One nuclear war is enough

Posted on 25th Oct 2012 at 07:52 by David Hing with 13 comments

David Hing
A pile of games that you haven’t got around to playing yet is a surprisingly common feature for anyone that considers gaming to be a hobby. It’s not a problem I ever expected to have, but I have noticed a startling number of unfamiliar names creeping into my Steam library, hopefully as a result of various summer sales and Humble Indie Bundles as opposed to the dreaded combination of one click payments and more beer than is strictly speaking healthy.

However, I have a second, smaller and more refined pile of games that I’ve noticed piling up. These are titles that I have played precisely once, enjoyed, and then never gone back to.

My favourite title that sits atop the throne of this list is Introversion’s Defcon, a nuclear warfare simulator that managed to detonate a brain bomb inside my head so devastating that I am still occasionally suffering from the fallout and subsequently find myself thinking about it on a relatively regular basis.

One nuclear war is enough *One nuclear war is enough

Defcon is a game about nuclear war. It is a real time strategy game of sorts with a highly stylised interface that makes you feel like you're plotting your actions in a battle room as opposed to watching a virtual war unfold. It's a bit like Wargame, but with more colours and less of a noughts and crosses theme. Everything about it is consistent, polished and an all round solid title.

It was my small, indecisive and useless navy that really hit it home.

Defcon makes you take big serious decisions that you then have to live with. It’s a bit like a reverse chess, where you're thinking about the moves you made several turns ago and trying to work out if it was the right decision and if it's going to come round and bite you in the backside. Once a move is made, its results are not really felt until you’ve made another five serious decisions.

One nuclear war is enough *One nuclear war is enough

I saw my small naval force trapped between two continents, utterly useless in terms of offence and defence having been obediently following the flip-flopping orders of Their Great Dictator With His Finger Jammed Down On The Red Button And The Red Telephone To His Ear. I could almost visualise the scenes taking place on deck as the loyal crew followed orders and watched helplessly as dark foreboding shapes were gliding gracefully overhead to their destinations, unable to do anything about them and becoming increasingly aware that they were not only in the harsh unforgiving expansive ocean, but that that sleek cigar shaped flying object could mean they would not have a home to go back to. On the plus side, they might also stop receiving contradictory orders pretty soon too.

I found Defcon invoked a highly effective and despairing mood through its slowly-unfolding-strategy mechanic. It’s not about crazy generals pushed to the edge and reacting with the ultimate force, it’s about dispassionate mistakes that come back later to destroy the world. Through a single round of this game, I was left with a deep feeling of melancholy and a faint feeling of dread. I also left a recommendation on Steam.

One nuclear war is enough *One nuclear war is enough

There are several games that I’ve played once and decided that it was once too many and promptly forgotten all about. Downloading free-to-play MMOs over the course of a couple of evenings, signing up and then playing for precisely ten minutes before concluding that no, it’s just another free-to-play MMO with an awkward menu and boring combat, has almost become a hobby in itself for me. Instead, the likes of Defcon are games that have stayed with me, told me something about what games can be and what they can do.

I'm not even 100% sure that I remember the game accurately but I know I've spent more time thinking about Defcon than I have playing it. Because the world is unfair, it made its point, impressed me and has remained un-played ever since.


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Krikkit 25th October 2012, 08:12 Quote
Agree completely here - I played a few times with Defcon, losing and winning, and at the end of it I was just left with that melancholic dread you describe. Now it just sits unused in the games list, a silent monument to my fears.

Fantastic to play though, like all the Introversion stuff.
faugusztin 25th October 2012, 08:17 Quote
But did you kill Santa ? (Yes, this is a serious question about your gameplay) :D
Nexxo 25th October 2012, 08:37 Quote
liratheal 25th October 2012, 10:12 Quote
I played Defcon so much I was dreaming about it.

I was much, much, younger when it came out and I just saw the strategic "nuke everything" side.

I played it again the other week, added a couple of mods to it (Mostly the more real maps), and the combination of seeing the country, being older and a little wiser, made it a superbly haunting game.

Do I drop the bomb on them - Even though they're meant to be my allies - Because they're the closer threat than the USA?

