Meanwhile it was time for the fight to begin.
DEFCON 5 – normal peacetime readiness – was long past.
DEFCON 4 – normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures – had wound down.
DEFCON 3 – increase in force readiness above normal readiness – was in effect. My fleets moved, fighters were launched to detect enemy silos and radar installations.
DEFCON 2 – further increase in force readiness – came around. Fighters opened fire on each other above the Arabian peninsula and Africa as European Federation probed south and the African League probed west. I assumed that the two of them were locked in their own war, as well.
DEFCON 1. Maximum force readiness. My bombers took off, loaded with short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), most bound for Africa but some for Europe. Surprise salvos of MRBM (medium range ballistic missiles) flew from my pre-positioned Africa submarine fleet, overwhelming air defenses and dropping nuclear fire on the cities, radar installations, airbases, and silos of that area.
I rerouted bombers to make sure they could re-arm with SRBMs. My carriers launched their bombers, adding to the devastation. Pushed further and further back, Africa launched the first ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) from its silos. I had one isolated silo north of India; it fired all ten of its missiles in rapid succession then went back into air defense mode.
The missiles stopped coming. As my bombers rerouted and continued to pound the African continent my silos switched from air defense to ICBM, and a rain of nuclear missiles destroyed the European continent.
At the cost of only 19 million or so dead on my side, I’d won. Europe was a glowing ball of radioactive ash. Every city in Africa had been reduced to near nothing. I’d also lost an airbase or two, a silo, maybe a radar installation.
Welcome to World War 3.
DEFCON is a real time strategy game. With a clock running, you run through DEFCON levels 4 down to 1. At the beginning of the game, you set up your silos, your radar installations, your airbases, and break your ships into fleets and deploy those. As the game goes on you, you deploy fighters to scout out enemy locations. Soon your fleets are battling it out, as well as the fighters.
At DEFCON 1 you go full nuclear. You have three different ways to deploy your nukes:
But the clock is running, and it never stops. You can slow it down to a minimum of real time, or speed it up quite a bit, but you can never stop it. The clock is dictated by the slowest level requested by any player (the game automatically looks for online players for you, but you can select fairly dumb AI opponents if you want; in the case of all AI players, the human player picks what speed the game works at). That means the first DEFCON level or two tends to be quickly setting up your units before the time allotted to do it expires, and at some points during DEFCON 2 and 1 time will often be sped up as ICBMs take their long, slow arcs through the air.
Each unit, also, has a time associated with their various modes. It takes 2 minutes, often, to switch modes – or that long between launches. If the missiles are already incoming towards your lands, you have to decide – do I try to get my ICBMs out now, or do I wait and hope that I can air defense them and keep my silos intact to launch a retaliatory strike?
The game can be set so that players get randomly selected “nations”. These don’t align perfectly with present day nations – as in my example battle I listed in the beginning, which I fought last night, I had nations ranging from Iran to India, China, and Japan, while all of Africa was one entity as well as all of Europe, and no one participated as the Americas. (By the way, I just made up those names for my enemies – Pan-Asian Coalition sounded better than NEWPLAYER.) You can set alliances, if you wish, and also dissolve them.
The graphics and music – here’s where the game really differentiates itself from other real time strategy games out there on the market, and where I wonder if there will be a significant age discrepancy between the people who get into it.
If you grew up or otherwise lived through the ‘80s (or before), you remember the Cold War. You remember what it was like to wonder what might happen if the balloon went up, if the missiles let fly. And you may remember the movie “War Games”. If you’re that old, the game will be much scarier for you. If you’re younger, it might not quite have the same atmosphere.
DEFCON goes for a very stylized look. The graphics are simple and stark. Cities are labeled with their names and populations. There’s no textures to speak of. The only colors are the various players – and the rapidly increasing number of white circles showing nuclear explosions. Fighters, ships, radar installations are all stylized wire-frame icons.
The music is haunting. It’s eerie. It sits in the background, never really calling attention to itself, but getting more and more morbid and haunting as the game winds down, and occasionally punctuated in DEFCON 1 with what sounds like screaming. Other than that, there are few sounds – warning alarms when a launch is first detected. Things like that.
The motto of the game is “Everybody dies”. You can’t stop all the nukes. The only reason why I stopped as many as I did was because my opponents were very stupid. Lingering radiation can be turned on as a graphic effect. The size of the city icons will shrink as you decimate their populations with successive strikes. The starkness of the interface both detaches you from what’s going on and also makes it that much more eerie and haunting (to use those words again) by the knowledge of what you’re recreating.
DEFCON comes out tomorrow. So, tomorrow – everybody dies.