First Strike Final Hour, by developers at BlindFlug Studios, released on May 31st this year with a bang. The fast paced real time strategy pits you as a major super power in a race against nuclear Armageddon. You can play as the United States, Western Europe or North Korea among others at the start of each anihilation round. First things first: choose your Nation and then choose your weapons. The guns are the biggest that they can possibly get – we’re playing with obscene payloads so the distinction at first glance seems negligible. In the first round playthrough, the only selections are a long range nuke, and a short range dirty bomb. We aren’t playing around here. I chose America, since we’re playing pretty close to the 4th of July and I thought it only appropriate.
I’m greeted with some serene music and a terse objective: Be the last one standing. After a few control screens that introduce how to move the view and select targets, I’m tossed directly into the action and informed that I should select one of my countries or territories and determine how best to proceed. I select California. As part of the U.S., I was able to immediately do a few things I never knew I wanted to do:
1. Build a long range missile.
2. Build a short range missile.
3. Build a defensive surface to air missile.
4. Research some stuff
5. Annex Canada (expand)
ANNEX. CANADA. Objective completed.
I move troops into Canada and start feeling pretty good about my circumstances when a large explosion obscures my view across the horizon of the planet. It appears that Norway has just been vaporized as a nuclear warhead I wasn’t tracking dropped onto its target and removed a substantial number of humans from existance…
Not to be outdone, I immediately set my new canadian neighbors to building some short range missiles just in case anyone got some wise ideas, and began using the middle of america to research multiple different upgrade paths. The skill tree has a few different set options available immediately, but it’s pretty obvious that the end goal is either a HUGE nuke on one side or a slightly different MASSIVE nuke on the other side of the tree based on your options. I chose the latter to progress towards and left kentucky and Ohio to their own devices to fiddle with upgrades while I set the rest of the states to making as many bombs as possible to see what the build timers looked like.
I screw around for a few moments playing with the different research payloads and creating a few intercontinental ballistic missiles when all of a sudden I see a missile lifting off the globe in Europe tracking straight for New York. HOLY SHIT I DIDN’T KNOW DIPLOMACY HAD ALREADY FAILED. Alright let’s do this.
It becomes apparent after a few rounds that the game expects you to eradicate all life on the board that isn’t yours, and contrary to other defensive territory expansion games, taking out a super power’s capital isn’t the same thing as eradicating them. Some powers may decide to surrender when too much damage has been dealt, but in general, if there is a country or territory that is still under enemy control, they can spread like a virus to the next area and keep trying to blow you up. A power hell bent on eradicating you will not stop until it has succeeded or every single territory it owns are toxic slush and radiation.
The game tells me that because I built a few rockets I now have the ability to use the first strike command. A First strike will make every one of my territories fire into an area at once to maximize damage, but leaves me open to retaliation.
The first strike command is granted on a cool down timer after the start of the game. Essentially, you pick a target on the board, and every single territory you have that has a missile that can reach your target will fire in that direction. It pretty much guarantees whatever you shot at will be reduced to rubble. However, if you’ve been stockpiling defensive missiles you can have a decent chance of reducing the carnage if you’re the one getting fired upon in this way. If you’re the target of the first strike, it’s often worth considering whether or not to write off the territories and instead, fire everything they have back instead of trying to protect the area in a (usually) futile effort. 1-4 missiles you might can shoot down. 17… not so much.
Territories have a few different options depending on size/location. When selected, you can choose to Attack – which brings up your fire target icon and gives a range based on what missiles are available to you. Defend – shoots down an incoming missile with an air strike; only available if that space is about to be hit or if another territory is in between the missile and its destination and can fire before it is too late. Lastly you can choose to expand your territory into an adjoining area and annex another country/land mass. You must do this if you plan to have a winning strategy, as the more mass you have the harder it is to eradicate your way of life. The final option is to build a few different types of nuclear arsenal and stockpile them into armament slots in each territory.
There are (at least initially) a few different types of missile. There’s an ICBM – long range, high damage, long build time. The IRBM – shorter range, lower damage, shorter build time, and the surface to air defense missile which can shoot down incoming threats to civilization – fastest build time, easy to stockpile, really low damage but enough to neutralize an incoming nuke.
It took me a while to warm up to the concept that the goal is total eradication of all life on the planet that isn’t under my control. Most war games – even total destruction war games, have a point at which all sides call it quits or decide to chill out after a particularly devastating loss to the population. With cities exploding left and right in lovely mushroom clouds and the planet going dark and radioactive all over the place, it was surprising that no country ever decided to stop fighting until all territories under it’s control were reduced to rubble. Like Ants continuing to fight after the queen was dead, each territory would try to expand to it’s neighbors and re-grow it’s arsenal. I eventually took to systematically wiping each adjoining surface area and pressing the attack backwards until there was nothing left worth destroying. This was fun, but almost more of a chore to eradicate all life where the survivors were very clearly beaten beyond where any reasonable fellow would have stopped fighting.
Overall First Strike Final hour does well in it’s efforts to stress the player into feeling like the world is ending. Each nuke you fire feels final, and each time you lose a bit of your territory, you feel it as a loss.
Some things to consider:
The skill tree researching is perhaps not as impactful as it could be. It feels more like something you should be doing with your territories that are not otherwise engaged in defensive procedures, rather than a bonus to your ability to cause destruction. Because the game never completely pauses unless you actively stop the game, I found myself randomly clicking on upgrades (that progress in a line towards a final nuke option that is devastating) and not really reading the upgrade choices or discovering what they would give me. I was pleasantly surprised to discover my build time diminishing and a bonus defense missile created as I progressed up the skill tree. However, there’s no cost to researching beyond the time it will take your nation’s territory to learn that skill, which otherwise renders them useless for defense or attack. There’s really no huge downside to immediately using many of your territories to research right off the bat, except for the fact that you could get wiped off the map before they’re done. I feel I would have appreciated a different style of skill tree that allowed me to ponder the upside of researching one bonus over another. It felt as though it was something I COULD do, not SHOULD do, and never really held any weight in the game because I never got to stop and look at what it would give me.
The initial dialogue in the game is sparse. While I figured out what was occurring through visual cues and just generally trying all the things out at least once, I was slightly disappointed that very little beyond how to select a territory and then choose an option was explained. Having said that, the game picks up quickly and little explanation is required for the most part: destroy the enemy, defend the territory. I can say however that I would have spent WAY less time creating IRBMs and almost all of my time creating defensive missiles and inter-continental ballistic missiles instead, because the range is so limited on the IRBM that unless you’re within spitting distance, you’ll need something bigger and more effective. While I figured it out for myself, a good portion of my playthrough was spent learning controls and limits, instead of raining death on my enemies.
Overall I would say that First Strike Final Hour is an exciting look at a very dark possibility. While I personally don’t subscribe to the use of Nuclear arsenal or weapons of mass destructions in any form being an acceptable destructive force, I did think that this game did well in it’s attempt to explore the levels of destruction it would cause. Each time a city falls a death toll is shown on the loss; but it manages to keep the impact light, possibly because the battles still rage around you and you’re never shown any of the actual damage beyond a satellites view of the planet surface. Perhaps this is for the best, as really sinking home that you’ve caused such utter destruction would likely cause me to cease playing after a time.
As war strategy games go, this was one of the most fun, and for the price they’re asking on Steam (presently 12$ at the time of this article) I would certainly recommend it. A cross between Axis & Allies and the end of the world. I enjoyed it. For more information and to try this game for yourself, head over to their steam page!