Global Thermonuclear War is taken to a whole new level.
It can be safely assumed that it is not many people’s dream to devastate the world in a cataclysmic nuclear war. Well, Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart may have been the general exception to that rule. After all, the idea is simply M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction, or a lose/lose scenario), surely? However, that is exactly the situation which the players of DEFCON must face. Inspired both by the 1986 comedy/drama ‘WarGames’, and the 1964 satire ‘Dr. Strangelove’, DEFCON delivers an experience which is both ironically good fun, and ultimately a poignant emotional experience.
The basic premise of DEFCON is that you are a military general, or some other such leader, knuckled down in your secret underground bunker, and for some unknown reason, the diplomatic negotiations have failed, and all-out nuclear war has been declared. You are tasked with defeating your enemy by killing that largest number of civilians using your nuclear arsenal, whilst the enemy does the same. Introversion Software likes to call it ‘loosing the least’. Sounds quite cheerful, no? The overall game is very simple right from the get go, and also very small, only taking up about 60mb of hard disk space. However, this does in not in any way dampen the experience.
Controls are easy, simple to use, and quick to learn, and the tutorial levels spell it all out very nicely. However, it is clear from the outset that this is a difficult game to truly master, requiring lots of detailed strategic thinking. In fact, strategic thinking is really the nub of the matter. Many questions will circle round your head while playing, causing constant internal debate. Should I strike first? Should I counter-strike? Should I launch the entire arsenal all in one go or keep a reserve handy? It is all up to you, and your decisions may be crucial in deciding the overall outcome of the war. It is in many respects simply a nuclear combat game of Chess.
You are able to play as one of six continents, North or South America, Africa, Europe, and North or South Asia. There are many different options which can be adjusted to change your game to how you see fit, meaning that the game can be played in a number of different ways, including a nifty mode where the game plays in the background over six-hours; perfect for a dull day at work. Peculiarly, I experienced a quite nasty guilty pleasure when raining down the apocalypse upon the enemy. You can’t help but feel some subconscious guilt whenever there is a direct hit on a major city, and writing flashes up calmly informing you that: ‘London hit, 8.9 million killed’. It really is quite unnerving at certain points, such as when you zoom back to view the entire map, with numerous missiles arching across the sky. I doubt there is another game in existence where you can exterminate more innocent virtual people. However, the game is designed purposefully so that you experience this guilt, and realise how fruitlessly useless and stupid nuclear holocaust actually is.
Graphically, the main game window takes the view of a two dimensional map of the world, an extremely similar layout and style to the 1980’s command screens used by the Pentagon in the film ‘WarGames’. It cannot be understated that the game looks wonderfully cool, feeling crisp, militaristic and clean. The blue tinge to the world and basic graphics add to the 1980’s feel. There are no flashy animations whenever a bomb drops. Instead, the area whites out, just like a radar map, with an ominous dull rumbling noise. The many moving objects leave dotted trails behind them which gradually fade over time. Overall, it almost convinces you sometimes that you really are controlling a superpower’s military armoury.
The sound is really superb, and it is clear that choosing a more sombre and subtle soundtrack was a master stroke. The music is fantastically haunting, and really adds to the overall atmosphere, making me wish there was a lot more of it! All the time in the background, there is the humming of the bunker machinery, radio chatter, distant footsteps, machinery bleeps, and occasionally the quite disturbing sounds of people coughing and crying. By the sounds of it, they could be suffering from acute radiation sickness. It is mostly the sound which really gives the game its poignant side, and shows the real futility of this type of warfare in real life.
Overall, the moral message of DEFCON is similar to both the films of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ and ‘WarGames’. Global Thermonuclear War may seem like a good idea, and is fun as a game, but ultimately in real life it is just plain idiotic. Once you have learned this message, you can really experience the full value of this game. It has wonderful replayability, a genuinely classic format and excellent multiplayer. The only slight negatives are that a longer soundtrack would have been really great, and that if you wanted to play as Australia or the continent of Oceania as it is now known, forget it, as it is an ultimately redundant landmass in game. There is still the slight chance of this being resolved however, as Introversion is continually updating and perfecting the game. These really are only slight quibbles, which if included, would have made the game really superb.
DEFCON is truly a game that shows that it is actually possible to fight in the War Room. Now, how about a nice game of Chess?