October 12, 2006

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DEFCON (PC)
Introversion, 2006

Matthew Broderickís condescending philosophy canít stay glee of neno-hued global nuclear exchange in DEFCON, a game that I really, really hope wonít inspire real-world violence.

UKís Introversion wowed PC strategists before with their World War Tron styled Darwinia. A Real Time Strategy PC game about a computer network of sentient programs fighting off an out-of-control virus with your help as digital general; how very meta. Theyíve followed this up with a peach of a strategy title in DEFCON where winning isnít really in the cards for anybody. In this Wargames-inspired global thermonuclear war your goal is to lose the least ó civilians that is. Up to six players control nation-states as they slide inevitably toward radioactive armageddon. Play progresses through the various DEFCON states until full-blown nuclear exchange ensues and points are tallied by the body count of scorched earth. At the start of each match player place their silos, radar stations, air fields and naval fleets hoping to maximize their defense by way of missle defense sheilds and scout enemy territory to put a lock on their rivalsí weapon emplacements. Itís a turtle and mouse affair as you slowly uncover more of
your enemiesí horrifyng weapons of mass destruction and maneuver your resources to both counter their forthcoming salvo of hot death and effciently deliver your own holocausty payload.

The DEFCON status reduces as you creep toward Mad Max and your first forays into warfare can begin. Soon you can launch fighter sorties to scan rival territory and eliminate their weapons. Youíll engage in naval skirmishes to cripple bomber launching carriers and suss out ICBM submarines trying to sneak up to your coastline. Eventually you let fly with all your cold war-jaculate and the world gets all glowy. Itís a testament to the design aesthetic that you can enjoy something so morbid and a bravo to the gameplay mechanics that all this horror is so elegant.

Perhaps it is the magnitude of violence and the zoomed-out approach to war that makes DEFCON less objectionable than most wargames despite its vastly ramped-up death toll. I cynically suggest that this is exactly how the cold war was viewed, as a deliciously slick game of numbers and graceful nuclear trajectories. If that be the case then Reagan must have been having a jolly good time in the war room pushing tiny glowing bits of death around the map. Conscience be damned, DEFCON is a masterpiece of gaming and Introversion should be applauded for taking something so wrong and making it so right. A+

ó Glenn Given