DEFCON: Everybody Dies Review

If you,ve ever seen the movie WarGames, where a teenage hacker nearly triggers full-out thermonuclear war thinking he,s just playing a game, chances are high you are already familiar with the word DEFCON. The term is used to describe the military,s state of readiness in case of emergency, and plays a crucial part in the game,s premise.

Developed by Introversion, the company behind cult favorites such as Uplink and the more recent Darwinia, DEFCON gives you the chance to play out your megalomaniac urges by putting you at the helm of one of six continents. These are picked at the beginning of the game and can all be occupied by A.I. or other human players. It,s the end of the world as we know it, and it,s up to you to maximize enemy casualties, while keeping your own population as safe as possible. Each session utilizes this format, nullifying the existence of an actual campaign. There are, however, a couple of extra modes that offer a slight variation, such as Diplomacy where the world is at peace until someone breaks the alliance.

For an RTS that focuses on global warfare, there are no spectacular explosions or other effects present in DEFCON. Instead, the game presents you with a neon-lit Risk-like world map with iconic wireframe representations of units and nukes, another wink to the movie WarGames.

In case you haven,t noticed already, minimalism is the key here. Though this may sound like a bad thing, in this context it,s quite the opposite and it actually helps the game shine. Whereas other strategy titles often overload you with all sorts of units, each with highly specific uses, DEFCON has only 8 in total. This makes the gameplay easy to comprehend, but it still remains extremely challenging.

Each match starts at DEFCON 5, and said status will decrease as time progresses. Every descending level will either expand or limit your actions, such as only allowing the player to place some units once DEFCON 3 hits. As soon as this stage kicks in, all units you neglected to set will be unusable, so you,ll have to deploy them fast – yet strategically. When DEFCON 1 finally initiates, all nukes will become available, setting the stage for an ominous tango of mass destruction.

All units have roughly two functions. For example, your silo units are armed with 10 nukes, and can also switch to anti-air duty, making them crucial on two different fronts. This is essential to winning the game, as you don,t want nukes raining down on your cities. What,s worse is when nukes are hitting you when you can,t even see them. That,s where your radar units come in: they scan the surrounding perimeter and can locate any nearby hostile activities, so it is best to place them close to cities and your continent,s shores. You,ll never know when an enemy is hoping to strike your blind spot with underwater fleets and airborne bogeys without them, so they are crucial for your success.

There are two types of aircrafts – fighters and bombers- and both are either stored in your airbases or on aircraft carriers. Airbases are a bit sturdier than your radars and take two hits to destroy, whereas one nuke obliterates the latter. Fighters are swift and are mostly used for scouting the area or intercepting submarines and other aircrafts. Their range is limited compared to bombers, which as the name dictates are capable of launching nuclear missiles. When a plane,s low on fuel it will return to a nearby carrier or airport.

The last group of units is your navy; naval units act as one fleet. Though you can order them individually to switch between their different purposes, they will move interdependently. Naturally, it,s best to mix up your armada by including carriers, submarines and battleships so that the opposing faction doesn,t catch you off guard by counterattacking with a handful of units that decimate a monotonous fleet. Apart from the already discussed carriers that harbor planes and can also sink subs using sonar pulses, the battleships and submarines are equally important. Battleships are low range units with enough firepower to demolish ground units, while submarines attack in a stealthy manner by emerging and launching nukes of their own, once they,ve snuck close enough to the coastline.

Once destroyed, a unit is lost forever and you can,t build new ones, so you will really have to watch your steps as even the smallest mistakes can be fatal. Despite being quite simple on the surface, it,ll take a while to get really good at DEFCON as the difficulty is relatively high. You,ll need to know how to react to each situation and mix up your strategy accordingly, just like any RTS. Will you play dedicated defense, or will you go all out spamming nukes across the world? (In other words: strategical insight is vital.)

The second approach is rather risky as the enemy receives alerts with the position of your silo as soon as you launch a nuke. This does not apply to other nuke-launching units, but it can be game breaking, as enemy retaliation is often quick to follow. The gameplay,s balanced and engaging, and while the lack of more units may offend some diehard fans of the genre, it does make the game more accessible for newcomers.

During online play, the choice of continent can also play a pivotal role, as DEFCON allows you to forge alliances between other players. Western European missiles targeting Japan, for instance, will have to soar through Russia where they could be intercepted by said force,s anti-air measures. Mind you, if you,re in cahoots with the Russians, your harbingers of nuclear death will simply stroll past unscathed. Keep in mind that these alliances can and will be broken by the end of the game, as there can only be one victor. The game ends after a countdown, triggered by the exhaustion of 80% of all nukes. A standard game lasts about 30 minutes, but you can choose to either slow down or speed up the action.

As nice as it is, the mechanics are oddly enough not the key factor that make this game excel. What,s nigh-on perfectly executed is its atmosphere. The minimalist wireframe art style and sober messages after you failed to protect millions of innocent lives all serve to create a detached and gloomy feel. All the while, creepy and eerie music pans on the background, such as chanting, sighs and screams of citizens who have just ousted their last breath. Even though the playing field and the surrounding environment are awfully cold and void of human emotion, you can,t help but feel some guilt over the millions of lives you’ve doomed with just the press of a button.

From a technical standpoint, DEFCON may be an outdated game, especially compared to some of the current powerhouse offerings. But from an artistic point of view, the game,s brilliantly designed and really evokes a certain set of emotions. Furthermore, DEFCON is challenging and fun, albeit somewhat limited if you were expecting a title filled with micromanagement. The fact that it only sets you back $17.50 makes it all the more beautiful. You can either download it on Valve,s Steam or purchase a boxed copy on Introversion,s website for a few extra bucks. No matter how you look at it, it,s a moderately small price to pay for having such a blast.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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