Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.
Being released in the midst of the fall of the Soviet Union, Crisis in the Kremlin is a hardcore Government Simulation released on the MS-DOS that seeked to put players in the role of one of three factions within the Soviet Union as the whole shebang begins to fall apart. Hardly the most popular of genres at the best of times, the game was largely forgotten by the masses as time went by, although oddly enough it has a tiny cult following of players, some who have released various patches and mods for the game. It’s not hard to see why the game still has a following when it is a surprisingly addictive Sim, although one that can only be recommended to the most hardcore of the genre’s players due to its extreme difficulty.
The game makes no qualms with its difficulty because as soon as the game begins you are thrown straight into the role of one of three leaders, Gorbachev (representing the moderates and by far the easiest faction), Yeltsin (the Nationalists who encompass what could be considered a medium difficulty) and Ligachev (the Hardliner and by far the most difficult of all choices). A stagnating economy, several countries who want independence by any means necessary and a pesky famine are all the various issues the players have to deal from day one. The game allows the player to make decisions relating to various crises with multiple choice events that follow certain triggers and usually provide players with three options.
The events that are triggered combine a number of real life disasters like Chernobyl and fictional such as an American invasion of North Korea. The other key gaming aspect is that of the budget which, unlike many games, requires you to get it done to the ruble and is pretty extensive, covering a mind-boggling number of departments. There are no easy sliders to help you make your choice, meaning that you have to be precise in your decisions and better be ready for the inevitable threats that comes from various departments as they complain that you’ve been short changing them and may even try a coup of your government!
Playing through the game multiple times, it seems that some things are always pre-determined to occur, such as the dissolution of the U.S.S.R no matter what measures the players take, be it from letting them go freely to sending the tanks in. The visuals and sound, although passable, have not aged well and you’ll find yourself turning the sound off completely, lest you want an annoying beeping sound every time you receive a message. Most of the game is spent staring at an ugly map as your nation inevitably grows smaller and smaller. That said, there’s not a lot of games like Crisis in the Kremlin where the player can willingly enforce a famine upon the population of people he’s meant to look after and Crisis in the Kremlin is a unique game for allowing choices which quite simply haven’t been seen in other games.
As a game that focuses on providing as much of a realistic experience as possible for gamers, Crisis in the Kremlin features several nice touches that help you believe that you’re serving as General Secretary. Being able to hear various jokes that the KGB has collected (based on jokes from real life no less) is a humorous aside to the very serious tone of the game and you often receive faxes from your mother telling you whether she agrees or disagrees with what you’re doing. In fact, you’ll often find yourself being disowned and re-owned over a period of months. All the choices that need to be made are very in touch with realistic consequences and just like real life you feel that your position is never quite secure, a fear that is often realized when you’re either disposed or assassinated.
As a whole, Crisis in the Kremlin is an extremely deep and complex game that, in terms of sheer scale and involvement, could give many simulators today a run for their money as it draws the player in and doesn’t let go. Available as abandonware, it’s a game well worth checking out if only to see whether you could have done a better job at keeping the Soviet Union together and as a type of game that we as players are unlikely to ever see produced again. A hidden gem that’s well worthy of your time.