Theatre Europe. The very mention of the term conjures images of CND banners, argumentative politicians and a barren, nightmarish wasteland where life as we know it has ceased to be. This is what this game is about: the grim reality of a nuclear holocaust. Before those of you with strong feelings start to argue the points of mixing the horrific consequences of war and computer games, the object of Theatre Europe is to avoid any sort of nuclear confrontation - or at least to demonstrate how such a conflict could never be won.
The game offers options for a single player to take on the computer, a two payer head-to-head or a demo version where the computer plays itself. The latter option is very interesting and quite frightening. If you buy this game I strongly recommend you sit down and watch what happens!
Although this is essentially a war game it uses a series of screens to depict the action in a very atmospheric way. There is also an arcade action sequence which may be incorporated by shoot em up fans or ignored by serious wargamers. If the arcade option is chosen, you are asked to select a battle once combat is under way. Move the cursor over the desired unit, and a picture of a plain with a city in the background is presented with aeroplanes, helicopters and tanks moving about. A target cursor is placed under your control in similar style to Missile Command and this is used to destroy the enemy. At the bottom the screen icons depict different kinds of weaponry. It's a good feature to have, as the process of co-ordinating your defences becomes more complex and logical.
Your performance in the arcade sequence plays a major part in the game, as it is taken into consideration in arriving at a strength factor that decides the fate of forces elsewhere: doing badly in this phase results in severe losses all round.
Once you've decided whether or not to take the action screens, the forces you would like to command need to be chosen, either the Warsaw Pact or NATO. Special units are made available to the Warsaw Pact: the 1st Airborne Army which can be flown directly behind enemy lines, and the 1st Amphibious Army which can move over the sea to a tactical attack point. Next, one of the three levels of play must be chosen. Level One plays a totally conventional war game and, unless provoked, does not use the nuclear or chemical option, whilst Levels Two and Three see the computer using nuclear and chemical options to prevent you winning the game. Level three plays a highly intelligent and unpredictable game, and nuclear escalation on this level is usually enormous.
With the level selected, a detailed map of Europe and Western Russia (including Moscow) is presented showing mountain ranges, capital cities, country borders and all the armed forces of both sides. It is time to move your units. Place the cursor over the desired unit, press fire and move the cursor the place where you want the unit to end up. You can only move one character space at a time and the unit moves as soon as you press the fire button again.
Once all unit moves have been decided, the attack phase follows. This time, position the cursor over the enemy unit you wish to attack. Any amount of your units can attack a single enemy army, but once a unit is sent into battle it cannot be halted until the phase is over.
When the attacking moves have been set up, the ENTER key starts the fighting. If the action screen option has been chosen the computer asks the player to select a battle, whereupon the on screen action happens. If the action screens aren't operational, the battle is decided on merits of air superiority, supplies and armament.
After the battle, units can be rebuilt with somewhat scant supplies. First, a quantity of armament supplies can be issued to the more desperate forces using the cursor to select units and the fire button to indicate the quantity of supplies to be allocated. Similarly, air support supplies may be allocated. The rebuilding schedule needs to be planned carefully - once a supply is sent it cannot be reclaimed.
After rebuilding you move onto the air phase. This is to determine how to use your air command during the next turn. Reserve air units can be accessed, but they are very limited and have to be used sensibly. Several options for allocating air reserves are available, some essential and some tactical. Essential options are air power (the most important), counter air strikes and reconnaissance. Other options include interdiction, assault breakers, deep strike and iron snake.
Counter air strikes are attacks on enemy airfields and bases; interdiction is where planes are sent behind enemy lines to attack enemy supply and movement networks. Care has to be taken when using this option since it carries the risk of setting off a retaliatory nuclear strike. The other three are, respectively, an attack on a single unit, a strike into enemy territory, and an attack on railways to disable enemy reinforcements.
The most controversial part of the program involves the use of chemical and nuclear weapons. There is an option - Special Mission - which allows the player to set off a strategic chemical or nuclear launch. A chemical launch is automatically targeted on an enemy supply city. A special readout gives you the details and expected results, and reports on the outcome of the attack. This mission carries the risk of an enemy nuclear response.
A strategic nuclear attack involves some pretty tense moments the first few times it's used. When you first switch to nuclear mode you are given 30 seconds to ring a phone number and obtain a special authorisation code. This is a real number, contactable 24 hours a day.
The code number gives direct control over all targeting and warheads. There are three separate settings: Standby, to which the game reverts if you decide against a launch; Strategic Launch, where a single nuclear strike can be targeted ; and finally Fire-Plan, a full-scale strike. Targeting a single nuclear or chemical launch is alarmingly simple. You are given control of a cursor to position over the desired target. Press fire and the rest is done automatically.
