War is Hell!
There are a lot of people in the world who are opposed to war. These people can be neatly grouped into three categories: Pacifists, Hippies, and Democrats. Whether a person's motivation is stopping violence, spreading love, or trying to get elected, it doesn't make them any more or less wrong. I'm all for a good international spat every now and again. Sure it can help the economy, but the greatest outcome of war are the video games. For almost any war that has been recorded in history, there's a game based on it. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to War on Terrorism: The Iraq Conflict coming out on 7th generation consoles when the war is finally over. Until that time, I guess I'll just deal with the games that are currently available. I suggest you do the same, but I wouldn't want you to just dive into the vast sea of war games blindly. Therefore, I'm now going to do some recon on a number of these games for you, so you can jump on the gems and jettison the junk.
To cut down the number of games to review, I've restricted them to certain criteria. First, the era we'll be looking at, as always, is 1980-95. Don't expect to see Medal of Honor. Second, it must take place on Earth. Unfortunately, this rules out Raid on Bungeling Bay, which is superb. Finally, it must be at least loosely based on reality. This was a particular difficult restriction to place, as it excludes Raid Over Moscow. I must steel my resolve however, because in war, remorse will get you killed. Vorwärtsmänner!
Defender of the Crown
Our journey starts in the Middle Ages with Cinemaware's Defender of the Crown. The basic premise is that the king is dead and everyone wants to take his place. Your job is to take on the role of a Saxon noble and take complete control of jolly old England by force. Six players start off, three Saxons and three Normans, each with their own home castle. At some point, one of the other Saxon nobles will wind up with his daughter kidnapped, so if you feel like it, you can save her ass from being gang banged by the enemy and get all her poontang to yourself. Not only does this relieve a lot of the stress you're under, it also unifies the hapless father's territory with your own. Unfortunately, harems weren't socially acceptale back then, so you could only do this once. To win the game you build up an army, and capture land. In battle you can give your troops different strategies like Fierce Attack, Hold Ground, Bombard, Outflank, and Retreat and that's really it. When you siege a castle, you can use your catapults to hurl poison and fire over the walls. A major drawback to this game is the AI, or lack thereof. When I played this game, I had taken the entire map except for the last enemy castle, which was housing a ridiculously large garrison. I moved my troops away from the adjacent territory, and the moron proceeded to try and take back some land using his entire army. This left a clear path for me to move in and capture his now-empty castle. When you take a home castle, you take all the territories that ruler owned, so it was kind of an easy win. Overall, not a bad game for it's time. A landmark in strategy games, it paved the way for some really great titles.
Keeping with the medieval theme, here we have the arcade classic Rampart. Rampart has a pretty basic premise: pick a castle, place some cannons, then blow the shit out of everything. After a round of trading cannonballs with enemy ships, you have to rebuild your castle walls or else you lose. In two player mode, you each pick a castle and try to destroy each other. In the super single player mode, aside from regular ships you also get to fight things like huge destroyers and even krakens. Rampart is a simple game, but it's still one of my favourite arcade games.
Next up on our journey through time is Nobunaga's Ambition from Koei's Historical Simulation Series. In this game you take on the role of a Japanese Diamyo and try to conquer all of Japan. Growing up I owned no fewer than two Koei games, and this was one of them. Even so, I never beat this game. Mainly because it's fucking impossible. You start off at a disadvantage, as enemy territories are already fairly well developed, both in domestic and military sectors. In order to conquer your first territory, you need to have an insanely large army, enough to overpower the enemy, while leaving enough behind to protect your homeland. To build an army of this size takes money and food, both of which are produced pretty fucking slowly in your one crappy corner of the map. Even if you do manage to break out and hold some land, gather up a good stock of resources, and build a sizeable army, before you can get your war machine moving, you'll probably die. That's right, as you get up in age your Daimyo will get sick a lot, (preventing you from doing anything), and will eventually keel over dead. At this point you should be able to take over as your son or something, but no, it's game over. Each turn that passes in the game is a season, and you only get to make one command per turn. This means that development goes really fucking slowly, and seeing as a lot of the Daimyo's start in their 40's and 50's anyway, this doesn't give you much time to defeat 49 other ambitious assholes. I'm not going to go into detail about the mechanics of the game, just know that Koei's Gemfire is infinitely better. Unfortunately dragons and wizards aren't real, so they don't meet my criteria. This game isn't all bad though; you get to hire ninjas. And even if they really don't do much, they're still fucking ninjas.
Liberty or Death
Let us now jump ahead to the late 1700's with another showing from Koei: Liberty or Death. This is a very curious name for a game, but I assume that some guy said something like this at some point in time. It wasn't a Canadian who said it, so if someone did say it, I don't know about it. Anyway, in this game you get to play as one of two fictional characters, Thomas Gage of Britian or George Washington of America. Aesthetically, it's very similar to it's Japanese counterpart, though I find the battle system is slower. To placate your men and try and win over some loyalists, you can do things like hold parades and send out pamphlettes, how exciting. All in all, this game doesn't seem to be very much fun. Just like American history.
