In The Armageddon Man you're landed with the thankless task of coordinating diplomatic relations among 16 paranoid and nuke-happy countries, as Supreme Commander of the United Nuclear Nations ' (UNN) satellite network. But despite an original scenario, extremely polished screen presentation and excellent, generous physical components, the gameplay is confusing and unworkable.
The Armageddon Man falls down in the usual way 'pure ' strategy games do: the player soon realises his own actions don't have sufficient effect on events to sustain a feeling of involvement. There's little ' game incentive'.
But the presentation of The Armageddon Man creates a very favourable initial impression. Inside the large video box are a big, shiny colourful map of the world and two sheets of semitransparent vinyl stickers, which cling to the map, representing the flags of the countries. It's a pity the map and stickers turn out to be not terribly useful...
Another map of the world decorates the top right-hand portion of the crisp, icon-oriented screen display - it only comes into play when countries start chucking missiles at each other - and the six main icons allow access to satellite control, information about missile deployment and resource allocation, direction of UNN troops, communications to and from countries, and the radio.
The gameplay is divided into weeks, weeks in which a remarkable variety of important international affairs seem to happen. Nothing specific is said in the rules, but the end of a week appears to be determined by a time limit. At the end of each week the player is given an assessment of his performance as Supreme Commander and an indication of the world's radiation level. The two are apparently linked.
The player has four tasks to undertake as Supreme Commander: remaining on friendly terms with each individual power, so they actually do as you say; trying to stop countries attacking each other; and balancing the economic and military needs of the powers.
The defence and spy satellites, which can be deployed anywhere on the world map, are important in information-gathering and in minimising damage when the nukes start flying around. If a spy satellite is positioned over a country, it'll come up with random pieces of information about the opinions and affairs of that power. (It can annoy the country, too!)
But I refuse to believe that putting an enormously expensive spy satellite in the air is the most efficient way of finding out a country's attitudes - it's one of the artificial difficulties which The Armageddon Man's system creates.
Scanning radio transmissions and decoding the Jumbled communications also provides information.
Standard letters are your only means of communication with the governments of the superpowers. You can send a letter of support, or a reprimand, or a request for one or two countries to improve their relations with each other. You rarely get the courtesy of a reply, though countries sometimes send you letters trying to get food or resources out of their neighbours or complaining about another country' s behaviour and demanding a reprimand. You must respond immediately to these letters on a 'yes, no or ignore' basis, which again leaves little scope for subtlety.
Secret agents go missing (there's nothing you can do about this)' countries give preferential import factors to other countries, which is supposed to indicate a friendly relationship between them; and now and again a Supreme Commander can learn he ' s no longer wanted in office by a particular government.
Unprovoked messages frequently flash up on the screen, telling the player that two countries have decided to cooperate, or are exchanging cultural visits, or are nuking each s other. Sometimes you are given the opportunity to approve, disapprove or ask for talks. Talks rarely seem to do a lot of good, even if antagonists agree to your suggestion.
Now all this is intended to create a sophisticated and complicated International atmosphere which you can learn to control. But The Armageddon Man comes across as too subtle and complex for its own good. There's no way of keeping track of all the tangled international relations, and no way of influencing events precisely enough.
The map and stickers are supposed to play a part in this; you plot which countries are friendly and hostile toward which other countries by using the vinyl flags. But the game moves too fast for you to use them properly, and if information is simply not picked up it can't go on the map anyway.
And what seems to be the most important set of parameters, the opinion that each country has of all the other powers, is kept deliberately obscure. It's difficult to predict aggression, and because wars in The Armageddon Man tend to erupt between aggressive unstable powers like the Islamic Alliance and Argentina you can't do much about them. The warmongers simply ignore your polite requests for talks, and wouldn't disarm if you told them to.
One country can even decide to throw missiles at another simply because it doesn't have anything better to do on a boring Tuesday afternoon. Quite often there's no escalation. Australia will suddenly decide to discharge its nuclear arsenal on Japan, or Canada on Europe. And when two countries go to war, no-one else will loin in; even when I played to lose, nothing apocalyptic happened.
There was simply a series of nuclear wars between pairs of countries, which eventually pushed up the radiation level of the planet to a point where life was impossible, and so the game ended. That seems to be the only way The Armageddon Man can end.
This is grossly unrealistic, even in game terms. For a start, the player's Supreme Commander figure would have all the details of world affairs to hand.
The Armageddon Man is beautifully programmed and reasonably original in conception. Some might enjoy playing about with it for a while, and the vinyl flag stickers have some imaginative uses, but this game isn't likely to give long-term satisfaction.
More games should have this exemplary standard of presentation.
Comprehensive and well-written
It's very easy to play through the icons, though not much fun.
Very Fourth Protocol, but crisp and clear.
Some Brownie points for predicting the international power grouping 50 years hence, but spoiled by the unrealistic scenario.
All the world's an options screen in The Armageddon Man.
Development, not destruction, is the theme of Martech's international-affairs simulation.