Sigma Theory: Global Cold War (Early Access Review)
Price: £15.49 (£22.68 game+soundtrack, £6.47 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam
The only distinction between a Cold War and a normal war is that it’s less obvious about the casualties. Back-room dealings. Thefts. Extractions. Wetwork. It’s a nasty world, the world of espionage.
Similarly, paradigm shifts are often violent things. Every new technology or cultural wave brings with it things that governments and societies don’t necessarily properly get a handle on until decades later. And the most feared kind of paradigm shift of all (or welcomed, depending on your viewpoint and optimism) is Singularity: The point at which our technology takes such a leap forwards, it shakes the world. Free energy. Posthumanism. A workable virtual reality for everyone. Or perhaps the ability to completely accurately predict the financial market. A lot of these sound cool, until you realise they come with changes attached. Big ones, for which there may not be an answer anyone likes.
Sigma Theory: Global Cold War… Takes both of these concepts, and puts them into a (currently) tough turn-based strategy game about hopefully being the first to take the world into a new age, safely. And the hopefully isn’t there just because you’re competing with several other world powers. As noted, these technologies can bite, and since a game generally takes about a game-year’s worth of time… No, nobody really has that much time to prepare.
Part of the reason the game is tough is because it only really tutorialises for your first game (Which you may not even complete), and, generally speaking, it throws you in at the deep end. This partly works due to the subject matter, and it’s quite clear that you are not expected to win your first, or maybe even fifth game (Taking about an hour to two hours per complete run), but it would be nice to see more tutorialising. Nonetheless, the basic idea is that you have four agents (Hopefully the ones you wanted, but failing to answer their own questions won’t allow you to recruit them), and, using these four agents, a pair of tactical drones, a pair of scientists, and your diplomacy, you convert and exfiltrate scientists (Or just kidnap them, although that’s less effective), play the game of politics for favours (and maybe even big favours, if you’ve played your cards right and got good blackmail material), and try to defend your own home turf as other nations do unto you… As you have clearly demonstrated you want to do unto them.
The UI is pretty clear (The one minor exception being that the menu is fond of that glitch effect that I know not everyone’s comfortable with, and no option yet to turn it off), and the notifications solid, so that definitely helps, as does the fact that once you’ve tried something like exfiltration (An affair where, ideally, you want to leave without the police or agents properly noting you, but the best you should hope for is getting out with the scientist), you know roughly how it goes. The music fits the mood, being ambient synth with that distinct Technothriller vibe, and the sound clearly fits with what’s going on, so… Aesthetically, it all works.
Where I think Sigma Theory works best, however, is in how it deals with the subjects in question. There’s a lot of groups interested in your work, not just the other nations, and while they want to embrace certain goals (the Hypercaps, the Ancaps, the Mind Control lovers, and at least one criminal syndicate, to nickname but four), that’s… Not necessarily the best thing. Nor, in fact, is just releasing the technology into the wild. Yes, free energy means we never have to worry about energy again… But it has a knock on effect on industry and employment, and, as noted, there’s no real time to prepare for that. Other technologies, such as mind control, are more easily spotted for their effect on the Doomsday Clock. If that runs down, everyone loses… But other nations may not care, for their desire to be first.
Sigma Theory is an interesting strategy game with some equally interesting takes on various singularity and posthuman related subjects (albeit in passing, mostly), and, while it’s tough as heck right now, it’s still enjoyable to play, and I would recommend it. Could do with some granular difficulty settings, though. That would definitely help.
The Mad Welshman doesn’t worry about the Singularity. His reasons are his own.