A pile of games that you haven’t got around to playing yet is a surprisingly common feature for anyone that considers gaming to be a hobby. It’s not a problem I ever expected to have, but I have noticed a startling number of unfamiliar names creeping into my Steam library, hopefully as a result of various summer sales and Humble Indie Bundles as opposed to the dreaded combination of one click payments and more beer than is strictly speaking healthy.[break]
However, I have a second, smaller and more refined pile of games that I’ve noticed piling up. These are titles that I have played precisely once, enjoyed, and then never gone back to.
My favourite title that sits atop the throne of this list is Introversion’s Defcon, a nuclear warfare simulator that managed to detonate a brain bomb inside my head so devastating that I am still occasionally suffering from the fallout and subsequently find myself thinking about it on a relatively regular basis.
Defcon is a game about nuclear war. It is a real time strategy game of sorts with a highly stylised interface that makes you feel like you're plotting your actions in a battle room as opposed to watching a virtual war unfold. It's a bit like Wargame, but with more colours and less of a noughts and crosses theme. Everything about it is consistent, polished and an all round solid title.
It was my small, indecisive and useless navy that really hit it home.
Defcon makes you take big serious decisions that you then have to live with. It’s a bit like a reverse chess, where you're thinking about the moves you made several turns ago and trying to work out if it was the right decision and if it's going to come round and bite you in the backside. Once a move is made, its results are not really felt until you’ve made another five serious decisions.
I saw my small naval force trapped between two continents, utterly useless in terms of offence and defence having been obediently following the flip-flopping orders of Their Great Dictator With His Finger Jammed Down On The Red Button And The Red Telephone To His Ear. I could almost visualise the scenes taking place on deck as the loyal crew followed orders and watched helplessly as dark foreboding shapes were gliding gracefully overhead to their destinations, unable to do anything about them and becoming increasingly aware that they were not only in the harsh unforgiving expansive ocean, but that that sleek cigar shaped flying object could mean they would not have a home to go back to. On the plus side, they might also stop receiving contradictory orders pretty soon too.
I found Defcon invoked a highly effective and despairing mood through its slowly-unfolding-strategy mechanic. It’s not about crazy generals pushed to the edge and reacting with the ultimate force, it’s about dispassionate mistakes that come back later to destroy the world. Through a single round of this game, I was left with a deep feeling of melancholy and a faint feeling of dread. I also left a recommendation on Steam.
There are several games that I’ve played once and decided that it was once too many and promptly forgotten all about. Downloading free-to-play MMOs over the course of a couple of evenings, signing up and then playing for precisely ten minutes before concluding that no, it’s just another free-to-play MMO with an awkward menu and boring combat, has almost become a hobby in itself for me. Instead, the likes of Defcon are games that have stayed with me, told me something about what games can be and what they can do.
I'm not even 100% sure that I remember the game accurately but I know I've spent more time thinking about Defcon than I have playing it. Because the world is unfair, it made its point, impressed me and has remained un-played ever since.