Defcon 5

In the far future, deep-space mining has become a way of life. As frontiersmen journeyed out into the great unknown, the Tyron Corporation scored a very lucrative and exclusive security deal. Massive, fully-manned defense facilities were constructed near every mine, ready to defend the brave prospectors against any foe, from dangerous pirates, to potential otherworldly attacks.

Trouble is, nothing happened. No pirates. No aliens. Zip. So while it seemed like a good idea at the time, Tyron is quickly losing money to these seemingly unnecessary stations. The decision is made to cut the defense budget drastically, pull out all the crews of these stations, and install automated defense software while they wait to be dismantled or forgotten. Hence, Defcon 5 – universal peace.

You’ll navigate the base in first person

As the game begins, your character, a Tyron engineer, is sent off to a distant asteroid mine to perform such an update. Your predecessor died in a shuttle accident as he left the previous station, so you’re picking up where he left off. The station has been long-abandoned, so despite the fact that this is your first gig, it should be a simple task to upload the software, hoof it back to the shuttle, and move on to the next base.

The game picks up with you in the shuttle bay and forces you to make the quiet journey to the command center. This gives you an opportunity to get a feel for the layout of the base, the controls, and how to operate the fully-functional computer systems of the facility. It should come as no surprise that, once you set up the automated defense systems, alien invaders start razing the base. That automation transition seems inconveniently premature.

You now have to wage a defensive war, using the computers and facilities at your disposal, to stave off the invading force and keep yourself alive. Your goal is to survive long enough to warn Tyron, set the base to destruct, and make it safely off the asteroid in your shuttle. This seems a little trite, and it would be, if it weren’t for the little innovations in the game. You’re fighting the aliens on two fronts – using the turrets to attack their fighters and landing craft, and using yourself against their landing parties inside the base. A monorail connects the turrets and major parts of the base, so in between fights, you’ll be running from the turrets, to the command center, to scouring various parts of the base for vital software updates and clearances.

The game is even more clever because of the options it gives you. When you get the alert that fighters are incoming, you can rush to the monorail and man a turret yourself, or leave it to the computers. In the beginning, you will be far more accurate than the computer software you were given. However, if you can find the right authorization software upgrades hidden within the base, you gain full control over the programming of the turrets. You can adjust them as you like, increase their accuracy and firing time, or even remote control them from the command center computers.

The Virtual Operating System. Impressively detailed and functional too.

When you’re fighting the ground invaders, you can rush out and shoot them yourself, program security bots to patrol or secure key locations, or even watch them on the computer’s security map and lock doors to seal off their access. If you’re really good, you can trap the aliens inside a room and eliminate all the fuss. Otherwise, destroying robots and alien mechs will pollute the air where they died, making it dangerous for you to move through that area.

You may ask why this is the case. It seems that the designers wanted to impose some kind of penalty on running and gunning through the game, and ensure that you were using the base systems instead of taking out bots yourself. You also must seriously consider your strategy before you kill anything, or place bots in positions to secure a hallway. Once polluted, you can open doors to try and flush the area with fresh air, or you may have totally cut yourself off and have to find another way around.

In this sense, Defcon 5 becomes much more of a strategy game than an action game, and the level of actually useful control you have over the base systems and security makes it enjoyable. The base itself is designed well, and navigates like a typical 3-D shooter. You’re forced to make your rounds through the base by searching for important clearance upgrades to beat the game. This is effective in keeping you from spending all your time in the command center, but you’ll want to search through other areas to find better weapons and software.

I have heard comparisons made between this game and System Shock, which I don’t believe are entirely accurate. They are, however, both games that look like standard 3-D shooters, but offer much more. Defcon 5 focuses much more on strategy, and the game is more about securing your positions than slugging through robots to escape. You have a lot to take care of before you can make a successful getaway, so finding a secure location with a secure computer is far more important than blasting through the base, or blowing your security drones on useless frontal assaults.

Defending from a turret.

Defcon is a reasonably good-looking game. It has a solid engine that supports its exploration and combat well. Areas of the base are not terribly detailed however, leading to a lot of boring environments and square rooms that look the same. There’s very little in the way of props to decorate the rooms. The layout is sensible though, and signs point out important areas, and paths to them. You’ll also have access to a map to guide you, which highlights areas you might want to search for upgrades. (armories, crew quarters, etc.)

The computer interface is a real highlight, and consists of a structure of white spheres hanging in space, that rotate and branch into specific folders, programs, and preferences. If you’ve ever seen Silicon Graphics’ “File System Navigator,” (it was in the movie Jurassic Park) you’ll have an idea of where the inspiration comes from. You don’t have a huge amount of options, but you can use everything that’s in there, it actually affects the station, and it’s a far more fleshed-out computer system than is found in most games.

If I have any serious complaint about the game, it’s that the first thirty minutes to an hour are the best part, as you rush to fortify your positions and battle off the first few attacks. Once you have a secure “base” and a safe pattern of paths, not much in the game changes. Once the defense software is updated and configured by you to maximum efficiency, it is just that – very efficient, and your fights become fewer. Once you’ve got a solid defense, the game is really ready for you to make your escape, cause it’s got nothing else. No new enemies, no new situations. However, you still have to pour over every inch the base for escape codes, destruct authorization, escort shuttle programs, etc, which ends up being more of a chore than anything else by the time it’s all done. You’ll also want to check some of the destroyed ships or aliens for… information. Hint hint.

Ultimately, Defcon 5 is an interesting and unique game with some good ideas and nice execution. The base is a standard FPS maze that gives you worthwhile reasons to explore it. Atop this basic gameplay is a brilliant software system ripe for tweaking and configuring, plus a slight mystery worth exploring. It’s the software and the turrets that elevate this game into something unique, and it’s a blend of shooter and strategy that’s definitely worth checking out for genre vets.


The Good

Somewhat unique 3-D strategy game. Features an expansive base, with a detailed computer system that actually affects it.

The Bad

“Find the software key” hunts quickly grow stale, and force you to check every room in the base before you can escape.


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