North and South
Too much complexity can ruin a game. Sometimes a simple game can be far more entertaining. This is the case with North and South by Kemco. Playing either as the Confederates or as the Union, your objective is to defeat all of your opponent's armies. You start off with a few units, depending on which year you decide to start in, and each unit has six riflemen, three cavaliers, and one cannon. If you lose any of these in battle, they don't come back. You can merge two units together, though even if you have more than six, three, or one, you can only use those ten troops at one time. If you have two cannons in a unit, one will wait to come into battle when the first one dies. Occasionally you'll get reinforcements depending on how many states you control, or random events. Most states can be taken by simply moving onto them. Some states have forts, however, so to capture them you must run through the fort, dodging attack dogs and knife-wielding enemies, to get to the end where you lower the enemy flag and raise your own. I'm not sure why changing the flag causes an entire state to join your cause, but hey, dousing your enemy with green paint was enough to change loyalty in Dune, so why not? North and South is pretty basic when it comes to strategy games, but it still holds a pretty high spot on most gamer's NES lists because it's very entertaining. Too bad it didn't incorporate the Anaconda Plan.
Battleship is one of those classic games that kids used to play with their friends. Hell, I even played Battleship with my parents a few times. But if you didn't have any friends, or parents, and somehow managed to get your hands on a Battleship set, you would probably get pretty depressed. Luckily there's a single player version for the NES. Sure, you can't lie about getting hit to the console, but when you don't have friends, cheating loses it's satisfaction. Even though it's a classic, Battleship still isn't all that much fun after the first round. It's the same thing over and over again. The computer player isn't even that smart. It attacks at random, so a lot of times it will end up attacking a square that is isolated from the rest of the board. It makes it easier to win when it happens, but not terribly challenging, especially when the game randomly destroys all your ships before you can even get one. The only redeeming factor is that each ship has it's own special weapon which attacks multiple square at once. You only get one special weapon per ship per round, and if you lose the ship, you lose the weapon it carries. So it really only makes sense to use them at the start both as a precaution, and to sweep out a larger area. Still I prefer an opponent with a modicum of intelligence, genuine intelligence.
Epyx was a gaming giant in the 80's. They produced such classics as the Summer, Winter, California, and World Games, Impossible Mission, and Jumpman. Destroyer may not be one of their best known games, but as is it's a very convincing simulation. You are the commander of a U.S. warship, taking on several dangerous missions. To help you achieve your goals you have the bridge, radar, sonar, navigation, and an observation deck. To fight the enemy you have a main cannon, depth charges, and anti-aircraft guns. The biggest drawback to this game is that every different part of the ship has a separate screen, and the loading time to go from one screen to the next is rather long. Even so, considering the limitations of the C64 at the time, this game is very well done. It's a shame Epyx went belly up.
There's not a whole lot say about 1943. It's an overhead shoot 'em up presumably set during the second World War. I really have nothing good or bad to say, aside from the fact the arcade machine probably ate it's share of quarters. What else can I say? The game is fun to play.
If you were friends with anyone who owned a Commodore 64, then there's a good chance you've played Beachhead. The second game in the series is even better, and is one of the top rated games for the system. In this game you take on the role of the Dictator and have to fight against the Allies. The first round puts you behind a bunker turret, fending an assault of paratroopers. The most entertainnig, (and impressive), part of this level is that when you kill a soldier, he screams. They even say things like "Medic!" and "I'm hit!", quite a feat for the C64. Level two reverses the roles. This time the Allies are behind the gun, and you control a man on top of a building, and a man on the ground. Your objective is to kill civilians by dropping (presumably) bricks on them, or by setting some sort of landmine. This level is particular difficult because G.I. Joe is very adept with the gun. To make matters worse, your assassins are incredible slow, and you have to time your attacks just right or you won't get the civie. In round three you load hostages onto a chopper and try to escape with them in a top-down vertical scroller. For the final round you square off against a single opponent in a knife throwing match. It takes four knives to put both you and your enemy down, which is pretty badass. Unfortunately, you need to go through ten rounds of this, so it can become quite tedious. All in all though, Beachhead 2 fucking rules.
I couldn't really get into this game from Koei. I tried just diving in, but was so bogged down with information and details that I quickly lost interest. I later tried to watch a demo game, computer vs computer, but nothing was really explained as it was happening. I would love to give a detailed and informed description of this game, but the mechanics and gameplay are so repulsive that I just couldn't bring myself to get into it. So, yeah, don't play this game. Next!
