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Antstream Game of the Month: Cannon Fodder

Sensible Software was a legendary developer for the Amiga. They had revolutionized sports games on the system with their slick and speedy Sensible Soccer and when they developed Cannon Fodder, they managed to do the same for war games. This is a twitchy, top-down shooter which is addictive as hell. Its atmosphere and innovation won it acclaim while its subject matter brought the Sensible Software team controversy.

Let’s go back to the halcyon days of 1993. It was a killer year for the Amiga and some of the best games for the system were being released. The Bitmap Brothers had just brought out the stonking Chaos Engine, Team 17 had unleashed the sequel to their seminal Alien Breed with Alien Breed II: The Horror Continues and then Cannon Fodder appeared. I remember seeing the advertisements in GamesMaster magazine, the small but detailed sprites were engaging in all out bloody war. There were also the more inflammatory adverts which didn’t show much of the game but declared that ‘War had never been so much fun!”. The Sensible team also incurred the wrath of the British Legion at the time due to their ill-advised use of the poppy symbol on the cover of the game. Despite this backlash, the game would go onto sell over 100,000 copies on the Amiga and would become one of the best loved titles on the system.

When you boot the game up have a listen to the music playing in the introduction sequence. It’s composed by Jon Hare and Richard Joseph. The sequence shows the Sensible team as still images dressed for combat. Hare was the head of the studio and also a keen musician. The lyrics to the song reinforce the games tag line about the ‘fun of war’. This is an ironic statement and is one attempt to hammer home to the players that although the game may be enjoyable, actual combat is not.

The game itself is a top-down action-strategy affair with the player controlling a squad of soldiers and leading them through a series of increasingly difficult missions. Every mission is divided into phases and each of these feature specific objectives that must be completed in order to progress. Most of these involve killing every enemy on the map and rescuing hostages. Later in the game some variety appears, there are more demanding tasks such as protecting civilians and trying to get through a level without killing any enemies.

Your troops have control over rifles, grenades and rockets. Rifle bullets are best used to take care of enemy soldiers. Holding down the fire button directs a hail of lead towards these hapless grunts. However, you will need to conserve the rockets in order to take down enemy vehicles and fortifications. These are in limited supply and not replenished easily. Certain missions grant your crew access to vehicles, these are useful to ferry your troops around the map. These include jeeps, attack choppers and tanks. There are often stationary gun turrets for your men to occupy just watch out for any incoming hostile rockets.

Something you need to watch out for is ensuring keeping your distance when unleashing any explosive charges or bazooka rounds. If any of your squad are caught up in the surrounding explosion, they will take some damage. You don’t want to lose too many of your squad, not only will it impede your progress, you, as their commander will feel nights of guilt as their names scroll up the KIA list at the end of the mission.

Soldiers that make it through to the mission’s end will be rewarded with a promotion and a small increase to their weapon’s maximum firing range. If any of your team die, they will be commemorated by a small grave marker on the hill. I remember seeing this screen and the raw recruits marching past it and feeling a sense of the futility of war. John Hare has confirmed in multiple interviews that this was the screen’s purpose. That in spite of the cartoon graphics, the player should always have a sensation of the brutality of war.

This game is tough as an old soldier’s boot but the gorgeous graphics crafted by the legendary Stoo Cambridge and the addictive gameplay still hold up. Brew yourself a cuppa and settle down to try out this classic. You won’t be disappointed.

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