When under enemy nuclear attack, the launch is detected and a target cursor follows the progress of the enemy missile. If your Reflex system is operative, your forces automatically launch a strike of similar size. There is nothing you can do but watch the targets being destroyed in a sequence of graphic screens.
As the game is played, it becomes increasingly obvious that the war cannot be won with nuclear weapons.
This is a brilliant game which offers more than the usual run-of-the-mill war game via its tense action screens and gripping atmosphere. The arcade sequences mean that arcade players could well become interested, and the simplistic playability means that novice war gamers can get into this with ease. Wargame purists might become rather bored by the rather superficial gameplay and the action screens, but it's well worth buying if you do have an interest in wargaming - and the future.
|Value For Money||85%|
Plenty of drama in this theatre because if there's another World War, Europe will be the playing area. Obviously a game like this lays itself open to charges of bad taste. Nothing could be further from the truth. War is the bad taste. A serious, well researched program like this is an insight into the nature of modern war.
The game plays extremely smoothly. Computer wargames seem to work better on this large scale. Everything is cursor controlled, with the option to change moves that you immediately regret. There's not a wealth of information but what there is is presented clearly.
After the initial options, including the choice to play either Nato or Warsaw Pact and computer vs computer, it's into the command centre.
In traditional wargame style each round comprises movement then combat. Next comes an optional arcade sequence - the one feature I didn't like. It takes the form of a shooting game that alters combat bonuses, but if you feel like me you can always ignore it.
After combat has been resolved it's time to reinforce those key areas, air power and supply. You're then presented with a different type of command screen to allocate planes to various missions, ranging from air superiority to reconnaisance. Next come the special missions - where you can choose chemicals that could trigger a nuclear response, or your atomic capability on one of two levels. Choosing the latter being is highly likely to result in a nuclear exchange and zero for command capabilities.
Your main objective is to survive thirty days - all the experts reckon it'll take for the traditional armaments to run out. The West would then win the race to re-arm and so win the war. However I foudn that I was being forced to retreat further and further into France and eventually choose gas and finally a limited nuclear strike. The world ended with a bang, not a whimper.
Details of the effect of these special mission, and the request for the codeword to launch missiles are communicated teleprinter style. It's a simple but effective device which makes the computerised 'friendly' signing off all the more chilling. Readin the excellent booklet enclosed with the game spells out the futility of modern warfare clearly enough... but never so clearly as playing a simulation.
This is far from being a piece of bad taste exploitation. It's a highly moral, eye-opening introduction to the military mind which, to even consider the possibilities here, must be somewhat psychotic.
|Value For Money||9/10|
The hawks leave their high perches in the Middle East and prepare the battle grounds of Europe for what could be the final conflict.
Warsaw Pact and NATO Alliance forces are ready to move against each other. Russia and its allies turn their attention to West Germany while NATO is intent on stopping any breach of its borders.
Theatre Europe from PSS looks initially a dauntingly complex war game simulation with its crowded map and frequent, but optional arcade sequences. Yet, once you get into it it's surprisingly easy to handle, mainly because it uses simple menus and all the options are selected with joystick or cursor keys.
Like most such games you can either play against the computer or another person. And you choose whether you control the Warsaw Pact or NATO forces. Alternatively, you can watch as the simulation plays itself.
Play is rather like a board game. You take your turn, give your instructions to your forces and watch the outcome. The whole thing is all about capture of territory. Main thrusts are made on the screen map of Europe over which you will spend a great deal of time pondering. A square cursor is used to select units - red for the Ruskies and true blue for Ronnie.
The first part of your go is the Movement Phase where you land troops, amphibious vehicles and aircraft. Press fire over a troop marker, press fire again and move the cursor to an area within the bounds the game dictates. That's how easy the game mechanics are. The type of terrain is taken into account when you move, for instance, it will take longer to march over mountains than over flat lands.
Next in your go is the Combat Phase. Any unit which is next to an enemy flag can take part in the fighting and you can even set two of your units on to one of the enemy's. The four methods of attack range from infantry fire through to missiles and airborne bombing. Take the cursor and keep it on your target while you press the fire button. It is easy to hit a target with machine gun fire but the damage inflicted is obviously less than with a missile! You can also select to play out the Attack Phase in a short arcade style sequence.
During the first battle round you have to decide whether to launch a chemical attack on a city or troop station. If you answer 'yes' immediately you'll be branded as irresponsible and the option will be taken away forever.
