Defcon (PC) review
"In this game, there is only one winner. Cooperation disintegrates, and the game devolves into a savage contest of every man for himself. LAUNCH DETECTED flashes across the map again and again as enemies open fire and allies backstab each other. Every act of aggression leaves you wide open to retaliation; silos and submarines are helpless in launch mode, and their location is broadcast to the entire world when they fire ballistic missiles. But the primary goal of DEFCON isnít to survive: itís to obliterate your enemies."
DEFCON isn't about winning. After all, no one really wins in global thermonuclear war; mainly people just die. Inspired by films such as WarGames and Dr. Strangelove, DEFCON's premise is simple: nuke the rest of the world before it nukes you. There's no heroism, no lofty causes, not even an explanation -- because when you get down to it, those things don't make a damned bit of difference.
You play as one of six major global regions, controlling its military might through a strategic map of the Earth. Itís dark and eerie, the edges of the continents suffused in a ghostly blue glow. Thereís something unsettling about its tranquility; there are no explosions, no screams, nothing to bring you back to reality. Only moody ambient tones murmur in the background, snatches of ethereal melody wandering in and out of them. Itís a surreal place from which to conduct the end of the world.
As international relations crumble, the DEFCON level counts down, and your options expand. While you canít engage in hostilities at first, thereís little unnecessary waiting; the game has several speed settings. Since it runs at the lowest requested one, this is occasionally irritating, but few players abuse it.
During this time, you never gather resources or upgrade your technology, and you must finish the game with the units you start with. DEFCON is a short, brutal death match rather than a long and drawn-out war, and standard genre fare would be out of place here. While its limitations may look like lack of depth at a glance, they force you to make every unit count, because thereís no room for mistakes.
The game begins at DEFCON 5, peacetime. You begin to place your units in your territory: smooth vectors that represent radar stations, silos that can launch missiles or shoot them down (as well as anything else in the air), airbases outfitted with fighter planes and bombers, fleets of ships and submarines that you can move through international waters. You also begin to negotiate alliances with other online players, though they can be made--and broken--at any time during the game.
At DEFCON 4, radar stations begin gathering information on enemy territory within range, allowing for more effective placement of any remaining units.
At DEFCON 3, conventional warfare breaks out, and your ships and planes leap into action, invading enemy waters or conducting reconnaissance. While you donít have a great variety of units at your disposal, most types can operate in several different modes. Switching takes time, though, and all units are defenseless while in the process, so you have to time your moves carefully and tie them into your larger strategy.
Perhaps you send a group of submarines to lurk off an enemy coast, biding their time until theyíre authorized to fire their medium-range ballistic missiles at coastal cities or military targets, or torpedo a fleet of enemy battleships before their presence is even detected. But if that fleet has a few carriers in anti-submarine mode, the odds are good that your subs will soon be blown apart by their depth charges. But carriers in anti-sub mode canít deploy planes, and without them theyíre helpless on the surface--easy pickings for battleships or bombers.
At DEFCON 2, the fighting continues without change in the rules, but players begin maneuvering in preparation for the gameís final phase--arming submarines with MCBMs, reading carriers and airbases to deploy bombers loaded with SRBMs, and preparing to switch silos into ICBM mode.
Then DEFCON 1 arrives, and with it destruction.
In this game, there is only one winner. Cooperation disintegrates, and the game devolves into a savage contest of every man for himself. LAUNCH DETECTED flashes across the map again and again as enemies open fire and allies backstab each other. Every act of aggression leaves you wide open to retaliation; silos and submarines are helpless in launch mode, and their location is broadcast to the entire world when they fire ballistic missiles. But the primary goal of DEFCON isnít to survive: itís to obliterate your enemies.
Volleys of nuclear warheads trace out parabolas as they fall towards the planetís cities. Some fall prey to anti-air fire, but many more touch the Earth, annihilating millions of lives in silent flashes of light.
MOSCOW HIT, 16.3 M DEAD
TOKYO HIT, 9.8 M DEAD
LONDON HIT, 11.3 M DEAD
A womanís ragged sobs fade in and out of the background, the gameís only trace of humanity. The death toll skyrockets, and within minutes the majority of the Earthís population is eradicated. The game is over only when 80% of the worldís nuclear arsenal has been used or destroyed. Then an endgame timer begins to let the last attacks finish, the score is tallied, and a winner is declared.
By default, DEFCON awards two points for every million deaths scored and detracts one for every million suffered, but a few different scoring systems are available that introduce subtle differences in strategy. DEFCON also offers several different multiplayer modes; for example, you can start with everyone part of the same alliance and see how long it takes to break apart or play on a map thatís twice as big as normal. Thereís even a mode for when youíre bored at work; it runs in real time, can quickly be minimized with a couple punches of the "boss key," and alerts you when important events occur.
But thereís very little to do alone. Thereís no single-player campaign, and the AI has a grand total of one setting. While itís sufficient for teaching beginners the ropes, the lack of scalable difficulty means more advanced players require other humans to play with, and while you can usually find a game, the server just isnít all that active right now. Thereís no player ranking system, either, or map editor, and the in-game mod support could be better. However, Introversion has indicated that some of these problems might be corrected in future patches, and while theyíre annoyances right now, theyíre far from game-breaking.
If you can get a group of people together, DEFCON is an excellent investment of your time. It has a quick learning curve, engaging gameplay, and a stunning atmosphere. Even though the days of the Cold War are long over, thereís something a little unnerving about the morbidly matter-of-fact way the game approaches the genocide of the human race. In DEFCON, no one really wins. You only lose the least.
Freelance review by Julia Stein (June 06, 2007)
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