Nuclear war is always a fascinating topic for strategy games to tackle as the goal is not necessarily to efficiently accumulate wealth, but instead ensure lethal strikes on all threats, preventing a drawn out war. ICBM, developed by SoftWarWare under Slitherine’s new K-Project label to support indie titles, is a spiritual successor to DEFCON, one of the first strategy games that attempted to model nuclear war. ICBM does what it sets out to do well in a simple and compact game, but it rarely manages to push the boundaries of strategy game design.
ICBM is a sandbox pausable real-time strategy game with both single-player and multiplayer modes. For each mode there are several maps and scenarios to choose from with different regional or continental setups. Aside from the historical Cuban Missile Crisis scenario, all other maps ensure that each region not only has equivalent economic capability, but varied populations and city density. At least thematically, ICBM does a great job of illustrating global strategic war.
While players can select one of three scoring types, with some prioritizing maximum damage to populations while another focusing on protecting your own, the morbid central objective doesn’t change – eliminate enemy populations to score points. Because of this design focus on a single goal for the game, ICBM is easy for players to get into, but has the potential of becoming very repetitive quickly. The developers, however, do their best to give players an opportunity to freshen each match up.
ICBM matches have extensive customization options included on top of the three scoring modes. Players can set peace periods where units won’t attack each other, limit certain techs and weapons, or start the match with predetermined alliances. Not only does this combat some of the inherent repetitiveness of the game, it also gives control to players of any skill level to personalize their experience or come up with interesting scenarios to try different strategies.
One of the main and simple design strengths of ICBM is its relatively straightforward control scheme. Almost everything in the game, including commanding units or setting up strike plans, follows a point-and-click system, making it very easy for players to learn the game and concern themselves less with fighting the game’s commands and more on tactical and strategic decision-making. There is some awkwardness in the controls as some units can be commanded with both left-click and right-click, but the game doesn’t make it immediately obvious which units have what control scheme.
Another strong element of the game’s ease-of-access is its simple and effective tutorial. The tutorial shows and directs players to all the major components of the game without bogging them down in walls of text or extensive explanations that might have made ICBM more complicated than it actually is. It reveals the developers understand a key element in good strategy design, which is the easy to learn and hard to master principle.
The main gameplay loop of matches consists of researching technology, along with producing, deploying, and using naval, air, ground, and space assets for both defence and offence. This is the best part of the game as there’s a decent range of technologies and a large amount of varied assets that gives players all sorts of avenues and paths to victory. The technology tree is just large enough that players will have to make important decisions in executing their chosen strategies.
Do you want to go for an all naval build with submarines and carriers? You can do that. Do you want to try air and space with stealth bombers and satellites protecting your cities with lasers? You can do that too.
Probably the most essential component in any strategy game is the relation of geography to player decision-making and ICBM does this exceedingly well. Each of the eight continents (the maximum) have their own unique features that will inevitably affect strategic and tactical decision-making and further adds replayability to the game. For example, playing as Europe means you have to contend with potential threats from nearly every direction, but the compact positioning of Europe’s cities makes defence easier. These are some of the things players will have to consider when choosing their region and what approach to take.
Diplomacy also has a small but crucial role as it can radically change how the game plays. Player alliances are non-binding (unless changed in settings), which adds an element of unreliability and mind games as players can and will backstab each other as they vie for the glory of victory. Moreover, players in alliances can share radar information and research, as well as share intelligence on nuclear assets, which can open new strategic paths as teams can utilize the tech tree more and unlock capabilities they normally wouldn’t have access to.
One of the weakest features of the game is espionage as it is poorly explained and doesn’t seem to have much of an impact. Players have very few options to improve or defend against espionage and it also feels somewhat redundant considering that one of the main things they will be doing is using radar networks to scout other regions. In essence, espionage doesn’t add much to the game and clearly needed more work.
ICBM has great game flow in matches with micro control being prevalent in the early game, while macro control takes over in the later stages of the game. To help minimize later game micro control the developers included an ingenious Strike Planner feature, allowing players to group units into perfectly synchronized plans. This feature streamlines the likely busywork of using large numbers of units, letting players focus more on strategy.
The AI is another weakness of the game. Though the sheer number of AI opponents and the global nature of nuclear war provides sufficient challenge in itself, players can quite easily create situations where they limit their interactions to one or two opponents and exploit them. The main issue with the AI is that it’s highly predictable and refuses to adapt as it seems AI opponents follow a predetermined algorithm. I’ve noticed during several matches an AI continuously sending submarines towards my destroyers to their death, while refusing to change their path.
The options menu and graphics are barebones, but functional and get the job done. The music is generic and repetitive, though weapon sound effects and the occasional announcer voice acting is solid. The UI is pleasant, informative, and doesn’t get in the way of the action on the global map, though the Science and Production window is a little fiddly and could do with a bit of streamlining.
Though ICBM is not a taxing or technically heavy game, I did encounter some minor lag and frame drops, especially in the late game with a lot of units moving around and nukes going off. I didn’t encounter game-breaking bugs, aside from awkward phrasing in unit descriptions and the tutorial. Some tooltips and descriptions also have very small text fonts and could be an issue for some players.
Ultimately, ICBM is a tight and compact little game illustrating global nuclear war in a digestible manner. What it does, it does well with a solid strategy design foundation to build upon and develop. The inclusion of modding from the get go is a big benefit to the game and will add replayability. ICBM’s success will be determined by its multiplayer scene, both casual and competitive, as the AI and the game itself won’t offer much beyond the initial concept.
Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.
Though conceptually simple and highly repetitive, ICBM is a neat and compact strategy game with solid design foundations and excellent multiplayer potential.
Gamezeen is a Zeen theme demo site. Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.