Controversy. You can’t beat it. If you want a game to be successful, bundle in some free controversy, and you’ve got yourself a blockbuster. Sure, you need to have a half-decent game with it, but nothing sells like controversy, except perhaps sex. And that just wouldn’t have fit in with the theme of this little gem.
There’s an amusing history of controversy in video games, and several games have been the subject of campaigns to ban them. Probably the most high profile case of recent years was Manhunt, but let’s not forget Carmageddon, Night Trap, Thrill Kill and various other “Video Game Nasties” as the popular press dubbed them (or in the case of the Daily Mail, the not so popular)
But back in the days of the humble Commodore Amiga, there was Sensible Software’s Cannon Fodder. With gameplay that looks like the inspiration to the highly successful Command and Conquer series, it seems strange to think there was such bad feeling towards this game. They did court controversy just anyway by adopting the Poppy as the boxart for the game, as well as having it on the title screen.
Maybe not the smartest move, but then why should that cause offence? After all, they said themselves in the instruction manual that war is not a game and talked about the futility of war, and as the poppy is one of the most recognisable symbols of war, I think the message is carried exceptionally well. The only question I would raise is the appropriateness of the tagline…
“WAR HAS NEVER BEEN SO MUCH FUN!”
In fact, when you first load the game up, you’re treated to a catchy reggae number as part of the introduction, singing the tagline to you over and over again, along with instructions to “Go to your brother, kill him with your gun, leave him lying in his uniform, dying in the sun”.
So, controversy aside, was the game worth the money? Well, fortunately, yes, it was, in fact the game sold exceptionally well and deservedly so, because it was nothing more than it proclaimed to be… a fun little shooter/strategy game with a finely-balanced ratio of action to black humour. Like Command & Conquer, you simply use your mouse to direct your troops by left-clicking where you want to go, and right-clicking where you want to shoot. A combination of clicks would enable you to launch grenades or fire rockets when they were available, and you could also split your squad up to flank the enemy or send in a scouting party ahead of your main force. Tactics like this were valuable, especially for learning where booby traps are on later levels.
There were also a selection of vehicles to use, and a variety of landscapes in which to battle it out. Overall, there seemed to be little in the way of coherency or storyline, simply a series of missions with certain objectives that must be met. Most common was “Kill all enemy”, however there was often “Destroy all buildings”, "Rescue hostages" and even "Destroy the Computer"
War might not have been so much fun, but was the game fun?
Oh, yes, indeedy. Whilst the early levels provided a nice shallow learning curve, by Mission 8 you would be tearing your hair out at the quickness of the enemy’s reactions and the regularity you’d not spot that spike trap on the ground, or even guide your entire squad straight down a hole in a bridge to their doom on the rocks below.
Between levels, you saw your heroes promoted according to how many missions they had survived (From what I understand, this did make your men improve slightly, I think mostly in range than anything else), and you also received a list of those who had perished in action. There was also the screen where your new recruits queued up to join the action, between each Mission another 15 would come to join. The hill behind them served as their final resting place should they be lost in the field, little gravestones or crosses according to their rank would scatter across the hillside as you made your way through the game.
As I mentioned, there was the little touch of black humour along the way, sometimes a man wouldn’t die, he would lie there, bleeding and screaming periodically until you put him out of his misery. The bodies of the deceased would disappear after a few seconds, but you could play keepy-up with them by shooting them repeatedly.
All in all, this game is a fun diversion for a while, but once completed has a fairly short “come back and play again” factor. You could play through the whole game in a few hours, but your reactions would need to be tip-top if you expect to do it first time.
Forget the controversy, this is a little gem of history, so much so that I’m thinking of trying to play through it tonight…