Don’t do drugs, kids!
Developer: Le Cartel Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: 6th September, 2016
Gritty, Ultra Violent, stylish are all words I would use to describe latest attempt to revive the classic beat’em up genre: Mother Russia Bleeds. I should also use unfair, deeply flawed and infuriating because it’s such a faithful adaptation of arcade brawlers, it seems to have inherited numerous failures from the past.
Mother Russia Bleeds’ world is has a rather gritty aesthetic to it, attributed to some well done designs. Despite each location being wildly different from one another, they all feel coherent enough to exist in the same grungy world. Character designs are quite nice as well and I found they visible indications of damage to be a useful alternative to more conventional health bars. The soundtrack is something special as well, suitably dark and hard hitting. The way Mother Russia Bleeds presents itself makes for a wonderfully gruesome experience.
The ultra violent brawling of Mother Russia Bleeds is fiendishly compelling. Combat is fairly straightforward, you’re given a fairly standard set of punches, kicks, grabs and anything lying on the ground to deal with an onslaught of foes, nothing new there but it’s executed exceptionally well, you feel like you can take on the world at times. Variety in the combat comes mainly from the roster of enemies, ranging from basic thugs who stumble face-first into your fists to riot police armed with impenetrable shields.
The defining feature that separates Mother Russia Bleeds from other brawlers is its “nekro”, a practically magic narcotic that can both heal you and send you into blind rage. The berserk mode offers quite an exhilarating twist, bringing an all round speed boost as well as unlocking a gloriously brutal finishing move, but only for a limited time.
Nekro is your only way to recover health however, making it a very precious commodity indeed. Supply is very limited and only replenishable through draining the occasional convulsing corpse, a process that requires you to remain stationary while you sap the drug right out of them, leaving you wide open for the hordes to creep up on you.
This risk/reward scheme does add an extra layer of strategy and tension to the combat, but it’s frustratingly let down by some baffling design choices, particularly when the story rears its ugly head. Mother Russia Bleeds tries far too hard to make you care about its story, halting the gameplay to force it on you. The game’s such a frantic and chaotic adventure, it’s a real shame to have it come to a screeching halt to force its ineffective narrative on you.
The story really does get in the way of the gameplay, several times forced cutscenes not only broke the pacing, they also cost me a chance at replenishing my nekro (remember that you have very limited time to acquire your precious drugs). The story only ever served to wreck the pace of the game, or just inadvertently cripple me.
While I hesitate to comment on the development process of games myself, I deeply feel the Le Cartel team has attempted to expand in the wrong areas and neglected to improve upon the glaring flaws many of the classic beat’em ups shared.
Unfortunately, Le Cartel seemed to be so desperate to recreate the arcade classic that it fails to improve upon their greatest flaw: difficulty. Mother Russia Bleeds’ idea of a difficulty curve is just throwing more and more enemies at you, attempting to overwhelming you through numbers.
While you have a wide range of abilities to do damage, your only defensive capability is a small dodge, which might be good enough for the early stages but not against the massive mobs you’ll face later. There’s no grace period when your hit either, stunlocking is a major problem, especially when there’s enemies that can continuously knock you over (looking at you, attack dogs). Your health bar gets erased when you get dog-piled, and you will be dog-piled.
Another nasty tactic your enemies like to use is to hide of screen and blow you away with guns, entirely invisible save for a sliver of gun barrel. Cheap Shots like these are infuriating, especially when the checkpoints edge more towards the unforgiving side of things.
Mother Russia Bleeds’ reliance on sheer numbers for difficulty becomes painfully clear during boss fights. The accompanying minions tend to pose more of a threat than the bosses themselves, unless they’re spamming ranged attacks from offscreen, of course. While i appreciate the different tactics required for each boss, they were one of the more disappointing aspects of the game, serving more as a gimmicky spectacle more than a true test of skill.
Mother Russia Bleeds offers some incredibly violent, fast paced brawling, but it’s tragically held back by considerable flaws. While I thoroughly enjoyed smashing waves of enemies apart, i hated the story’s incessant need to trip up the pacing. The nekro related mechanics served to spice things up, but ultimately failed to mesh with the rest of the game. Mother Russia Bleeds was an engrossing experience, but the overly strict adherence to the classics made it more of an ordeal.