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DEFCON 5

DEFCON 5, a mandate for peace, exactly what the world needs, and what the Weapons Division of the massive Tyron Corporation does not want. Cashing in on fears of an alien invasion, the Tyron Corporation has made a fortune building complex manned defense stations. However, with no credible reports supporting the existence of aliens, the costs are becoming increasingly difficult to justify.

Tyron Corporation has announced that effective December 31, 2204 all installations will become fully automated. Tyron will terminate all personnel by this date. Elements within the corporation, unhappy with the loss of their jobs, have constructed a plot that will rip the thin veneer of peace and hurl Tyron toward annihilation, DEFCON 1.

Even peace has its price.
~ from the back of the box

Back in 1995, any first-person-shooter was labelled a Doom clone, despite many games who chose to adopt that perspective playing very differently. Defcon 5 by Millennium Interactive was saddled with this moniker despite press releases claiming otherwise. It is, in fact, a strategic defence game with some neat ideas that don't entirely come together. Hardly an action-fest.

You are an engineer sent to do some tests on a decommissioned star base. The defensive complex was built to resist alien attacks before money dried up because there weren't any. It’s been pretty much abandoned as a result so you have the complete lay of the land - a complex maze of similar looking corridors, elevators and space-tech subway tunnels. Things go tits up when that alien attack that never materialised, actually materialises. Some people have zero luck, but at least you can put your expertise to good use and perhaps save a civilisation or two.

While there will be a fair few blasts coming from your weapon, that isn't the main crux of the game. You have to scramble around looking for software discs and installation pods to get the dense system up and running, then fiddle with the settings to get the best result. You do this under pressure of attack as red alien mechs will pour down on you if you take too much time. It's an interesting concept that takes the focus away from shooting to finding safe spaces to conduct your work. Then again, when the gameplay loop is getting interrupted while doing busy work, it loses its appeal rather quickly.

Systems are tweaked using VOS (Virtual Operating System) terminals scattered around the base. They are these black TV screens you’ll see dotted around. Open it up and there's a lot to take in, looking like a three-month apprenticeship course is needed to understand it. As you try to figure it out, a female voice will chime in advising you of impending danger. Time doesn't stop for any computer system, let alone an alien invasion, so you will often find yourself getting hit as you work. When you exit, it won’t be unusual to see a small gathering of attacking mechs to wake you up.

A few of the screens you can find using in VOS. Still not entirely sure what some of the numbers mean.
 
I found the overall game design to be intensely frustrating, even if I was intrigued by it on paper. It requires you to know where to go and what to do before you have a chance to figure it all out. All of the station is open to you, including several areas with multiple floors and each of them is a mess to navigate. Floors consist of a winding maze of pixelated walls that all look the same meaning you will get lost regardless. Even if you do have a map in hand, it’ll be of little help but when it’s tied to the VOS terminals it’s pretty much useless.
 
To get to each section of the base, you have to call a LIMO, a subway shuttle or sorts. You cannot access each hanger, service or domestic level on foot, but the snazzy (and skippable) FMV sequences inbetween gives a better idea of the station aesthetics anyway. As well as the multi-leveled buildings, you can also visit a number of turrets. Here, you can witness incoming enemy craft and shoot them if you've correctly powered them. If you've set off a probe from the VOS terminal, you can also see them come and go from here too.

The visually unappealing graphics may have been a technical necessity for the time, but coupled with the confusing structure, it’s a death knell in a game like this. When the first objective is go to the Control Room with no indication where it actually is (VOS won’t be accessable to you quite just yet), that's a problem. I found myself wondering around lost before I figured out where it is. Then I wondered around lost afterwards with some mechs on my tail. These enemies do have some minimal intelligence to them, being able to use lifts and doors like you would, but there is no real variety to them.

The game design seemed to split reviewers at the time too. Some were expecting an action fest and were left disappointed, while others enjoyed the slow-paced thoughtful nature. I’m sure the game has some fans out there, but I found the action to interrupt the tower-defence strategy and vice versa. Add to the ugly, aged graphics that I’m sure weren’t all that at the time and I find it hard to recommend to anyone other than the most patient of action gamers.


To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 185 Mb.  Install Size: 333 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


Defcon 5 is © Millennium Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


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2 comments:

  1. That actually sounds like an intriguing design, albeit reading the review, one that's more fun in concept than to actually play.

    I guess the idea was that the player would be expected to try and fail multiple times, slowly getting closer to a success with each playthrough. Requiring trial and error to arbitrarily extend the content of a game was all the rage in the '90s if I recall.

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    Replies
    1. Sounds about right. It was also an early release for the PlayStation and Saturn, which I've not played. I wonder if the move to consoles had a rethink in design?

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