Don't think - if you're playing against the computer - your opposite number won't take the initiative. There's a disturbing lack of morals shown on both sides in this game and NATO is willing to break treaties just as easily as Russia.
If you're playing the simulation at an advanced level - if you get good enough - there are a series of special missions in which your troops take part.
The first is Assault Breaker, an air mission which is used to attack enemy ground units. The other missions are land-based. Deep Strike takes your forces into the heart of the enemy's command structure. If it works you deal a massive blow to your opponent. Interdiction may lead to the late arrival of enemy troops and could stop enemy Assault Breakers but it runs the risk of nuclear war. Finally, iron Snake attacks the enemy's rail networks, stopping supplies getting through to famished troops.
Nuclear war is an ever-present threat in the simulation. Should you choose the nuclear option you must know the authorisation code - it only has to be entered once in the simulation and then you're ready for countdown. A single strategic nuclear attack can be launched on a city or enemy unit.
Any such attack brings nuclear reprisals and the likelihood of total global nuclear war.
You can unleash the full might of your nuclear arsenal by calling Fire-Plan Warm Puppy into action. All your missiles will be shown on the screen together with those of the enemy. They cross in the middle and hit their targets.
You lose your job as a commander, and your life as well.
Theatre Europe is a brilliant, if chilling, simulation. It has all the facets of a war game and all the realism of what a final conflict scenario could mean.
Should PSS make a game out of something so serious? That is certainly open to debate. But the way it treats the nuclear issue really does bring home the staggering proportions and tragedy of a nuclear disaster in a graphic way.
Joystick: Kempston, Sinclair
Reviewer: John Gilbert
C64/128, £9.95cs, £14.95dk
Amstrad, £9.95cs, £14.95dk
This wargame is set just in the future and covers the first 30 days fighting between the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact. Should you decide to play as supreme commander of NATO your objective is to prevent the invasion of West Germany - at all costs. Obviously, should you decide to play supreme commander of the Warsaw Pact then your objective is to occupy West Germany.
There are four basic phases to the game: movement phase, attack phase, resupply phase and the air phase. Before an attack is made the player also has the option to use tactical chemical weapons attacks. The air phase allows the player to control a limited air force and struggle for air superiority by deciding where and when to make an attack behind enemy lines.
As is usual with PSS games, there is the oportunity for the player to enter an arcade style game, which means the player can actively participate in a battle. This is all very well and good if that's what you want, but frankly the game is just as good if you never opt to take part in one of the battles. Certainly the arcade element should not be a prime reason for buying the game.
At its new knock down price, Theatre Europe is a gift. It comes frighteningly close to predicting the future for Europe should the unthinkable happen.
|Ease of Use||3/7|
The teletype chatters happily... "Warcomp on line"... The war computer's talking to you... "Civilian casualties will be minimised where possible. Thank you for your attention"... The date may be tomorrow, although I hope not! Warsaw Pact conventional forces have attacked western Europe from Denmark to Italy,
The player can take either these or the NATO forces opposing them, with the object of winning the war without blowing up the world. At his disposal lie the tactical use of gas on the battlefield, a deep airborne strike against the enemy rear supplies, and strategic rockets capable of destroying cities. Any one used too early, or in the wrong place, may trigger a massive nuclear exchange which will destroy Europe for ever.
The Spectrum version of Theatre Europe, last year's "strategy game of the year", is now out. The graphics are a bit flawed this version, but still a nuclear airburst over a city isn't meant to look pretty .
For those who can't take even World War Three seriously the program has a built-in option of "action screens" allowing the player to shoot down aircraft and destroy tanks in true arcade style as part of the battles.
I hated it, hut non-wargaming friends thought it was the best part of the game. For the rest, the player controls land operations in Europe at Corps and Army levels, and has some realistic decisions to take about how to deploy his airpower, and the moment when he must decide to go nuclear.
In this version of a future war the Pact forces are virtually unstoppable conventional means, perhaps unrealistically so.
The ability of the Romanians to drive through Yugoslavia to northern Italy in ten days raised a few eyebrows. as did the American tendency to attack the Swiss Army for no apparent reason.
The game also includes the use of strategic chemical rockets for gas attacks on cities, which neither side actually has and a reflex launch-on-warning system which we hope neither side will use.
On my best effort with the NATO forces I finally halted the Pact drive just west of Paris. Three European cities had been reduced to radioactive rubble. West Germany had been devastated. In 30 days nearly as many people had died in Europe as in the whole of World War Two. It was a victory.
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