19th Boot Camp
I can't speak from experience, but I imagine getting conscripted would really fucking suck. This game lives up this expectation pretty well. The first thing you do is input your name. You are then given your very own draft number and sent out for training, where every day starts with a 5 am reveille and ass rape. Your first training mission is an obstacle course, aptly called the assault course, because of it's assault on my desire to play this game. The farthest I made it was past the first obstacle, and I have no idea how I did it, nor was I able to duplicate it. What is the first obstacle you ask? Well, if you look at the picture, you see that it's a FUCKING FOOT HIGH STUMP! Video games are supposed to make lazy, out of shape people believe they can do feats of atheliticism that they could never hope to do in real life, like a 720 Kickflip McTwist or move stealthily, not make trivial acts of physical exertion damn near impossible. The second mission involves rifle training, and isn't quite so bad, but isn't very remarkable either. Actual rifle training is pretty damn fun; this isn't. The third part of the game involves driving a jeep. I didn't think it was possible to make a driving game that was worse than Pole Position, but somehow they did it. In the last round you have to survive in hand-to-hand combat against "Sargeant Hindorff". What a crappy name. No wonder this guy likes to fight, he must have been ridiculed incessantly as a child. At least he was able to make something of himself and become a Sergeant, as indicated by the triple chevrons. If you haven't figured it out yet, this game sucks.
What comes to mind when you think of Vic Tokai? Probably nothing, but it's actually a telecommunications company in Japan. They also manufactured a couple of video games, most notably Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode and Super Conflict. The latter was always a favourite of mine growing up. As the commander of several ground, air and naval units, it was your job to eradicate the enemy by destroying their flag tank or ship. As the levels progressed, you were given access to more and more different units, the maps got larger, and the enemy more plentiful. The game used actual military vehicles such as the Abrams Tank and the AH-1 Cobra Helicopter. Almost every unit had two weapons, it's standard machine gun, and a special weapon. The special weapon had different attack power against land, air, and sea, so an Intruder was great for bombing tanks, but would get destroyed by a MIG. The interesting thing was that you could 'cheat' with the special weapons. In battle, you can switch back and forth between your two weapons, (provided you have ammo for the special weapon). So you could fire your machine gun, then switch weapons and the enemy would be hit by the special weapon without using any ammo. It isn't the most complex turn-based strategy game, but as we saw before, sometimes simplicity is better.
Super Battletank: War in the Gulf
What could be more fun than jumping in a tank and blowing the shit out of everything? Not having to worry about actually getting your ass blown apart; Well, in theory anyway. Super Battletank puts you right in the action in the Gulf War, behind the reigns of a war machine with machine guns, cannon, and heat seeking capabilities. Your mission: to destroy enemy tanks, down enemy choppers, and disable rocket silos, while avoiding clearly indicated minefields. As you can see in the picture above, the windows are pretty small, and this makes for a great deal of annoyance. You will only ever fight one enemy at a time, regardless of whether or not multiple units are in the same area. It's a slow-paced game, with level bosses that consist of destroying multiple stationary targets before they destroy you. I believe Nintendo Power put it best when they said, "This game shows us that war isn't fun."
Operation Thunderbolt is Taito's sequel to the wildly popular Operation Wolf and was apparently released before political correctness came into effect. In this game you will kill hundreds and hundreds of terrorists wearing wrapping around their heads. That's ok though, because one of the playable characters is a Middle Eastern man named Chamkaur. There are two ways to go through this game: the easy way, and the impossible way. In the third picture above, you'll see a tank on the left side of the screen. If you manage not to blow the thing to hell, you get to climb in and use its ammunition. Also while you're in the tank, you won't take damage. The tank will take damage, but it absorbs a sick amount before you have to jump out. I've beaten the game without losing a single life this way. If you don't use the tanks, (there are two of them), good fucking luck beating the game. This game is fun, and has no learning curve whatsoever, so you can just jump right in. On top of that, there are six different characters to pick, each with their own firing speed, clip size, and damage done per shot. If you don't have any qualms about virtual genocide, pick up this title.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
Well, we've gone through almost 900 years of history, and now it's time for the coup de grace, my favourite war game of all. Electronic Arts is still pumping out games to this day, and in perfect EA form, Desert Strike is solid on every fucking front. The controls are responsive and customizable, the graphics are great, sounds and music are all aesthetically pleasing, and gameplay is challenging and fun. You are the pilot of a chopper in the Gulf, assigned to complete several dangerous missions. You won't go it alone though, you get to pick your co-pilot, each with various strengths and weaknesses, who will be in charge of targeting the guns and operating the winch that will be crucial in picking up fuel, ammo, and hostages. At your disposal you have the weaker machine guns, medium damage Hydras, and the heavy-hitting missiles. Many missions will involve destroying key buildings while avoiding fire from commandos, anti-aircraft vehicles, and ground-to-air missiles. The map menu gives you all the information you need to complete your objectives, so you never get stuck, not knowing what to do next. Two sequels were made for this game, Jungle Strike and Urban Strike, but neither one captured the same feeling of the original. Like every great game, words cannot describe what it like to actually play it. All I can say is that it is the pinnacle of war games, but even that doesn't do the game justice.
Posted by: Valdronius
At ease soldier.