This was the most politically controversial game of last year on other micros and it will be interesting to see what Amstrad owners make now of the horrors of a nuclear war simulation. The hallmark of the game is its excellent creation of atmosphere and the realistic way in which it treats the whole subject. For once, a serious subject has been handled in the right manner without letting it be "just a game".
The wonderful packaging includes plenty of fictional, but all too possible, background information on the build up to a conflict in Europe. The chain of events begins with US intervention in the Middle East and from there on it deteriorates inevitably to an East-West clash with the forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact facing each other across the West German border.
The information really does immerse you in the frightening possibilities and realities of such a conflict and this continues in the program with many touches that allow no let up in the tension. The war takes place on a map of Europe on which appear the major cities, the units on both sides and the type of terrain. The player can take either the NATO or Warsaw Pact side and play against the computer or another player.
The conflict occurs in several phases over 30 days with all the decisions being made every two days. These break down into three basic sections of movement, attack and rebuilding for both sides. The movement phase occurs first and each unit can move one square on the map except in mountainous territory where movement is restricted. Each player can only control his own units with the few neutral armies acting independently.
The attack phase follows and any unit adjacent to an enemy unit can engage it. The result of the attack can either be decided by the computer or an arcade screen can be played to determine the results of battles all across the front. This takes place against the background of the terrain you're on and has enemy tanks, helicopters and jet planes moving across it. You control a gun which fires missiles that can be guided to their targets. Your accuracy determines the state of supply of each unit so you'll need to get good at these stages, unless you skip them.
After battles, you can resupply units with three things: combat strength (ARM), air support (AIR) and supplies (SUP). The amount of each depends on the date during the conflict and the actions of the enemy but, of course, it is never enough. The end of the turn lets you reallocate your air forces and also decide whether to use nuclear or chemical weapons.
The air forces can be used in many different ways for air superiority, counter air, interdiction, reconnaissance or three special missions. The aim is to achieve air dominance and thereby hamper the enemy's supply lines or make direct strikes against an enemy ground unit. The final stage of each turn is where you have to make the hardest decision as to whether to use nuclear weapons.
The procedure for this involves an authorisation code word which can be obtained by actually phoning a special number where not only will you get the code but even more atmosphere from the message that comes along with it. Single strategic launches can be made against individual targets or a massive strike across the whole front. The format is dangerous and may provoke a disastrous response, while the latter inevitably leads to total destruction.
At the end of the conflict, you will get a command ability rating in percent and a message on who is winning the war. If it ends with massive nuclear strikes there is of course no winner and you'll get 0%. The instructions stress that this game must never happen for real and it does serve to remind us of the dangers. It's a very absorbing program that provides a tough strategic challenge. And it makes you think more than most games.
The potential destruction of civilisation hardly seems a fitting subject for a game, yet Theatre Europe succeeds in presenting the subject not just with excitement but with sensitivity. You'll have yourself all the kind of involved strategy game expected from PSS, but you'll also be forced to think about the wider issues of superpower tension and nuclear war. Not least by that chilling phone message.
Needless to say, the presentation of the game is of a very high standard; the accompanying material adds greatly to the background, while game graphics and sound are excellent.
P. Great background story and instructions.
P. Excellent atmosphere created by packaging and game.
P. Handles a controversial issue impartially.
P. A difficult game to master.
P. Good mix of strategy and arcade action if required.
N. May be seen by some as tasteless.