Save humanity, or end it, with 'War Games: Defcon 1'
By CNN Interactive Associate Editor John Robinson
October 12, 1998
(CNN) -- Based loosely on the 1983 movie starring Matthew Broderick, MGM Interactive's "WarGames: Defcon 1" for Sony Playsation takes us 20 years into the future where the military's secret super-computer (WOPR) has found a way to end all war -- by destroying humanity.
The object is to blow away the WOPR (War Operation Programmed Response) robots and save the human race from certain annihilation. Or, on the other hand, you can choose to command the futuristic WOPR forces and attempt to destroy the human NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense) troops. Either way, it's a blast.
The game begins with a strange but funny cartoon opening movie and proceeds to ask the familiar question: "Shall we play a game?" Whether you choose to command the NORAD forces or the WOPR forces, each of the 15 missions must be played in order.
Each mission begins with a briefing, objectives and a description of each vehicle at your command. The current objectives are relayed via an e-mail screen. Once an objective is completed, a soldier barks "You have new mail, sir!" and the next set of objectives is given. At the end of each successful mission, you are given a tic-tac-toe passgrid to open the next mission. This type of save system is a little clumsy. A memory card option would have worked better.
Missions are set in a variety of locations around the globe with terrain and weather effects to match. The camouflage on the vehicles even changes color to match the surroundings. Up to eight different vehicles are available for a mission, although you can only control one unit at a time.
Your point of view is third-person and can be adjusted from "over the shoulder" to "overhead" view. Even so, it seems like there could be more effective viewing options. Where the field of view falls a little short, the radar screen picks up the slack and is simple and informative, letting you know precisely where the next enemy target will be.
A two-player mode is available with three different options, the most exciting of which is a deathmatch. A regenerative deathmatch mode lets opponents fight until someone decides to surrender. There is also a capture the flag mode where you have to get the opponents flag and return it to your base to win. A two-player cooperative lets you and a friend gang up on the computer.
Most of the missions are of the search-and-destroy variety and must be completed according to the mission objectives or you will be relieved from duty. A strategic gameplan will help your cause immensely as the tactic of blowing away everything in your path is a sure way to lose.
Advanced battlefield commands allow you to call units to your location or skip around between several different units. You can also hack into the enemy's computers or call an airstrike. There is a return-to-base command that never seems to work correctly. The vehicles always get stuck trying to cross a mountain or a stream. This glitch can become annoying because you have to manually drive the vehicle back to base and lose precious time.
Tanks are the most common vehicle in the NORAD arsenal, and mechanical walkers are the standby of the WOPR regime. However, as the missions get harder, you will be given the option to command more than thirty various land-, sea- and air-based units to help you complete the mission objectives.
On the battlefield, the mood is tense which probably has something to do with the ominous musical score that accompanies gameplay. It's that eerie orchestra music normally used in action movies that says something is going to happen and it's not going to be good. Another reason is the ever-present Defcon meter that makes a loud, threatening buzz every time it drops a level. The Defcon meter begins at 5 but will progressively drop to 1 if you do not quickly meet the mission objectives. If the meter reaches 1, enemy forces will begin to attack your base -- not a desirable situation to be in.
One of the best features of "WarGames" is the realism of the weapons firing and the fiery red and orange explosions, which look worthy of a Hollywood action flick and sound incredible with a stereo system hooked up. Large explosions appropriately leave a huge crater and can damage surrounding buildings and trees. The game is also Dual Shock compatible which really adds a lot to the fun factor with a satisfying jolt each time you blast away at the enemy.
Fans of military or shooting games shouldn't be disappointed by "WarGames: Defcon 1" although it may be a little frustrating at first due to the fact you can only control one vehicle at a time. What it loses on the control front, though, it makes up for with stunning graphics, sound and overall challenging gameplay.
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