Thursday, October 28, 2010

First Impressions: DEFCON

The only way to win is to die the least.
DEFCON is a minimalist RTS game from indie developer Introversion Software (available from their site and Steam, and as part of the Introversion Anthology; demo available here). Described as "The world's first genocide 'em up," it is the strategy game where everyone loses, but the goal is to win by receiving the least amount of damage. The game's look is very WarGames-inspired, with a stylized start-screen that brings vintage computers to mind, and a vector-style map rotating in the background. This theme is kept up with the look of the gameplay, as you see tiny glowing warhead shapes and dotted-line trajectories crisscrossing the map, tracking launches of missiles.

Each player starts out controlling one of six territories, and with a set number of units to place and no options for upgrades. These units include both conventional military forces such as airbases, battleships, carriers, bombers, and fighters, as well as missile silos and submarines with nuclear options. You can attack opponents' military targets, intercept their attacks, or launch directly at their cities and see the death-toll rise by the millions.  The territories are not identical, just as they're not in reality.  Some are larger, some are isolated, some are bordered by enemies, and some are set on two oceans.  You can see how this opens up a variety of strategies to try out, and how each territory likely suits a different playing style.  Some, like the Americas, are separated from all targets by vast distances, allowing a long time to see incoming launches -- but also allowing other territories to intercept your launches.  Others, such as Asia and Europe, are going to have opportunities to easily attack on multiple fronts, in addition to being similarly vulnerable.

Working out the best tactics for each territory can become an involved endeavor in itself; or you can just have fun trying to launch nukes before your opponents do when the game timer reaches defcon 1.  With a variety of game types, from speed defcon to office mode, diplomacy to tournament, there is no shortage of replayability.  Multiplayer allows up to six human or CPU players, and alliances can be formed.  However, only one territory can be declared winner at the end, so those alliances are made to be broken.  As quoted in DEFCON's Wikipedia entry, Chris Delay explains the alliance dynamic:
We've seen alliance members shooting overhead friendly planes down because they believed the planes were scouting the area for targets in preparation for a strike. This results in arguments in the chat channels, followed by skirmishes at sea, followed by retaliation, before finally the whole alliance collapses and everyone starts nuking the hell out of each other. It's awesome.
Yes, it is.

The straightforward simplicity of this RTS is inviting and makes it easy to jump into a game, but the range of tactical possibilities means that there's plenty to master.  The game's style perfectly creates the atmosphere it's going for, with glowing green vector-lines, eerie ambient music, and subtle sound-effects of war and death.  Additionally, Introversion designed one of the best manuals I've seen for DEFCON.  They deserve bonus points for this.  Our rating: 22,600 weapons of mass destruction.

Take a look at the video for a sample of the gameplay.

Enjoy your nuclear holocaust.  That was the phrase I was searching for!

Correction: you cannot play as Australia or the Pacific islands.  Why?  Guess they're just not that into nuclear war.


  1. I like your reviews of games I haven't heard of, just because it isn't new doesn't mean people are not interested. (Just like you said on reddit)

  2. Thanks for the support. I'm just reviewing games that I like (well, usually) to try to recommend them to other people.