Gamers cry foul over too many Soviet stereotypes

Despite receiving positive reviews following its release, ‘Company of Heroes 2’, the sequel to the extremely popular RTS (real-time strategy) game by Relic, has recently elicited a strong backlash emanating from countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States that has cut to the very heart of historical accuracy and regional politics, according to the video game news site Polygon. Users from this region have been driving down ratings and starting review and forum-based discussions about the portrayal of the Red Army as it drove towards Berlin.

Criticisms of the game were laid out in a Youtube video posted by user TheBadComedian, who charged the game makers with unfairly portraying the Soviet Army for committing atrocities, such as burning a house with Soviet civilians inside or shooting unarmed soldiers trying to surrender.

 

 

 

 

While the popular original Company of Heroes focused on a small band of American soldiers, the sequel gives players control of a large army that appears to kill more of its own men than the enemy. The game depicts the Red Army as being a disorganized mass, with weapons shortages that force many to run into the field unarmed. It also takes the Red Army order of no-retreat to an absurd level as players lose hundreds of soldiers when they try to pull back. “The campaign is basically one giant, offensive stereotype,” said Polish gamer Lukasz Markiewicz, according to Polygon. This view appears to reflect the view of many gamers whose negative comments are easily visible on game review sites and have heavily influenced reception of the game and severely deflated the user rating scores on popular review sites.

 

Although Company of Heroes 2 has an 80/100 critic rating on Metacritic, the user rating is a paltry 1.5 out of 10. The most popular reviews lash out at the Vancouver-based game developer, Relic, saying the game exhibits “totally illogical gameplay and huge collection of stupid myths and lies,” and calling the developers “school boys (who) don’t even visit history lessons.” Markiewicz mentioned that although “the Eastern Front was a confrontation of two murderous, totalitarian regimes,” the depiction of these stereotypes in each battle turns the game into a “parody” of history.

 

 

 

 

The criticism of the West’s historical balance in the portrayal of the Red Army during WWII seems to be catching on outside the former Soviet Union as well with Western bloggers questioning stereotypes of the war and how fairly the protagonists have been portrayed in the game.

David Stone, a Kansas State University military history professor, told Polygon that most of the game is based on reality, but that some details have been glossed over or played up for the sake of the game.  For instance he says, the shortage of weapons that left soldiers unarmed in battle is from the Russian army in WWI not the Soviet Union in WWII.

But Stone doesn’t fault Relic too much for the historical inaccuracies. Game developers are always looking for ways to help their game distinguish itself, he said, which means the “an Eastern Front game is going to have to play up elements that are stereotypically part of the Eastern Front to make it look different from all the other combat games out there, even if that does some violence to the historical record. So in that sense, it makes sense that Relic would emphasize snow, political commissars and lack of equipment even if it’s exaggerated.”

In the face of the controversy, Relic maintains that it took great care to create a historically balanced gameplay experience that incorporated both the heroism and hard truth of the Eastern campaign, according to Polygon. Relic states that they used reports of the combat journalist Vasily Grossman, who followed the troops on the front for three years and observed the brutality of the commanders.

The game makers are sticking by the historicity of their game, even down to the oft-cited example of unarmed soldiers waiting to pick up a fallen comrade’s gun. “It’s entirely plausible to believe that happened,” game director Quinn Duffy told Relic. “It might be cliché, but it illustrates the challenges the Soviets faced.”

Relic says that the criticism of portraying the Red Army as brutal misses the point of the game, which was to depict heroism and what the soldiers had to endure. “It’s not about cruelty or incompetence, it’s about desperation and bravery,” Quinn said.

Despite Relic’s defense, the controversy surrounding this game has continued to grow.  An online petition on Change.org to make the game unavailable for sale in CIS countries has garnered nearly 18,000 supporters as of 7 August.

So far it seems like the outrage is being noticed. At least one distributer in Russia has suspended sales of the game, according to Videogamer.com. Relic’s parent company Sega has also responded saying they are aware of the backlash and are taking it “very seriously and are investigating these concerns thoroughly.”

 

Feature image is a screengrab from the game Company of Heroes 2


About the Author

Danielle Miller

Transitions Online (www.tol.org) is an Internet magazine that covers political, social, cultural, and economic issues in the former communist countries of Europe and Central Asia. The magazine has a strong network of local contributors, who provide valuable insight into events in the region’s 29 countries.
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