gravity corridor. 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I didn’t care for it, but:  https://twitter.com/#!/PG_kamiya/status/197208321680347138

      We won’t get Vanquish 2 because people are bad.

  • James Brazier

    Great list, but you omitted Spitting Image: The Video Game, my favourite beat-em-up of the 1980s. There, you could play as Gorbachev and beat up Thatcher, who had a “special move” whereby her husband Dennis would appear and throw gin bottles at your opponent. You could also play as South Africa’s FW De Clerk, in a rugby stadium that was largely empty except for a small area crowded with blacks, or as the Ayatollah Khomenei, Ronald Reagan, and so on. It was frickin’ awesome and I the only nostalgia game that I wish they’d bring back. 

  • leave_the_silver_city

    Sadly, being in law school makes it hard to even get people to watch a movie with you. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find anyone here who’ll be willing to learn the rules and play a board game, which is unfortunate because Twilight Struggle sounds amazing.

    Was expecting to see this on the list: World in Conflict, set in an alternate 1989 where the USSR launches an invasion of the US, and there’s also an expansion pack Soviet Assault from the Soviet perspective.

    • Vervack

       Yeah, I was surprised WiC didn’t get a mention. At heart, the single-player campaign was a gussied-up remake of the multiplayer game, but it played pretty well as an arcade-type real-time strategy game. The story itself wasn’t half-bad either; playing seriously but knowing not to go for cheap shocks. I liked Soviet Assault too (especially that poor bastard Capt. Malashenko), but I got the impression there was a whole complete game that ended up getting whittled down to a handful of new missions.

      By the way, there’s this new thing floating around called Wargame: European Escalation that seems to be a spiritual remake of World in Conflict, albeit slightly more realistic and complicated.

  • George_Liquor

    Fun fact: Communist Mutants From Space is one of a handful of Atari 2600 games released on cassette tape. You stuck the game cassette into a regular tape player and plugged it into this thing called the Arcadia Supercharger, which itself plugged into the 2600′s cartridge slot. The idea was that tapes could hold more data than cartridges, (And the Supercharger itself had much more RAM than the 2600 console) so the games could be more complex.

  • BigBoote66

    Odd that “Balance of Power” was left out.  What could possibly fuel cold-war paranoia more thoroughly than a dry, plausible simulation of geopolitics, that nearly always ended with a featureless screen merely displaying the text ”You have ignited a nuclear war. And no, there is no animated display of a mushroom cloud with parts of bodies flying through the air. We do not reward failure.”  

    Thing is, the game didn’t reward success, either.  If you didn’t destroy the Earth, you almost certainly would end up losing due to being too much of a peace-loving appeaser; if you did manage to make it to the end, you’d merely get a scorecard showing that, yes, you did make it through accumulating more political status than your Soviet counterpart.

    • leave_the_silver_city

      That reminds me there’s a game set during ’80s USSR where you take on the role of the Soviet leader, with the goal of leading the country in a way that would prevent the dissolution of the Union. This being the ’80s, it was supposed to be incredibly difficult, as if it had been rigged from the start that defeat/dissolution was inevitable in the game mechanics.  I read about it but can’t remember the name of it off the top of my head.

  • Patrick Holman

    I would have liked to see Raid Over Moscow make the list. 

  • Grimbus

     Yeah, when I was 11 or so my Dad got me this epic badass Broderbund 3-pack: Beachhead, Beachhead II, and Raid Over Moscow. Great times were had by all.

    IG

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Jr-McVeigh/100003111218510 Michael Jr McVeigh

    I am shocked an amazed that this article failed to mention the ACCESS Software Commodore 64-era title ”Raid Over Moscow.” Not only is it a fine example of early minigame merging gameplay, but the setting of the game (World War III about to be set off by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) is eerily prescient.