GAME REVIEW: First Strike: Final Hour

The prospect of nuclear war has long simmered in the minds of military advisors, governments and Hollywood movie makers, the devastating potential humanity has for bringing about its own destruction both a testament to our scientific genius and also our knuckle-dragging refusal to play nicely with each other. On a purely entertainment level, it’s a fun concept to mess around with though. BlindFlug Studio’s First Strike: Final Hour offers control of the red button of doom to the player, and pretty much says “Have at it!”

Which super-weapon to choose, decisions decisions…

The war plays out on a satisfying rotatable Earth, the familiar shapes of the countries and continents soon flecked with the flare of missile launches and the booming explosions of their payloads. Once you’ve chosen a nation to control, the number of enemies to face, and picked two super-weapons to research towards, you will enter this doomed world, and that is where your work begins.

A super-weapon on the way to one lucky recipient.

Clicking on a piece of your territory gives you a number of options: from building defensive cruise missiles, to research and expansion. The game doesn’t slow while you are in the menu system, so speed does become a necessity until later on, when you can research a “slow down” effect. Everything you decide to build or do takes time to manifest, and each individual zone can only do one thing at a time, or might have a “getting ready again” time penalty after taking an action. If you begin as a larger nation such as the United States, you will already have a decent amount of territory, which allows you to have a number of things cooking at one time. If you start as a small nation, you may find that you only have a couple of territories, which isn’t enough to both research, defend and grow your arsenal. Expansion is very important in this scenario. Each zone has a set capacity for how many armaments you can have. If you only have 3 slots on a selected area, that’s only 3 spaces for missiles or defensive cruise missiles. Luckily there is a deconstruct option where you can free up a space if you really want something else there.

The research options.

First Strike: Final Hour lets you develop along four research paths: Efficiency, Recon, Missile and Nation, each working towards things that will help you become a more deadly force. On either side of the research screen are your two super-weapons; all of the other research items need to be researched on a particular side before this mega weapon becomes a possibility. As I mentioned above, you can select what these weapons are before the game begins. They are a varied bunch, from a laser-beam shooting satellite, to stealth bombers, and devices that can trigger a target’s arsenal in their silos. My personal favourite though was the TSAR rocket, a nearly indestructible rocket that packs one heck of a punch and is very hard to intercept.

A TSAR rocket, the before photo…

And here’s the after. Sorry Australia.

It’s not all fiery death and radioactive afterglow however: there is the option of diplomacy. The player can attempt to engage a chosen nation in diplomatic discussions, and this process takes valuable time, locking you into the discussion screen unless you want to abandon the effort. You could be hit by an enemy a number of times while this is going on. If the discussion is successful, that nation will join the player’s side. This doesn’t always last long, but it can certainly take the heat off and reduce the number of possible enemies who are firing cylindrical death your way.

A decent proportion of the game, from the super-weapons to the nations that you can control, are provided via unlocks as you progress. This is a list of things you can do that, if followed, provide a little more structure to things beyond simply winning. You might be charged with the task of conquering the whole of South Africa, for example, or to win against ten opponents at once. Some might find the lack of options near the start annoying in this regard, but I really thought it suited this game, and actually made it more enjoyable to have things to work towards.

The action itself is very satisfying. During one play through, a small nation attacked me, one I had previously been allies with. I pressed my first strike button (the game’s “Fire Everything!” button) and sent masses of nukes towards this little patch of dirt. It was kind of like using a ten tonne weight to crush a nut. The halos of light and the way the camera trembled brought a smile to my face and the tickle of a notion that nuclear war might be something I could be good at. Not exactly something for my CV but still…

This was my retaliation. Mature I know.

Here is the result. I need a new red button, this one is getting worn.

After a win, you are given a letter which decodes a short coded message that is written at the bottom of the win screen. A nice touch, but it soon becomes apparent what it says anyway, particularly if you keep the subject matter of the game in mind.

I did experience a few minor issues with the game that proved to be annoying. The first is that when you begin a game, you need to zoom into the world. Using my mouse-wheel, it takes almost ten forward scrolls to get to where I need to be. There have also been some problems with the user interface which I know that the developer has been trying to duplicate. Basically, if you press escape to back out of the contextual menu over a zone, after awhile, you will sometimes not be able to click anything in the game. There might also be a repeating “plinking” sound, as if a little mouse were repeatedly clicking out a steady rhythm. This is the “plink” that acknowledges a mouse click on an action, so I’m guessing the audio gets stuck or something. You are meant to get out of the contextual menu by clicking the empty space in the middle of the options presented, which is something that the tutorial didn’t tell me.

A page from the tutorial.

The tutorial itself is accessed from the title screen and is basically a click-through list of what to do. I had to refer to it a number of times and it felt unnecessarily clunky to me. I feel that a far better way would be to have a short tutorial-led round of the game, rather than hoping someone will remember everything from a click-through list. This wasn’t a biggy as the game is quite easy to grasp after a few playthroughs, but it still could have been better. There were elements of the main menu system that also aren’t very clearly flagged, such as why one of the locked controllable nations stayed locked (you have to click the padlock rather than wait for it to unlock. The game then wants you to sign up for its email newsletter to get access to this particular nation, which I was happy enough to do by this point). It also wasn’t clear to me how to select hardcore mode as the button had no writing or mouse-over text. It turns out it’s the small skull button at the top of the screen. Hardcore mode is just like the regular game, but with everything ramped up. No longer will you get a few minutes of relative peace at the start of most playthroughs, now your opponents are on you very quickly, and once they get their super-weapons (something that rarely happened for me in regular mode), you will be in for a much tougher fight.

Praying that my anti-missile shield will hold.

First Strike: Final Hour is a very fun dose of nuclear carnage, with a few user interface issues and glitches that will hopefully be ironed out as the odd patch is released. If you like the core concept of the game and are looking for something that will keep your finger clicking tendencies, as well as your inner warmonger happy, you will enjoy this game. It is available on Steam now for PC and Mac and its RRP is £8.99. As far as value for money, it took me 11 hours to unlock all nations and all super-weapons, and that was barely touching hardcore mode. I went into this review pondering if £8.99 felt a little pricey but on balance, it feels about right after spending the amount of time with the game that I have, and finding it more engrossing than I thought I might. You can visit the First Strike: Final Hour website here for more information.

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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