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Have You Played... Scorched Earth?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Before there was Worms, there was Scorched Earth. (And before there was Scorched Earth, there was Gorillas, but that’s another story). A networked or hot-seat game of turn-based tank warfare, and for many nerds of my generation, it was one of the most startling, deliciously destructive statements of games’ potential that we’d ever seen.

Every player controls a tank, with the option to have the AI fill in. That tank carries a selection of explosives chosen from an a la carte menu before the match begins, and attempts to be the last tank standing. The power/angle/wind speed systems seen in a great many imitators, including the infinitely sillier Worms, makes this in some respects a deadly game of snooker. Pool with nukes. Bar billiards with MIRVS. Players with the strongest grasp of physics tended to win, which made it a fascinating as a school lunchtime prospect – the usually all-conquering sports set were on a back foot to the maths and science set.

But everyone played anyway, because the terrain destruction was delightful, and because getting to choose your bombs at the start felt like high-stakes gambling. At a time when games were most visibly about Mario and Sonic’s cutesy, formulaic jump’n’fail structures, Scorched Earth rocked up, apparently with effortlessly, with all these big ideas and player-driven drama, doing perhaps more than any other game has to state “This Is PC Gaming.”

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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