I don’t like war games. Most of the time they’re constructed upon a “let’s shoot dem commie/turrist/asian bastards!” platform that doesn’t hide their politics. Political themes in games can be interesting, so long as they’re presented in a non-propagandistic manner. A little intelligence goes a long way.
Command and Conquer is Starcraft (or Warcraft) with better graphics and modern political alliances (and biases.) America’s Army is nothing more than Unreal Tournament with an Army mod. (The politics and propaganda of that game bother me far, far more than any other game I’ve played–Postal 2, Grand Theft Auto III, and Manhunt included.)
It’s almost a shame I don’t have my generals now, after the release of Introversion’s Defcon. The second question (that of ethics and morals in video games) would’ve gotten a lot more interesting. It and Call to Duty may very well be the only games on the market, which show the horrors of war. I think if Introversion weren’t an independent game company, Defcon would never have been made.
For those of us who remember the Cold War, Defcon’s premise is simple: lose the least. It takes place in a command center (represented on one’s computer screen) The UI presented to the player is a line-drawing of the world, in the style of the map presented in the movie “War Games.” Population centers are dots of varying size and intensity, depending upon population density. Missile silos, air bases, and naval fleets are depicted similarly. At different stages, different types of deployments and movements are possible. Only at Defcon 1 are missiles able to be launched, for instance. In games against other people, alliances can be formed and broken.
If it had only computer blips and bleeps for a soundtrack, the game would be just another strategy game. But the soundtrack is much like Dark Age of Camelot’s in that it’s made up of segments of musical material with ambient noise layered on top. The musical material is like Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei” meets Giya Kancheli. If that weren’t enough, the ambient sounds are things like rumblings, the hush of wind and fallout, a distorted recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and women crying.
Unlike so many other games, the soundtrack is what makes this game so horrifying. Playing with the sound off is a completely different–and less powerful–experience. It’s rare to see real musical irony in a video game. Those who play Defcon only to nuke the crap out of their most hated city are missing the point and the experience.