Saturday, May 26, 2012

DEFCON: Everybody Dies (PC)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Inexpensive, simple but challenging, multiplayer is a lot of fun
Cons: Rather plain graphics, single player mode is not as fun as multiplayer

Defcon is a strategy game developed by Introversion Software. It's really a simple game both in play and aesthetically, especially when playing single player. Since each player starts with the same resources and population, it really shines most in multiplayer where timing and strategy are the keys to victory. I use the term "victory" lightly, because when it comes to thermonuclear war there are no winners. Instead, the goal is to lose less than the other guys.
A lot of the simplicity comes from the fact that there is no resource gathering, no unit production, and no researching technologies. Instead, the game starts out at defense condition (DEFCON) 5, and a timer slowly ticks toward DEFCON 4, 3, 2 and then finally DEFCON 1. You chose one of six starting areas (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Russia or Africa) and try to lose as little of your population as possible.
When the game starts at DEFCON 5 all you can really do is place your units. These consist of radar stations, airfields and missile silos to place on your land mass, as well as naval fleets to deploy in the sea. You have a set number of units and you just deploy them where you think they will do the most good, and hope that your deployment and timing is better than that of your opponents. When it changes to DEFCON 4 your radar starts working, and by the time DEFCON 3 arrives your ships and planes will begin attacking enemies when in proximity. When it's time for DEFCON 5, that's where the slaughter begins as you can finally start launching nuclear weapons to decimate your enemies.
Your various units mostly have two different modes of operation. Missile silos can either fire ICBMs, or they can shoot down enemy ICBMs that fly near them. It takes a while to switch between the modes, so you're usually vulnerable for a bit while changing modes. I usually change only a couple of my silos at a time, because then the rest can continue to shoot down enemy missiles near them and not leave me completely defenseless. Once your silo in attack mode fires off its 10 missiles it's pretty useless so you switch it back into defense mode and then move on to another silo to attack with.
The radar is very important, as it removes the "fog of war" from a large area around it, allowing you to keep track of enemies in the area. If all of your radar installations get nuked, you're going to have a heck of a time defending against anything as they can sail a fleet right up next to you and decimate your population before you realize what's going on.
Airfields can switch between launching bombers or launching fighters. The bombers are nice, as they can fly a long distance and drop nukes on enemy targets across the map. Fighters are the natural counter though, and are good at shooting down enemy bombers and attacking enemy ships as well. Naval fleets can be provisioned with three different types of ships: battleships, submarines and aircraft carriers. The battleships are really only good at destroying aircraft carriers, but they can also demolish cities if you can get them close enough.
The other two ships are more versatile. Submarines can obviously submerge and become invisible to radar, and in this mode you can feel free to ram them right up to an enemy's shore. Once you surface them, submarines are able to launch nuclear missiles! They're pretty fragile when surfaced, but it's worth it to execute a short-distance nuclear strike -- especially when coordinated with more nukes from other locations at the same time. The aircraft carrier is equipped with sonar and can hunt down enemy subs and drop depth charges on them to destroy them. This alone is pretty helpful, but they are aircraft carriers after all so they can also launch both fighters and bombers.
The game moves in real time, but can be sped up to a couple of additional speeds if all players agree on a faster speed. A normal game usually lasts around a half-hour, though there are a couple of additional game modes (genocide, survival, office, etc) that work pretty much the same way but the points are scored a little differently. Normally you gain points for killing enemy population and for how much of your own population that survives, but in the other game modes you may score points for only one or the other. This really effects the way you play as well as when you decide to strike.
The artificial intelligence is decent and does a good job of playing, but there's no substitute for playing against up to 5 other real people. You can even form alliances (temporarily, of course) and back-stab your allies at the most opportune moment with a fleet of subs when they least suspect it. Or maybe everyone can gang up on someone who looks to be doing well and destroy them early? There's a lot of strategy here, and despite the simplicity Defcon can hang with the best of strategy games.
Aesthetically the game is unremarkable. The entire game takes place on one single map, which is a map of Earth. The map looks like a two-dimensional tactical board and everything has a cool looking neon glow to it, but the graphics are simple line drawings with very little in the way of animation. Everything is really polished though and still looks pretty decent. There isn't much in the way of sound effects, but there is some ambient background music that's not half bad.
Overall it's a pretty awesome strategy game, and the price is pretty good as well. You can download Defcon for only $5 from the company website (, or you can pay $10 and they'll even ship you a boxed copy in addition to the digital download. It's running at $9.99 on Steam for some reason, though there's a sale at the time of this writing that makes it only $4. An easy recommendation, Defcon is an inexpensive game that's both fun and challenging.

System requirements include a 600 MHz Pentium 3 processor, 128 MB of RAM, a GeForce 2 video card, 60 MB of hard drive space and an internet connection for multiplayer games. Defcon is rated "T" for Teen by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

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