Developer: Blindflug Studios
Price: $3.99
Version Reviewed:
Device Reviewed On: iPad Mini Retina

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

“The only winning move is not to play.” WOPR, WarGames (1982)

This quote should go through the heads of everyone who plays First Strike, a game of nuclear warfare. Last empire standing wins – or at least doesn’t lose.

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Players choose what country they are, which dictates their difficulty. The United States is well-armed and well-researched: they’re the “easy” difficulty, with smaller countries being more basic, all the way down to the “Impossible” North Korea.

Countries that the player holds can undertake various actions such as researching technology, building missiles, expanding to unclaimed land masses, and of course firing missiles, but they can only do one thing at a time, with a recharge time between actions. So, if a cluster of countries is undergoing actions, they may be juicy targets. Cruise missiles might be short-range weapons, but they can defend against incoming missiles, which makes them quite useful. IRBMs have limited utility due to their “middle child” status: good for nations within reasonable distance of the edges of one’s empire.

So, getting to build ICBMs first and fastest is key because they can hit pretty much anywhere on Earth, but that long reload time hurts. Individual missiles can be fired, or a “First Strike” can be deployed, which fires everything that can be fired at a general area. It’s actually a relatively simple game once everything is figured out. It’s a very approachable method of real-time strategy, and the progressive unlocks help out a lot when the game gets more challenging with many countries.

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First Strike is a gorgeous game, with an overarching view of the entire Earth and the interface appearing inside of it. Any GUI options appear as radial menus that exist in the game world, and options are intelligently grouped. However, it can be challenging to see just who is who, which countries/alliances are where, where any enemy countries are holed up, and just what is going on with them. It’s not the easiest situation to deal with, and I have had situations where a single country has been able to hide out from me because it was impossible to tell where my bases were and where enemies were. Bolder color choices to distinguish each country would help.

Interestingly, most of the social commentary seems to come from the way that players interpret the situation, rather than any conscious message that the game gives. There’s no reward for not striking first, or any punishment for being the aggressor. The default situation is just to be prepared for when the missiles go flying, because they will. It’s kind of a sad world, and it makes it so that pretty much the only way to ‘win’ as a small nation is to be smarter.

But it’s fascinating seeing all of this at a macro level, and that players are allowed to take this situation, play a game inside of it, and take whatever lessons they may, is an interesting way to approach this topic. And hey, First Strike is a game with a message that doesn’t forget that it’s a game.


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