theuselessgod's DEFCON: Everybody Dies (Mac) review

A clever idea worth checking out. If only to nuke the world.

The Short

Pros

- Nuclear war simulator based off the movie Wargames

- Builds a decent sense of tension as it slowly ticks up to DEFCON 5

- Fight on many fronts, against computers and people, and mobilize a variety of units

- Unique RTS experience with more focus on immobile missile launchers rather than units

- User interface is relatively simple and easy to get a hang of

Cons

- Can take a while to fully grasp the strategies of the game

- Often winning feels a bit more like luck than actual strategy

- Fun for a while, but can get dull quickly

That's not going to end well.

The Long

Plenty of RTS games have nukes in them. Starcraft, Red Alert, Command and Conquer; it's kind of a genre staple after a while. But usually in those games nukes are used on a closer, more "personal" style of war. DEFCON (with the subtitle "Everybody Dies" being oddly appropriate) is more of a simulation of what all out global nuclear warfare might be like. Based off that movie Wargames, it's a clever idea that has more than a few unique touches, but a difficult learning curve and a few other small inconveniences hold it back from being truly great.

Heads up!

DEFCON starts with a feeling of dread. You are given a limited amount of time as the DEFCON slowly escalates from five to one, and during these stages you can set up your fleets, your towers, and your units. It's fairly simple: radar detects incoming missiles, launchers can be set up to either defend against or shoot missiles back, fleets can also deflect or fire missiles (such as nuclear submarines) and so on. While boats, etc. are useful, the main tactical bit comes from knowing where to put your radar (so you can see what is going on) and your missiles (so you can fire/defend yourself). Dropping your defenses to counterattack for only a second can mean instant death, and knocking out a key radar location can be the means to a victory.

You don't have unlimited nukes, so you have to fire smart.

It's a cool concept, but one that isn't fully explained in-game. The first several wars will feel like you are grasping in the dark, and computer players will be more than willing to completely nuke you back to the stone age at the slightest sign of weakness. Figuring out how the boats/subs/fleets, etc. thing works can be difficult, and knowing how to best position your immobile launchers and radar often feel more like luck than actual skill. There is a sense of realism in that you have almost no idea what your enemy is doing (minus it giving you a sort of "glow" to indicate where they are building en masse), but that also means its harder to strategize. At times it feels like the results are totally random which, if we are going for realism here, is how I'd imagine an actual full-scale nuclear war would play out: lots of missiles, lots of death, not a whole lot of precision.

It's like the Cold War all over again.

The winner is the one with the most "points," which is based on damage done, stuff destroyed, etc. It's kind of morbid, actually; you win based on how many people you kill, not on actually conquering your enemy. That's something this game does very well throughout: being dark. Most of the DEFCON levels are done in complete silence, with just a few small background sounds. There's no fancy explosions or sound effects when nukes hit; you are watching a war map, so you essentially just get the death tally. The simple visuals and sort of "laid back" approach to nuclear war makes it all the more disturbing, and it works for what the game is trying to convey. Nuclear war sucks, and you'll have to be distanced from it or else the reality of what you are simulating is a bit horrifying.

Get hit, fire back, everybody dies.

While DEFCON is a pretty cool game to play for a few rounds (and a few more, after you finally get how to play properly), it doesn't have much staying power. It's entertaining to show off and decent for a spin every once in a while, but the randomness of the strategy mixed with the general simplicity of how you play it are a weird juxtaposition, one that doesn't suit this game very well for hardcore online play or any serious competitive multiplayer. It's fun against friends if you are just wanting to have a good time and nuke the world, but the learning curve is so high it alienates most people, so I don't think most players will take the game very seriously.It's fun for a short ride, but after that you'll delete it and forget it's on your Steam account.

Don't let the Russians win!

As it stands, DEFCON is certainly a unique and interesting game, with a really cool premise and a lot of great ideas and visual style. But while it works on its concept for a good while, eventually you'll set it down and probably never pick it up again. It stands as an excellent example of what indie games are for: quick, unique ideas that make you go "hey, that's really cool!" play it a few times, and forget it exists afterwards.But still, if this looks interesting to you, the $10 Steam pricetag isn't that high a bar of entry. And if you can convince some friends to tag along, you can all have fun nuking the whole world together.

Three out of five stars.

And everybody died. The end.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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