Leaving aside the fact that Russia is being an aggressor in a war in Europe, is it a good idea to release a game that features the Soviet Army as the heroes?
It is exactly that which is the case in the latest in the list of the Strategic Mind games – Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism. Developed by Starni Games and published by Klabater, it’s fair to say that the last couple of games in the series – those of Strategic Mind: The Pacific and Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom – haven’t fared awfully well. So, is it a case of third time lucky, or should we avoid the franchise like the plague? There’s only one way to find out, and that is by stepping into the Communist boots of a leader of the Red Army. Let’s go, comrade!
We’ll start by taking a look at the story and we find ourselves given command of the USSR fighting forces, not only land, but sea and air as well, before being sent on a series of missions in order to protect the Motherland. The history on display is somewhat changed, with engagements rubbing shoulders with the Russians invading Germany in 1941, when I am pretty sure it was the other way around. Still, we get to meet and interact with various real historical figures, such as Josef Stalin, most famous for killing millions of his own people. All in all, the story is okay, but I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t gagging to see what happened next.
Story aside, surely Spectre of Communism looks and presents better? Well, no, not really. The cutscenes are – much like previous games – painful to watch, with all the reality of an episode of Sesame Street. Honestly, Big Bird would do a much better job than any of the actors working on this. The voiceovers are absolutely diabolical, the lip syncing is a mess and the character models look like they have been created from Plasticine, left in the sun to melt. It is all hysterically bad.
Things don’t get much better in the actual game itself, as if you have played any of the Strategic Mind games before (and my condolences if you have) it is very much business as usual. What you are getting here is a battlefield made up of hexagons, some with your units on, some with the enemies on, as you are left to achieve a series of things on said battlefield. The models of your units look okay-ish, except when, for no apparent reason, one of those units will grow to an enormous size and roll over the terrain to the destination you have selected. Frankly, it looks stupid. And if you thought the cutscene voices were bad, even those here are poor; the Russian soldiers sound exactly the same as the British and American soldiers from previous games. It doesn’t feel like a good start, does it?
Still, does it get any better when you start trying to conquer the world for your Communist overlords? Well, yes and no.
The lack of any form of tutorial is extremely annoying, but whilst Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism does go into great depth explaining what the various units can do and so on, it does drag on forever. But when it comes to actually playing the game? Well, not a dickie bird. I’m here to help though and this is what you need to know. You select a unit, as you might expect, with the A button, and then you can tell it to move, fire or whatever. However, in order to action your command, it is the Y button that you need to press. The only reason I know this is because I stumbled across it when reviewing the last game, and so was pre-warned this time. Don’t expect the game to tell you these kind of things.
Once you actually get underway, the actual skirmishing is not too bad. Moving tactically, keeping your units under the umbrella of your big guns, and then shifting across the battlefield, rolling up everything in your way is actually better than previous. Don’t get me wrong, Spectre of Communism is no Warhammer 40,000 or Command & Conquer, but it does at least work, largely.
As you advance through the levels, new units become available, as you’d expect, and so new challenges and missions await in new areas. Strategic Mind never strays far from its roots and that is the case with Spectre of Communism. I must say that aircraft are still a pain to get to do anything without running out of fuel or ammo, but other than that, things are at least competent. I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of it fun, as the cutscenes replace any feelings of tension with hilarity, but it does all work. When that is one of the most positive things you can say about a game, it is a pretty sorry state of affairs, though isn’t it?
In all, Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism is better than previous games in the franchise, but that isn’t a particularly high hurdle to clear. As strategy games go, there are better options out there, but this does work and is able to offer up a bit of a challenge.
Still, if you fancy being a Soviet commander, it may just about be worth a try. But Command & Conquer: Red Alert is still a lot better, even today.
Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism is on the Xbox Store
- Offers a challenge
- New units can be interesting
- Rarely fun
- Cutscenes are as bad as previous games
- Never really hooks
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Klabater
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 9 March 2023
- Launch price from - £24.99