High Frontier is most unusual; it's not entirely hypothetical, as the Americans' Strategic Defence Initiative (the so-called Star Wars system, with space-based laser weapons set up to destroy nuclear missiles which attack the States) is going to become a reality. Nearly all wargames are either based on the past or are purely hypothetical; this one is on the frontier of the present and the future.
Another unusual aspect is that you are not only defending a superpower - you're conducting a major research project at the same time. The objective is to construct one or more satellite systems and get them into orbit before a Russian bombardment takes place; success is measured by how few missiles get through to American soil. So even if your teachers couldn't see you becoming an aerospace engineer, you now have the chance to prove them wrong.
High Frontier is presented in a series of highly symbolic icon-driven screens, and it is essential to use the 26-page manual to interpret the screens. The first stage in playing the game is to decide how many missiles the USSR starts off with, and whether the presidents of the USA and the USSR are warlike 'hawks' , peace-mongering 'doves' or middle-of-the-road realists.
Having made your choices, you have to develop and assemble your defence systems, keeping a watchful eye on the clock (because an attack is coming) and on expenditure (because the money for the project has to come from somewhere). There are six defence systems available, though it's unlikely you'll have the time or funds to get all six operational before being attacked. So the player must allocate funds and manpower to the projects of his choice, and each stage of each project requires a particular level of funding and manning.
Your requirements vary from stage to stage, and are never predictable, which adds to the strange addictiveness. Some of the research turns out to be fruitless, but once you manage to produce satellites, you can launch them.
True to life, some of the launches are flops. And even when the satellites are in space, they can be a millstone round your neck, as payments must be kept up. Failure to pay off all the development costs will result in bits falling off them.
The author has made sure that the Presidential telephone icon cannot be ignored. Throughout the game, the President contacts the player, usually to ask for progress reports. Since the President controls the purse strings, anything you tell him should be calculated to get him to release more money for research. Thus this section becomes a cynical exercise in telling him only what he ought to be told!
Sooner or later, the real excitement begins. It's all over very quickly, and the program will assess the performance of each defence system. It may be a postmortem.
High Frontier is beautifully produced to what might be called arcade standards, and makes a neat and self-contained game with a fairly short time limit. My only complaint is that there's little to it, though it's enjoyable to play while it lasts. But it's certainly well put together, and the manual is interesting in itself.
Extremely polished; and it's easy to control despite the apparent complexity of the icon system.
Substantial, though it's difficult to find things.
Funding and manning scientific research has never been more fun!
Both attractive and functional.
It's difficult to judge the authenticity of a simulation of something which doesn't exist - but the final stage generates atmosphere.
High Frontier offers enjoyment, but not lasting interest.
Activision's High Frontier: developing space-age for an inevitable war.