We all know how the Cuban Missile Crisis came to a close. Lots of talk and lots of tension, but in the end nobody got vaporized. However, what if? What if things had turned out differently and everyone had let fly with nukes? The face of the world would have changed forever. And it is on the war-scarred, radioactive earth that exists after this hypothetical "what if" in which Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath sets itself. Essentially every major city on the planet has been reduced to nothing but dust and some green goo, and the bare essentials for life are at a premium. World War III is no longer about fighting other countries for freedom or human-rights, but simply for survival.
Cuban Missile Crisis is a real-time strategy game with a little turn-based action thrown in for good measure. After an opening cinematic that looks like it was pulled straight from Terminator 3, the player is given the choice of four different campaigns to choose from including the USSR, the French and German alliance, China, and the American and British Alliance, with each campaign having a number of chapters to play through. There is also a tutorial for those new to the game.
Unfortunately for those who use the tutorial as an introduction, they are going to find it mind-numbingly boring. And this is not just due to the slow pace and extreme ease, but also because there is a ton of reading material presented. Developers take note, big help boxes with tiny text are not fun, especially when most of the text is taken word for word out of the manual.
The controls are fairly intuitive for the game and will be very familiar to anyone who has played an RTS before. Click a unit, click a command, click the map; repeat until somebody wins. Of course the variety in RTS games comes not from the gameplay, but from the options provided in terms of units, and Cuban Missile Crisis covers all the bases. Everything you would expect in an RTS including infantry who can occupy buildings and dig trenches, tanks of all shapes and sizes, tons of artillery options, airplanes, and helicopters, it's all here.
Obviously, with nuclear bombs come radioactive areas, and sometimes these areas happen to lay between you and someone who deserves tank tracks up his backside. Not to worry, there are also decontamination units to deal with that as well. These areas add a little spice to the battlefield seeing that if any of your regular troops try to cross them they will immediately croak, including those inside tanks.
Another option that presents itself as far as battle is concerned is how much of your current resources – ammo, fuel, and spare parts – you are willing to commit to the situation at hand. You must keep in mind that while giving more supplies will help increase your odds of winning, losing the battle will cost you all of the resources you allocated to it. Also, along with supplying your current units, these resources are also used to purchase new units and build your army, so a good resource management strategy is required.
While the battlefield itself is where most of the action takes place, the aforementioned turn-based part of the game has more of a "war-room" type setting. It is on this chapter screen that all the management of your campaign takes place. The main function here is getting a view of the current battlefield and deciding how and where to move your units. Once you have moved your units the maximum amount they can travel, or you have them hold their position, you must end your turn and see what the enemy does. This adds a nice change of pace, often forcing you to make decisions to either push forward hoping your current defenses will hold the advancing enemy or to fall back and strengthen your defenses.
The map shows pretty much everything you would need to know including the locations of your units as well as enemy units within your range of sight, friendly and enemy territory boundaries, as well as facilities you can capture. These facilities are structures such as armories and storage facilities that you can try to take from the enemy to help build your resource stockpile. Also on the map are strategic facilities such as radar centers to increase your range of sight. Finally, on the far side of enemy territory is your main goal on the map, noted as the "scenario mission". This is actually the only battle you need to win in order to complete the chapter, with all other facility battles being optional but still yielding considerable spoils. I enjoyed having all of these optional battles because they make the game feel a lot less linear and also provide a "do things your way" feel to it.
Another function of the chapter screen is unit management. Deciding which units to group together is a big part of your strategy. This is especially true once your units start getting promoted via battle experience. The chapter screen is also where you can use your resources to buy new units such as bigger tanks or a new howitzer. And for those players who have an unquenchable thirst to know everything there is to know about the units they are putting into battle, there is a very thorough weapons and armament encyclopedia that has lots of information on every unit in the game.
Most people will tell you that war is not a beautiful sight, and the same can be said for your computer monitor while playing Cuban Missile Crisis. While there is a decent amount of detail in buildings, units, and the terrain, there is very little animation. Vehicles do bump and bounce while cruising down a dirt road, but it is almost comical when you tell a four-wheeled vehicle to turn around. It will sit in one spot, rotate 10 degrees at a time, and then stop. If we had cars that could do that you would never again hear a person complain about parallel parking. Another good example of graphical comedy is when a house is destroyed by being shot by tanks. You will see "not destroyed", "half destroyed", and "completely destroyed". A whole three levels of damage per building! About the same can be said for your speakers, as well. Nothing glaringly bad, but nothing noteworthy either. The music is generally subtle but occasionally a dramatic beat will kick in during battle. And your units all make the usual one-liners to let you know that they are selected.
After all was said and done, I came out disappointed in Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath. The turn-based elements and the ability to fight where you want to fight as you go through the chapters are some nice features, but they just aren't enough to set the game apart. The idea of an alternate history after the Cuban Missile Crisis is very intriguing and has potential, but unfortunately there isn't much done with it and the game is left feeling like just another RTS.