“Would you like to play a game?’
That quote is instantly recognizable to any child of the 1980’s as coming from “Joshua”, the AI in the fictional WOPR computer in the film Wargames that tried to start a thermonuclear war from inside NORAD. Very soon, UK developers Introversion will release Defcon, their own nuclear war strategy game that owes a lot of its look and feel to the Wargames film while at the same time aiming to become something that’s a bit rare; a hardcore casual game. Unlike most games in this market which deal with word puzzles or moving bricks or circles around on a screen, Defcon is all about one thing; nuking your human or AI opponents until they glow. Introversion sent over a near-final version of the game to FiringSquad for us to try out.
At its core, Defcon is a very much scaled down version of an RTS title; on a map of the Earth, you have a set amount of units to set up and use in your assigned continental territory. The game counts down from Defcon 5 to Defcon 1 during each round; the lower the number the more you can do with your units (nuclear forces can’t be used until Defcon 1 is reached). Of course you have to deploy your nuclear missile silos on your territory that double as air defense stations (you have to switch between the two modes; they don’t do both at the same time). You also have radar stations to set up to monitor enemy troop movements in your territory. Air bases are also placed on your land; they can launch either short range fighters or long range bomber that can carry nuclear bombs; finally you have your naval fleets that you can create from three units; aircraft carriers carry fighters and bombers while submarines contain five medium range nuclear missiles. Subs in Defcon must surface to fire but can submerge and stay undetected until the last minute. You also have battleships that mainly are use to attack other enemy ships.
Games in Defcon are designed to be quick and dirty (rounds are over in just a few minutes on the default time setting but you can speed up the game if you wish) which makes your strategic movements and placements critical at the very beginning. Once the game reaches Defcon 3 that means the game really begins as you can no longer place your units down on your territory and you and your enemies start moving your fleets and launching fighters to scout each other’s targets. After Defcon 1 begins the gloves come off and the ICBMs can begin to fly; in the basic default mode you have to decide how many missile silos fire the nukes and how many serve as air defense and also be able to use your fighters, bombers and naval units effectively as well; points are awarded for enemy kills but you also have to protect civilians in your major cities. You lose points when you see population centers in your territory glow in the dark from enemy nukes.