Do I send my submarine fleets on what is, effectively, suicide missions to obliterate a meagre few cities and silos?

I haven't played it again since. I fear that if I play it too often, these days, I'll start shaking and rocking in the corner of the room.
SMIFFYDUDE 25th October 2012, 11:10 Quote
So I'm not the only one who was moved by this game.
I can shoot hundreds of people in the face in a graphically detailed FPS and feel nothing, but watching the death tolls pop up after ICBMs hit city after city left me feeling shaken.
pbryanw 25th October 2012, 13:17 Quote
@Nexxo - I think David's discovered that the only winning move is not to play...
John_T 25th October 2012, 13:25 Quote
Originally Posted by Nexxo

That made me laugh!

I loved Defcon, bought it on the strength of the bit-tech review & loved it so much I bought a second copy and posted it to my brother thinking we'd play against each-other online. That was about two weeks after the review, (whenever that was) and we've yet to play a game against each-other...
Tynecider 25th October 2012, 20:07 Quote
Originally Posted by pbryanw
@Nexxo - I think David's discovered that the only winning move is not to play...

LMAO, quality.

I never finsihed one game.
I think the 7 figure casualty tally put me off.
gosh 26th October 2012, 12:28 Quote
finished only a couple of games and must agree, spent more time thinking of defcon than playing it. the calmness of the basic UI as it tells you dispassionately the estimated casualties of a hit on a city is definitely memorable.
SimonStern 26th October 2012, 20:32 Quote
Originally Posted by Nexxo

Sure :D haha

I'll have to check this one out...
Byron C 30th October 2012, 13:28 Quote
After reading this article I recently picked this game up. I'm not quite sure I can put into words the how this game makes me feel, but it certainly left an impression.

The game encourages you to place your silos near to your most populous cities, but if the enemy takes them out then you've lost already. It's quite easy to sneak your submarines quite close to the enemy shoreline, but doing so is extremely risky - once they fire a missile their location is revealed and they'll be toast if an enemy fleet moves in; therefore do you save them as your ace in the hole, or use them as a first-strike weapon to weaken enemy defences and let your silos take care of the real damage? Do you try to defend as much as possible or throw everything into an all-out attack, hoping that sheer weight of numbers will overwhelm the enemy defences? Often your careful planning and delicate strategies are casually tossed out the window as soon as the bombs start dropping. Seeing a hailstorm of ICBMs languidly sailing down into your territory in slow motion while knowing full well that you can't possibly defend against all of them is quite possibly one of the most harrowing experiences I've ever had in a game (that and Aerith from FF7, but let's not dredge up that old memory today!).

I don't know if it's the simplistic neon interface masking the brutal truth of what this game is really about, watching the "score" counts for either side racking up slowly but steadily, or the sheer terror of watching all your carefully laid plans being torn apart like a wet paper bag in a mushroom cloud... Either way, it's a pretty damn memorable game.
StoneyMahoney 31st October 2012, 12:31 Quote
When I saw pre-release stuff about this game, I couldn't wait for it. Here was the game I desperately wanted to play every since I saw Wargames, a childhood dream finally coming to fruition! And then I played it.

I suspect I killed more people in that first game than I have killed in every other game I have ever played put together. Watching my first nukes land on civilian targets and seeing the cold, clinical casualty statistics popping up was a harrowing experience indeed. The child in me was ecstatic while the adult in me was in turmoil over how I could possibly enjoy a simulation where I was *required* by the rules of the game to push the button myself and slaughter innocents in the hundreds of millions.

The soundtrack perfectly fits the mood of the game, with one of the finest little touches I've ever seen. As your population drops, the music drops in pitch and playback speed, adding an inescapable and constant reminder of your failure to the proceedings.

This game, despite the fact I play it very rarely, is firmly fixed in my top 5 favourite games list. I can heartily recommended playing this game locked to x1 speed, headphones on with the music running, intoxicant of your choice to hand - because after about 100 minutes, you'll need it pretty badly.
kged 22nd November 2012, 22:01 Quote
I only played a demo version - does the full game retain the deeply disturbing soundtrack?
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