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Video Game / Missile Command

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"What's the bluntest point made by this game? That you can't win. No matter how many stages you survive, or how much time you spend playing, you can't beat Missile Command. Nuclear war has no winners. Your job is futile, but you do it anyway because you can buy people a few more minutes of hope."

Missile Command (1980) was, at the time of its release, the most violent video game of all time — at least until DEFCON came along.

Missile Command portrayed a stark view of nuclear war at the height of Cold War paranoia. The player was given command of three anti-ballistic missile bases, with which six otherwise defenseless cities had to be defended against wave after wave of ICBMs, nuclear bombers, and orbital battle stations. The game featured simple yet realistic animations of mushroom clouds wiping out entire cities whenever the player failed to intercept an incoming warhead, and a nightmarish explosion effect when the player (inevitably) finally lost the game.

GCC created an enhancement kit called Super Missile Attack for Missile Command machines. Atari was not amused and sued GCC. They settled on GCC producing three games for Atari (Food Fight, Quantum, and a never-finished game).

Just a year later (1982), a sequel for two players competing to destroy each other was prototyped and tested, but ultimately never released. It later resurfaced and was shown to the public in 2012, for the first time in 30 years.

A remastered version, Missile Command: Recharged, was released on mobile, then later ported to PC and consoles.

Missile Command has examples of:

  • Adapted Out: The bombers and killsats do not appear in the Atari 2600 version due to memory limitations.
  • Atomic Hate: The game is all about nuclear missiles, more specifically shooting them out of the sky to prevent Armageddon.
  • Badass Pacifist: In the first game, at least, you can only fire back in self-defense; you can't actually attack whichever country is firing missiles at you.
  • Bowdlerization:
    • The Atari 2600 port changes the story so that you're no longer defending Earth cities from nuclear armageddon at the hands of (presumably) the Russians, you're on the planet Zardon defending alien cities from the Krylons. The 5200 goes even further and explicitly says that Krylon wants to conquer Zardon for its resources, not destroy it (though the Zardon civilization is still being destroyed).
    • In what was probably not intentional (but instead due to memory and CPU limitations), the 2600 version also removes the "THE END" text from the end of the game, just having the sky flash brightly a few times, which makes it look a lot like the victory screens of games like Adventure or Haunted House.
  • Cosmetic Award: If you make the high score screen, you'll bypass the usual Game Over screen. However, this was only in the arcade version.
  • Destructible Projectiles: The whole point of the gameplay.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: In the context of a nuclear war, the famous "The End" explosion is implied to be this.
  • The '80s: Because let's be honest, a game that focuses on preventing Nuclear Armageddon would never have been as popular if it had been released in the post-Cold War period.
  • Endless Game: Because in a war fought with nuclear missiles, nobody really wins.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: No matter how many you destroy, the missiles will just keep coming until you lose.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: The Game Over screen is a loud explosion which reveals the words "THE END", implying not just the end of the game, but the end of civilization itself.
  • Hopeless War: There is no hope for victory against the enemy; all you can do is intercept nukes until civilization is destroyed.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Taken to its Logical Extreme, especially considering the times.
  • Palette Swap: To shake things up every few levels.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit computer versions were modified to have missiles fired from one single base instead of three. The Atari 2600 version also included variations for choosing the speed of your missile target tracker, since there wasn't an optional trackball controller to use with the game like the arcade original until a few years later. The Game Boy version by Accolade modified it to have two missile bases.
  • Protection Mission: You must protect your cities from a nuclear attack. Forever.
  • Recursive Ammo: MIRV missiles will split into multiple smaller missiles which rain down on your cities if you don't blast them.
  • Score Multiplier: Point values for objects increase by x times its normal value every two waves, up to wave 11, where it remains at 6 times its normal value.
  • Unwinnable by Design: No matter how good you are, and no matter how long you manage to hold out, eventually you will lose. There is no way to win the game.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: It's pretty standard practice for players to name the six cities after cities and towns they're familiar with. (According to Dave Theurer, the developer, this was an intentional design decision.)
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Defied. According to developer David Theurer, "Realizing that the bombs would kill all of the people in the targeted city, I did not want to put the player in the position of being a genocidal maniac,"