By Danny Major aka @guyfawkesretro
I don’t usually write first hand accounts on games. It can be bias and smell of rose tinted glasses. But when the chance to talk about a game that’s so influential comes up, it has to be done.
War is a misguided topic in today’s gaming world. It’s understood to be misguided by a majority of gamers too. Call of Duty, Medal of Honour and Battlefield all make for great gaming, visually, if you are inept to that kind of entertainment. But key factors are lost in translation while playing these games. Those factors can be attributed to any way the gamer wishes to interoperate the images on the screen emotionally. Sure, falling from a helicopter at a thousand feet while playing Battlefield 3 online is hilarious, but does any one take into account the realism that’s been sucked out of this? You Re-Spawn.
No body count, no weapons loss, no one is hurt. No one really dies.
But what if a game was produced, where be it that if you loose men, they were gone forever. Also, while on the mission selection screen, you could actually see all the graves of your fallen online friends in the back ground? Cool? Meaningful? Disturbed? Well, no game exists in this generation to my knowledge. But a title from an older generation of games, yes, there is a game like that. Cannon Fodder, of course it’s on the Amiga.
I remember getting hold of this game when I was around the age of eleven, 1994. At this age, I presumed the game to be pure fun with a hint of sarcasm. But it was only later on, around the age of 18 when I started to read between the lines of the games message. I don’t think any other game has had an impact as meaningful as this one did.
The opening credits, Jon Hare, Julian‘Jools’Jameson & Stoo Cambridge dressed up as soldiers in black and white still pictures will always remind all Amiga gamers of fun times past. But it was the word ‘Fun’ that had been misunderstood by the press and others at the time. ‘War has never been so much fun’, the title song and the games motto.
The message of the game was realised by gamers of a more mature age. The press and MP’s at the time however, concluded its frantic, unnecessary gore and violence was a stain on society, the army and the war dead and condemned the game. My view? Well, I’ll try to explain it as best as I can.
At the beginning of the game, red poppies can be seen on the title screen. This is in no way an offensive gesture towards the war dead, or the poppy appeal. In fact, it was intended to be a gesture of ‘Anti-War’. Another following title screen appears with the words ‘This game is not in any way endorsed by the royal British Legion’. Well, of course its not. But, again, read between the lines and you will see a conveying message that haunted most gamers and me while playing this spectacular game. Why would Sensible Software & Virgin endorse such a violent, yet fun game under a banner of poppies? Simply because war is pointless, it hurts and most of all, people that die in wars, they don’t come back and they don’t re-spawn. This message is abundantly clear through out this game.
After a few missions, I remember thinking to myself how easy this game is. I had been given a huge amount of soldiers at my disposal. All with names and different ranks. I felt like a general. Each time I completed a mission, depending which soldier killed the most enemies; he would rank up to become squad leader accompanied by the according stars and stripes to his name.
By the fourth level, Jools, my main guy was blown straight in the air, guts galore and drowns in icy water screaming like a trapped cat in a door. Soon followed by Jim (grenade attack), Ronald (Enemy Fire) and Bazza (Friendly fire from Ronald who through a grenade at Jim by mistake and whom himself was shot at the same time by the enemy). Gone. Wiped out. No Re-Spawn. Dead.
I paused for a moment, the poignant but epically cool music played in the background, accompanied by the words ‘Mission Failed’. I was gutted. I’d had these guys from the beginning, over 47 kills to the enemy and heaps of praise given to them. But now, they were gone and I had other recruits to look forward too. But that was not the point, neither important here. I’d just lost four guys for whom I’d tried to guide through the game as best as I could and look after them. Not now though, I had to start the mission again with some other random fresh meat soldiers with no combat experience.
So, I press the button on my mouse and get on with it while the Amiga loads up and takes me through too the mission screen. This screen is the games most important feature, it tells you how many recruits you have left. Well, it actually shows the new recruits in civilian uniform, appearing from over a hill, sun rising in the background and queuing up in a straight line, all ready for action. Nice feature.. different.. but, behind the line of new soldiers to be, is a more haunting feature. A hill. The bottom of the hill has a few red poppies dotted around. Just above that, four graves. White crosses that sit all alone, scattered on the hill top. I suddenly realised, that’s Jools, Bazza, Ronald & Jim. The graves sit on the hill, over looking the new guys lining up for war in civilian attire. Over the next few missions, I loose more men. Graves are added to the hill. More and More, until I have only 3 guys left.
They die too. Game over the screen says to me. War over. No more men and no more chances.
I think the message in this game can be sometimes seen as a bit drastic or even more so, ‘over hyped’. Ironically, war has never been so much fun while playing this game, but that’s all it is, a game. A very good game. No other game has ever affected me like this and it’s a poignant and very dark feeling. But the message could not be clearer.
War has never been any fun. Only on the Amiga.