First Strike Final Hour Review: How About A Nice Game of Chess?
Developer: Blindflug Studios AG
Publisher: Blindflug Studios AG
Release Date: May 31, 2017
Platforms: Windows, Mac
When I first saw First Strike: Final Hour in the Steam store, I was intrigued. I've been a fan of the nearest relatives to it, Introversion's Defcon and Team Jolly Roger's Interplanetary, for a while now, and the idea of cleansing the Earth in pixelated fire has never not sounded like a fun time. It's the ultimate expression of kicking over a block castle when you're done with it, only the block castle is the entire planet. There's a cathartic thrill to just knocking something over, and especially when that thing is the entirety of the planet Earth. In theory, anyway. In reality, the game is a little more...complex.
First Strike: Final Hour casts you as the leader of a world power. You're given a small selection of superweapons, missile bases scattered around your nation, and a brief tutorial about how best to cause casualties somewhere in the megadeath range. From there, it's up to you to form truces with the other nations, or wipe them out as you see fit. The "First Strike" part of the title refers to a massive launch where all your missiles are fired into one huge area of effect at once, a star-field of parabolic death raining down upon enemy nations like a swarm of angry, blunt-nosed hornets. But that isn't the only way to reduce your enemies to piles of ash. You can also form alliances, research new technologies to upgrade your tech, and finally build superweapons to crush your peskier opponents. The game goes until you and your allies emerge atop glow-in-the-dark rubble triumphant and unbowed, or until you wipe out everyone else, whichever comes first.
And for the most part, it's good. Watching the missiles turn their target into glowing, burning fields of orange is satisfying. The interface is, while not gorgeous, tremendously easy on the eyes and simple to use. If Defcon was Global Thermonuclear War as imagined by Wargames, First Strike is its modern-day counterpart, a 3-D globe swirling with missile strikes, tense momentary pacts, and irradiated sections of the board done up in glowing orange cross-hatch. The simple interface involves setting everything up with a few clicks here and there, and it's satisfying to click that mouse and watch anywhere from one to one million missiles sail across the globe until they impact with their targets.
The game's tone is augmented by tempo and pacing. There's a constant ticking noise in the background of the soundtrack that swirls into a crescendo of noise whenever someone chooses to launch their missiles en masse at a target, possibly even you. Adding to the tension, there is no pause. Even on the options menu, everything slows to a crawl, but doesn't actually stop, meaning that you could be turning down that anxiety-inducing music only to have a trillion missiles make it up your hind end. It's nerve-wracking, but it also helps keep you on your toes.
But the game is rather obtuse and the nerve-wracking timing works against it in conjunction with this. It's not clear exactly when your opponents are eliminated or how, just that you need to either be the last one standing or make alliances with the remaining powers to win. It's also not clear how to ally yourself with the other powers, though you can create non-aggression pacts easily enough. Things quickly dissolve into a repetitive slugfest where you defend frantically against missile attacks while occasionally launching your own that do...something? and attempting to take over territories before they either become nuclear-capable or fall into your enemy's hands.
This turns what could be a frantic game of nuclear annihilation into you building a ton of cruise missiles while hoping your superweapon and all related things do, well, just about anything they say they will. While I haven't ever won a game of First Strike I've spent numerous times losing games via attrition, as the matches stretch on until I eventually either get tired and let the computer win, or simply turn the game off. The initial thrill quickly fades, leaving a mess that while not confusing, also is maddeningly obtuse about what progress is made if any.
And that's what sinks the game, honestly. It's a fun game that's also its own worst enemy, dragged down by being too simple when it needs a little more complexity, and just too frantic when it maybe needs to take a breath. It's a wonderful game with some interesting systems, but in the end, it just leaves its players a little cold and wondering how long it's going to take, and a game should definitely not do that.
- Frantic, fast-paced global thermonuclear war
- Simple interface
- Nerve-wracking soundtrack with ascending tone
- Too obtuse
- Games stretch on forever.
- No real clear indicators of progress
The Reviewer received a free copy of this game in exchange for an honest review