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Nuclear War Simulator – Review

Nuclear War Simulator is a detailed realistic simulation and visualization of large-scale nuclear conflicts with a focus on humanitarian consequences

by Vlad The Impaler

Nuclear War Simulator is a hard-core simulation of nuclear warfare, providing the player with the possibility to plan and execute scenarios resembling to an actual all-out nuclear war. It was designed to primarily showcase the effects on the civil population and resulting nuclear fallout across the time. As such, it has an eerie vibe to it, almost a macabre one, especially considering that right now, at this very moment, we are closer to a potential nuclear conflict more than we had ever been since the time of demise of the Soviet Union.

Not ICBM, and not DEFCON

But, at the very beginning, a few caveats.

One should not make the mistake and confuse Nuclear War Simulator with another game published by Slitherine called ICBM, one developed by SoftWarWare & K-Project. ICBM is indeed a real-time strategy game depicting a nuclear conflict, where the player takes up an active role in the preparation and actual nuclear warfare, while Nuclear War Simulator is a “mere” simulator and not a full fledged game. I must admit that I made this specific error, for a moment believing that this may be a rebrand or something. However, that is not the case. Nuclear War Simulator is a new take on this topic on its own. Knowing their wargaming roots, it is not surprising to see that the publisher Slitherine embracing this heavily niche audience. Apart from the ICBM (also published by Slitherine) and the old DEFCON game from 2006, this audience segment rarely sees games with the thematic of nuclear warfare, since most gaming titles are focused on the post-apocalyptic worlds and survival scenarios once the bombs have long stopped falling.

Also, it is not a game

Funnily enough – although there is absolutely nothing fun about Nuclear War Simulator – this is not a game, but instead a simulator. It is right there, in the name. Whereas other games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, Train or Farming Simulator et cetera are actual games, NWS is not. It is a simulation tool. One might argue that it may well belong into the software category. Alas, it is listed as a game.

This is how it would look if Russia decided to deliver the first strike

Now, I am not saying this to be disparaging about Nuclear War Simulator; this is about expectation management, pure and simple. It is a one of a kind simulation we have rarely ever seen in the past, besides the old DEFCON or the interactive online project Nukemap. If you are expecting a grand strategy game that pits you against other nuclear forces on our world, you will be disappointed. If, however, you are very interested in actual projections of how a post-nuclear world would look like during the conflict and once the proverbial dust settles, this is the gam… erm, sorry, simulation for you.

“The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.”

I have enjoyed post-apocalyptic games in the past, ranging from the good old Black Isle Fallout 1&2 RPG’s to the various city builders of the recent years such as End Zone and Surviving the Aftermath, but Nuclear War Simulator is nothing of sorts. It is clinical, sterile – in both positive and negative terms – sandbox where a player can design different scenarios where major nuclear powers have a go at each other, and then observe the effects on the population of different countries and their major cities. You can either micro manage and assign nuclear warheads to strike specific targets, or use AI to make the job easier for you. The core of the game is simulating the effects of these devastating strikes on the population, and in a yet another macabre twist of this simulation, you can also place yourself and your family and friends into the simulation to see what your chances of survivability would be. Thanks, but I’ll pass on that one.

If the bombs start falling, don’t even bother to wake me up.

The in-game encyclopedia has a fascinating catalogue of world-ending weapons of war

Once the nukes drop, there is, of course, a fallout, and weather and winds determine who will get to experience that charming effect. The spread of the nuclear ash and soot are also calculated, and you can observe the grim advancement of the radioactive cloud across the map, leaving death and destruction in its wake. It is quite disturbing to watch the casualties shooting up in the millions as you execute the scenarios, so many people’s lives being reduced to statistics. This, in turn, reminded me of an (in)famous quote being attributed to Stalin – “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.

This is Nuclear War Simulator summed up in a nutshell.

Realistic Effects of Missing Features

Nuclear War Simulator features detailed effects of nuclear weapons, accurate reports on impact results such as casualties, radiations zones and ensuing fires, among others. It includes the full, to date known arsenal of main world powers and their placements, as accurate as they may be. There are 22 editable pre-defined scenarios that you can go through and adjust to your liking, which is more than enough to satisfy even the most hard core survivalists, preppers and nuclear war aficionados out there. That being said, there are… issues.

The wind direction and strength determine where the radioactive fallout is going to end up

A lot of features are either missing or do not work as advertised. This would be acceptable for an early access product, but NWS is presented as a full release. Some of the omissions are downright jarring and stick out, such as the notifications saying that nuclear winter simulations over time “might be added in the future”. “Might”. That is not something you put in the game just like that, especially as the feature is taking a prominent position in the UI, which is, while we are at it, seemingly at a pre-alpha stage of development. No wargaming sim of this kind will ever win a prize for graphic fidelity or an appealing interface, but the UI in NWS is downright atrocious. Selection with right click and dragging instead of the common left click and dragging is counter-intuitive and make little sense. The font features are inconsistent, UI elements haphazardly thrown around, making this difficult simulation more of a chore that it should have been in the first place.

War… War never changes…

It is extremely hard to properly evaluate Nuclear War Simulator. It is a game simulation made for a “niche of a niche”, by a developer who is no doubt passionate about his work, but nothing that would entice the people beyond that small audience. It is also not something that could be recommended to anyone who is mildly curious about the topic.

This game is a “must have” for all the nuclear war aficionados, preppers and survivalists, and generally everyone who would like to watch the world burn. It remains up to them to discuss if this thing has more/better features than aforementioned Nukemap, that pretty much does the same job as NWS and that probably served as a platform or inspiration for this game simulation. However, there are things that are obviously insufficient, such as a bad UI, missing features, components not working properly and so forth. It also comes with a hefty price tag of 25€ or $30 or your country’s equivalent, and this is a bit too much for what the game is offering.

For a simulation of a major nuclear war, The Nuclear War Simulator does its job quite decently, but it must be repeated once again, it is not a game, it is a simulation, and one that will be appealing only to a very small segment of a wargaming audience. If you want a game about nuclear conflict, check out ICBM. However, if you have your own private bunker, you will love Nuclear War Simulator.

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