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Home > Review Archive > Video Games > Results: DEFCON

DEFCON
by Simon Windmill
October 04, 2006

SHALL WE PLAY A GAME? C:\>_

Reviewed for PC.

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GamerDad Seal Of Approval - 14+.  Click to learn more about our review seal. DEFCON is a multiplayer (internet or local network) pseudo-simulation of global thermonuclear war utilizing a single map screen straight out of the 1983 movie WarGames. Players choose a territory (not explicitly named, but similar to North America, Europe, Russia, Central and South America, Africa, and Asia) and allied pacts can be created (and broken) at any time. Each game is split into five phases, corresponding to the five levels of Defense Condition readiness of the US armed forces, from which the game takes its name. Movement through each level is steady. The game runs on a fixed timer, an inexorable Doomsday Clock, increasing DEFCON levels every ten game minutes. Each player gets the same type and number of units (missile silos, airfields, radar outposts, and naval fleets) and must place them all within the first two phases, before battle escalates all the way through to all-out thermonuclear warfare at DEFCON 1. After a certain number of nukes have been launched, a "victory timer" counts down for 45 game minutes, allowing late exchanges before final casualties are totaled up.

A match can be as long or as short as you wantï¾—players dictate whether the game clock runs at between 1 and 20 times real-world speed. Speed mode ensures no game takes longer than 15 minutes, while the amusing Office mode allows discreet workplace gaming for up to 6 hours. A few other options are available, allowing for different game types. While a regular game awards you 2 points for each enemy death, and -1 point for each life you lose, Genocide scoring removes the negative scoring for your own casualties, for example. Diplomacy mode has every player start as allies, providing some amusing back-stabbing as the game plays out. It is this mode that really highlights the fact that DEFCON is intended for multiple human players. While you can add AI opponents, you lose that unpredictability and ability to negotiate that only a real person provides.

The simple game mechanics are the hallmark of a good thinking game, allowing you to learn it in minutes, but making it take months to master. The slow pace and the multiplayer requirement for the full impact of the game mean that it's not for everyone, but if you're looking for something a bit different from the average strategy title, you definitely want to pick this up.


Click to learn more about GamerDad's Kid Factor review section. You could argue that DEFCON is one of the most violent games ever since you're responsible for killing millions of people, but the level of abstraction between the player and the body count is high. There are no special effects, blood, or gratuitous explosions, just a stylized wireframe map. When a city is attacked you see a white circle, but the accompanying text is nonetheless chilling: "LOS ANGELES HIT: 3.2M DEAD". The audio is just as minimal, with a haunting soundtrack of synthesizer sweeps and echoes, but there is also a more disturbing human element, as various sound effects are subtly interwoven into the music and ambient bunker sounds. You occasionally hear someone coughing his or her last irradiated breath, a woman crying, and a recital of the Lord's Prayer. The fact that this last sound is highly processed and distorted only adds to the creepiness.

The game isn't too complicated for younger children, but because of the subject matter and the disturbing mood, it's not recommended. Older teens should be okay, with the reminder that this is an internet game with unrestricted in-game chat and all that entails (profanity, sharing personal information, etc.) It's certainly a good jumping off point for discussions on world politics and nuclear war, and today's teens probably don't have the fear of a nuclear winter that I did in the 80s due to countless viewings of The Day After and When the Wind Blows.

This review edited by Dave Long

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