Mother Russia Bleeds On PC
No sooner had I beaten a horde of drug-addicts into a convulsing red pulp with an iron girder, than a bear with a spiked cage round its head entered the underground arena. The girder broke. It was going to be bare-fists from now on. This is the deranged brand of beat-em-up play that Devolver Digital and Le Cartel has you tearing through for the four or so hours of Mother Russia Bleeds.
It’s a nostalgic fever-dream that imagines Streets of Rage and Double Dragon in an alternate 1980s Soviet Union as directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The USSR is engulfed in inner turmoil with organised crime, and the streets are awash with a deadly new drug, Nekro. As one of four playable characters, you are tasked with the noble endeavor of beating eight tons of crap out of any and all that stand in your way. There are a lot of people standing in your way: there’s gang thugs, riot police, homeless drug-addled zombies, leather-clad S&M club patrons, dogs, pigs, the aforementioned bear, and the odd government bureaucrat.
All the old genre staples make grisly, redressed appearances here. Health bumps come by way of syringes filled with Nekro (you’re forcibly made an addict early on and must extract fresh Nekro from convulsing corpses). Weapons can be found or created by breaking scenery; only here they are savage and brutal, spraying the levels crimson. Punch, kick, throw, jump, dodge – it’s classic stuff and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of, but it takes a little longer to get good at. The game throws a healthy heap of challenge your way as you improve. The mechanics feel well-implemented, and combat is solid and satisfying. There’s a primal pleasure to be had in hurling a gangster into their cohorts like a bowling ball, leaping through the air and kicking another goon down, and then unleashing a three-hit combo on the next thug – all while watching your combo meter and your points soar.
The game’s unique identity is born of its art style. At first glance, it disarms you with its grim blend of grit and beauty. Graffiti splattered across concrete, chain-link fences curling around broken city streets, the rain lashing down on the urban decay – it’s striking and wastes no time in conveying the game’s story and tone without any words. It’s easy to see why Devolver Digital picked this one up: there are a lot of tonal similarities here with Hotline Miami, and it instills the same harrowing mood and pulls no punches in its depiction of violence. But where Miami used its gore to pose questions about violence in games, and about the dissonance between narrative and the acts that we commit while playing, Mother Russia Bleeds is content not to. And that’s fine, but when so much gratuitous violence is hurled your way, you may wonder why. It ends up coming across as a slightly contrived attempt at being edgy, without the forethought of purpose.
When taking it at face value, there isn’t really much to grapple with other than your enemies. There’s a plot that revolves around your band of prize-fighting Romani folk, a government in cahoots with the mafia, and a subplot (coming by way of hallucination) about the pains of addiction. Much of the information around the game’s characters is fed to you on loading screens, though these seem to jar somewhat with the way the characters are represented in-game. For instance, playable character Boris is presented as a psychotic madman that should be locked up; however, in the game’s cut-scenes, he is perfectly rational and sensibly motivated. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it is rather odd. In these cutscenes, you will encounter some silly dialogue – “the security forces, or more like insecurity forces” – and some flatly evil bastards intent on your demise. These touches are in keeping with the grindhouse, B-movie feel, and there is the occasional titter to be had.
The problem with Mother Russia Bleeds is the same problem that plagues most beat-em-ups: it gets repetitive and dull before the credits roll. The boss fights do well to shake things up, and some of the variety that they offer is very welcome indeed. At one point, you will be asked to dodge sniper fire as you draw your opponent into taking shots at you with a six-shooter; at another, you will have to edge away from a constantly rolling meat-grinder as you are hunted by an armored manic. These do well to break up the monotony of the gameplay, but they don’t quite save it.
Co-op is not so much a welcome addition as an essential one, and teaming up with a friend (up to four people can play) is a good way to throw in some laughs and mix things up – especially if you have friendly fire turned on, which introduces a competitive element.
Mother Russia Bleeds is a rose-tinted callback to the genre’s giants. Playing the game, you will be reminded of the time spent in youth playing Final Fight, and Streets of Rage. However, you will also be reminded of how one note those games truly were, and how it was more than just graphics that advanced as hardware did. Though there are some nice touches here, an interesting art style, and some solid fighting mechanics, Mother Russia Bleeds doesn’t do enough to mix up a formula which has long since grown tired. Still, for the fairly short play-time there is plenty of fun to be had – just make sure to get your hits in before it bleeds out.
Score: 3/5 – Fair