Independent UK-based developer, Introversion, hit the game scene last year with the surprise hit, Darwinia. It was a quirky, imaginative, and (most importantly) innovative title that deserved all the attention it received.
Just like Darwinia, Defcon uses vector-style graphics and takes its inspiration from a very familiar source - in this case, the classic 80s film, War Games. Just looking at the WHOPR-like global map puts you in Matthew Broderick's shoes, and that's before you even see the telltale trails of ICBMs arcing towards their targets.
Defcon is a purely tactical challenge, and while the game has its own AI Joshuas to hone your skills against, the most enjoyment you'll get is from playing against other people, either across a LAN or the Internet.
The game runs in timed stages, the aim being to have the most survivors at the end. Defcon 5 has each player hurrying to deploy the various units, bases and assets within the territory that they've been given. Defcon 4 sees you issuing move orders to your navy and attempting to gain intelligence by sweeping the skies with spy planes. Defcon 3 allows you to engage the enemy with your navy, while Defcon 2 places you on the edge of a strategic nightmare - do you have enough info on your opponents' base locations in order to neutralise their air-defence mechanisms? Or should you wait until their "birds" are in the air (leaving the launch sites and cities undefended until they can switch back to defence mode).
Things can get a little tense while the clock ticks down to Defcon 1, particularly if you've signed an uneasy truce with your next-door neighbour. Then it happens: multiple launches, multiple sites. Somehow, one of your opponents has managed to get a fleet of nuclear subs off your coast and has launched a concerted assault on your radar, airbases and missile silos. If you've left yourself open, your cities will be next - and there'll be nothing to do but watch the death toll rise as each target is struck.
Technically, the game is easy to pick up and difficult to master. In fully-occupied games, there's a tendency for things to get hectic in and around Europe and Russia, while the US and South America either slug it out between themselves, or take pot-shots at the rest of the world from across the pond. Some things don't change.
The biggest mistake that Introversion made here was the choice of music. While the game documentation is sardonic and very tongue-in-cheek, Introversion has chosen sombre and depressing backing audio (which includes the sound of people coughing and dying underneath). It jars badly with the purpose - which is entertainment, after all - and has you wondering if Introversion intended it to be social commentary in the same vein as the film that inspired it.
Click here to view a rather depressing screenshot.
Verdict: An entertaining, though rather depressing game that works best against human opponents. The music is a mistake, but turn it off and you'll have fun with this one.
Score:4 out of 5
Publisher: Introversion Software