Retro Gaming Review – Cannon Fodder

 

Factfile
Developed by: Sensible Software
Released: 1993
Format played: Amiga 500

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Ruminations

Released during a golden age of Amiga software by perhaps the premier developer on the format, Cannon Fodder was a top down strategy game, somehow combining elements of Mega-Lo-Mania and Lemmings with guns into a unique blend of strategy and action.

Spread across 24 missions, each broken down into numerous phases, you controlled a group of up to 6 soldiers, tasked with killing the enemy, destroying bases and rescuing hostages.

Made (in)famous at the time of release for the controversy over it’s intended poppy game cover and suggestions of callous disregard for killing, which somehow conspire to miss the point of the game entirely.

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Second Impressions

Taking its graphical cues from Sensible’s previous output, the game utilises small sprites and a top down, forced perspective, allowing you to see more of the terrain.

Any sacrifice in detail is made up for in experience, the forced perspective allowing you to plan your mode of attack or to lob grenades over trees to destroy bases.

Split into 5 distinct zones, the missions have their own flavour. In the early part of the game, there is a weighting towards jungle based warfare, mixed in with desert and snow based levels. The latter part of the game features a smattering of farmland levels for some reason, but are dominated by underground bases.

The basic concept is largely unchanged but each setting looks and feels distinct. Jungle levels are populated by tribesman who will shoot if attacked whilst your crack team of mercenaries have to look out for hidden spikes. Farmland levels feature exploding sheep whilst underground bases utilise stairs and raised levels, providing a new tactical element.

As far as a comparison to modern gaming, this still very much feels like a title that could sit happily on a tablet as a downloadable game. It looks quirky and fun, everything moves smoothly, things explode with a satisfying punch, occasionally soldiers taking slightly longer to die, lying on the floor screaming their death rattle until being put out of their misery.

But like all Sensible titles, graphics very much play second fiddle to the overall experience.

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Gameplay

Picture the scene…

You start your first mission, rounding a tree to come face to face with an enemy grunt. A quick blast from your gun and he’s dead. Mission completed.

As the next batch of eager recruits file in, you are already marching onto mission 2. This time there are more enemies but they are quickly dispatched and you are soon on to mission 3.

Another 15 recruits come tumbling through the gate. ‘Why do I get so many?’ you ask yourself, as you shoot from the hip, lobbing a grenade whilst you move, not even stopping to look as the hut goes up in a billow of smoke behind you.

Onto mission 4. Jools and Jops lead the charge, firing left and right, blazing a trail like a force of nature until suddenly…

Jools gets shot.

You can scarcely believe it but as you return to the menu screen, his tombstone sits alone on the hill, a permanent reminder of his passing.

As more recruits file in, you progress onto mission 5, determined to avenge your fallen hero. But it is not long until Jops finds there is a bullet with his name on it too. He is soon joined by Stoo and then RJ.

After that, as your troops start falling like confetti, their names become a blur, your face barely showing a flicker of emotion as a door flies off from an exploding hut to land on your squadron or your back marker steps on a hidden mine. They are all expendable. There are always more recruits. They have truly become cannon fodder. War is hell.

What a game! One of the few titles I have gone back and replayed repeatedly during my life and the cause of me almost failing my GCSE’s as me and a mate decided our history revision would be best served by some practical lessons in warfare whilst the save game function asked us to pour some tea into the Amiga’s vents.

It is so natural to control. Using your mouse, left click moves, right click fires, your men moving in sync with the lead soldier. As you progress, grenades and missiles are introduced to add to the fun, not to mention various vehicles, from jeeps to helicopters to skidoos. And tanks. Let’s not forget the tanks.

But of course for each weapon or vehicle you have access to, so do the enemy. Cue a desperate race as you invoke Predator, shouting at your tribe, ‘Billy, get to the chopper!’ launching into the air just in time as an enemy chopper lets fly with a missile that explodes behind you just as you take off, following in hot pursuit to take him down with a well placed rocket.

There are niggles to be sure. The difficulty curve starts off nicely enough, gently introducing you to new terrain elements and weapons. And then you reach mission 8.2. Urgh. The middle section of missions veers wildly from joyfully simplistic to insanely difficult. The whole of mission 8 is an absolute pig, the palpable sense of relief you feel at finally getting past 8.2 quickly forgotten as both 8.3 and 8.4 further test your patience. Later missions on occasion invoke the design tactic of requiring you to hop in a vehicle before the turret or tank fires at you, a split second delay, such as that when you first start the mission and survey your terrain, costing you a valuable set of recruits. And in the heat of battle, it can become all too easy to get caught behind a tree stump and blow up your squadron with a mis-thrown grenade, or to find yourself frantically clicking on a vehicle for your men to enter, only to see them queuing up behind it as an enemy tank rolls in and blows them to smithereens.

But these are minor quibbles across the landscape of a phenomenal piece of software. It’s quick, it’s intuitive but above all it’s just really bloody great fun.

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Sound

In game effects are perfect, from the ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ of the machine gun fire, to the ‘thrump, thrump, thrump’ of the helicopters to the ‘shwoosh’ that tells you a heat seeking missile is coming your way to the comedy ‘weeeee’ of a lobbed grenade.

And then the in game music, from the jaunty, adrenaline fuelled start of mission music, to the finality of the bell tolling tune when your squadron dies and finally the sombre or the respectful piece that plays as your list of fallen comrades scrolls down the screen, their names forever etched in the annals of gaming history.

But all of it topped by the incredible title music, a catchy reggae fused slice of poptastic joy.

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The Bottom Line

Arguably the greatest single player game released on the Amiga and undoubtedly one of the greatest games released on any format ever. Truly, war has never been so much fun.

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