Narrowing years of gaming experiences down to a favourite ten titles is something that’s taken me years to get comfortable with, but I’m finally doing it.
My number seven spot goes to…
Developer: Sensible Software
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Director: Jon Hare
Soundtrack: Richard Joseph
Genre: Action Strategy
Platforms: Amiga, then later PC, SNES, Megadrive, Atari ST
I played it on: Amiga
. . .
Long before Modern Warfare 2, a war game that deliberately went out of its way to attract superficial controversy and outrage with its content- there was Cannon Fodder.
A war game that went out of its way to court a more sophisticated dialogue around the wasteful, senseless nature of war itself.
Through the provocative use of the war poppy in the game’s logo, as well as an in game theme song with the opening line: “War… never been so much fun”, developer Sensible Software were asking for trouble.
This was the early nineties, and while most of my friends were enjoying the latest games on the SEGA Megadrive or PC, I was playing lesser known titles on 16 bit Commodore Amigas.
There was so much to enjoy on Amiga, (and one Amiga title will appear much higher in this top ten list) but Cannon Fodder is a real stand out.
The player takes control of a handful of soldiers at a time, tasked with carrying out missions that increase in difficulty and complexity as the game goes on.
It’s essentially an action packed point-and-click shooter, but there’s also real time strategy elements that blend into the gameplay in simple, easy to understand ways.
Will you take all your soldiers with you and charge forward all guns blazing, or will you leave some behind to hide in case you need back up later?
Will you throw a grenade at some ammo crates, blowing up surrounding enemies in the process and move on? Or will you sneak up, shoot the enemy, and collect the ammo to use in the rest of your mission?
You view the action from a top down perspective, allowing you to easily navigate the landscape using just a mouse.
You point and click left to move your troops, click right to fire, and special click to throw a grenade or use other special weapons.
Any game that attempts to use such simple core gameplay mechanics needs other elements to complement them, and Cannon Fodder has just about everything you could ask for.
Looks wise, the elegantly designed artwork and graphics are the first things that strike you.
The environmental details are sharp and to the point, without ever seeming cheap or uncared for.
Jungles are lush and green, while tropical birds fly overhead, just out of the trajectory of bullets flying around below.
The soldier sprites mange to be small yet full of character, and little animation touches like a solute when a mission is complete really add to the polished feel.
The ways which Sensible Software were able to cram so much atmosphere into such basic presentation is a big part of what makes Cannon Fodder so memorable.
There’s no music while you’re playing in missions- and it was a smart decision to let the sound effects speak entirely for themselves.
As you’re dropped into the battlefield, heavy guitar riffs cut out and you’re left with ambient sound.
Birds squawk, you can hear a river running in the distance… but other than that, you’re left with nothing but the sound of your gunfire and the occasional explosion to pierce the silence.
Oh, and the moaning of wounded soldiers as they’re hit. It’s supposed to be awful, and it is.
But most devastating of all is the odd occasion where a soldier is still alive after being hit.
He lays there, bleeding and moaning, and it’s up to you to finish him off or simply leave him there to die a slow, agonising death.
You’ll walk away from him but you’ll still hear him moaning and grunting in pain.
Yep, this is high impact violence, and while it might be 16-bit, it’s still as completely shocking as anything modern games can throw at you.
Violence isn’t funny, nor is it fun.
But unlike most modern games, Cannon Fodder attempted to highlight the pointlessness of war by giving each individual soldier a name, and when they died- they died for good.
Not only that, but in between missions, as new recruits came in, you saw the gravestones of fallen soldiers on a hill, there for the rest of your time with the game.
These might seem like token ideas used to excuse video game violence, but back in 1993 satire wasn’t mistaken for humour like it is these days.
Those willing to actually recognise that can in turn recognise what Sensible Software, and subsequently Virgin Interactive, were trying to say.
Thankfully they got to say it while creating one of the most enjoyable, addictive and polished action games ever made.
You can follow me on twitter: @rustyshell and Miiverse: zinger_AU
Thanks to wikipedia.com for the box art pic
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