Mother Russia Bleeds is the grimiest game I’ve ever played. Even in a world where both Kane and Lynches, both Condemneds and Manhunt exist, this is grimier. Released on PC back in September and finally snuck out yesterday on PS4 (I literally stumbled on it by accident while wondering what to play, having been wanting to play it since it was released) it’s a game about four Roma pit fighters who are kidnapped by the Bratva, pumped full of a drug that makes you super strong but destroys your body and decide the best thing to do is beat people to death until they get revenge. It’s a side-scrolling beat ’em up in the Final Fight/Streets of Rage tradition; one to four of the Roma protagonists (depending on whether you use bots and/or local co-op) move through a series of varied shitholes and otherwise grim locations kicking people’s heads in to a fantastic soundtrack. The combat system is simple but effective- light and heavy attacks, grabs and throws and a dodge, and weapons, some of which are guns. What makes it the grimiest game I’ve ever played is the house they build on that foundation: the only health item is Nekro-tainted blood (Nekro being the drug the characters are addicted to. It’s based on real-life Nightmare drug Krokodil which I don’t recommend looking up unless you’ve a strong disposition) sucked from the convulsing bodies of enemies and injected directly into your veins. Reviving downed bots/other players without a stock of Nekro will result in your character drawing their own blood, injecting it into their comrade then throwing up. The whole thing’s surprisingly violent; punches and kicks have a real impact, enemies show wounds as they take damage and because they’re all full of Nekro you can crouch over them and punch them in the face ten times and they can still get up with their face hanging off and come over for more. This is before the aforementioned twitching and convulsing as you draw their blood with a syringe you found lying next to you when you woke up in a dingy laboratory. There’s a lot of visceral, brutal instances of people being beaten to death. Interestingly this is juxtaposed with huge, over-the-top action set-pieces; a prison break, fighting on top of a train, a gay nightclub with a facade of people having a good time that hides back rooms full of murderers in pig masks. Hell, at one point you’re trapped in an arena and have to fight a Bear that’s been pumped full of Nekro and forced into a steel mask. The story itself is largely just there to keep the main characters moving from face to un-punched face, but there’s a character determined to get the Roma involved in a revolution to overthrow this universe’s government that’s in the pocket of the Bratva that ends up steering the plot. The focus on the characters’ struggle with Nekro and the way the drug is depicted with foreboding hallucinations of a giant beating heart, walls of flesh and an ominous skeleton creature is excellent, and it’s this aspect of the story that stands out.
The game maintains a consistent level of difficulty for the most part, though it spikes at certain moments. Bosses are all huge, unique enemies that take either a thorough beating or some sort of specific action, with the latter causing the most trouble. One early boss in particular that needs to be repeatedly knocked into an advancing carbine harvester that instantly downs you if you touch it gave me a fair bit of grief, and the final boss has four separate stages with no checkpoints, but at no point did it feel insurmountable or particularly unfair. I played through it with one A.I companion, which felt like just the right amount of support; I tried playing with the thee bots and it was a mess, where fights were visually confusing and although it was harder to be downed there was often not enough Nekro to go around. Bots are competent enough in general combat, but they waste Nekro and don’t know how to handle anything more complex than simple beatings, making them useless for certain bosses, though they can easily handle lackies. There are also certain short sections involving firearms that if not carefully approached will chew through your health in no time. One bit involving shotguns took me several tries. Thankfully though guns do just as much damage when you use them, and they don’t turn up that often.
Mother Russia Bleeds is horrible. It’s grimy, grim, dark and relentlessly violent, and I love it. I beat it in two sittings and loved every moment of it; the art style, the satisfying, visceral combat, the imagery, the soundtrack, it all comes together to make something truly excellent. Definitely give it a look, if you’ve got a taste for this sort of thing.
By James Lambert