Spectrum 2.0

Review of 'Theatre Europe'

Rating:4 User: winston

In the 1980s, there was significant paranoia about the final war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact - TV films such as the rather wishy-washy "The Day After", and the simply terrifying "Threads" were fresh in many people's minds, and in our parents generation, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the UN were all too recent.

This gave the game an all-too-real and chilling aspect, especially when you read the part about the Reflex system in the gameĀ“s instructions, and how it was modelled on a proposed NATO automatic response system.

The game is well-written - attention has been paid to the control system so it doesn't get in your way - if mice were popular when the game came out, it would have naturally fitted mouse control. As is the case in strategy (both games and real life) you need to allocate resources, plan your attack and defence, and think ahead about what the enemy might do. Theatre Europe also gives you a couple of more chilling options - the use of chemical or tactical nuclear attacks. Strangely, chemical attacks are limited to civilian targets, whereas tactical nuclear strikes can also be targeted on enemy military units. It also gives the option to use the "reflex" system to automatically retaliate when attacked with chemical or nuclear weapons. Finally, it also gives the option of using the "fire plan". These innocuous words mean an all out nuclear attack against your enemy. It's also the "instant lose" option, because the enemy will retaliate with their fire plan. Humanity doesn't get to survive the resulting six gigaton exchange.

The game also contains an "arcade mode" where you get to play out all the battles, but in contrast to the main strategy game, it seems an afterthought and is fairly poor. It's best to turn off the arcade mode once you've played it once, just to see what it's like.

The game is especially hard to play as NATO - you inevitably find yourself forced to attack enemy units with nuclear weapons, with the risk of the Warsaw Pact responding with a massive retaliation.

The computer plays a good game, despite being only a 48K Spectrum, and it's a tribute to the developers that they made the AI convincing with such limited resources. There are a few shortcomings, though - the Warsaw Pact side all too often, towards the end of the war when they are winning by a country mile, launches an all out nuclear strike, which means they get destroyed too by your reflex system. The computer also seems to also be a bit eager to use weapons of mass destruction when there's no real need for it to do so. In my opinion, the authors should have ditched the "arcade" mini-game altogether, and used those resources to make a more complex AI.