DEFCON: a simulation of global thermonuclear war

DEFCON Although DEFCON hasn’t been on the radar for a particularly large amount of people, those who keep an eye on Introversion (also responsible for Uplink and Darwinia) have probably been quietly anticipating it. I’m one of them, and having just tried out the demo I am fairly impressed by how well they’ve managed to convey the atmosphere of carrying out a nuclear war.

The essence of the game is simple: you’re somebody high up the food chain sat deep within a bunker in your country of choice, and using an elaborate map (as you’ve seen in films) you watch global war unfold before you. What exactly’s happening is left to your imagination; whatever the case, some kind of war is happening down there and you’re the person who must coldly protect your nation from the biggest threat of all, while also deciding when and where to fire your own. All actions have consequences, and when we’re talking about nuclear ICBMs you can’t expect a country you just devastated to have much mercy when retaliating. It’s tense, and as the official site says: nobody wins, but maybe you can lose the least.

While DEFCON is a real-time strategy game and that may immediately turn a lot of you off, I wholeheartedly recommend trying it out simply to experience the atmosphere. If there’s one thing this game does well, it’s atmosphere. Everything from the stylish visuals (which look great ingame, though screenshots and videos seem incapable of conveying it) to the deeply moody music adds to the feeling. And then when one of your missiles hits a city, a white flash and a deep rumble lets you know and a matter-of-fact statistic such as “New York: 3.2m dead” pops up. It’s a dark feeling, and you don’t know whether to be proud or guilty of your destruction. If nothing else, it gives an appreciation of how devastating but impersonal nuclear war could be.

For a quick preview of the gameplay in action, this YouTube video is a rather good example. Also of note is the official trailer, although it fails to capture the sheer atmosphere and mood of the game. If you’re as intrigued as you should be, pick up the demo. You can also download the demo via Steam, and the game is just £10 to buy. If you’d like more detailed information about the accessible but deep mechanics of the game, head over to Wikipedia’s article.

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