Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
This was the first videogame controversy I was ever aware of: the British Legion were cross about the use of the poppy in Cannon Fodder, and the tabloid newspapers were slamming the game as a result. I didn’t have a complete grasp of the issues at the time – I didn’t know much of anything about World War I aged 8 – but I did know that Cannon Fodder was excellent.
Cannon Fodder is the epitome of ‘left-click command, right-click conquer’, in that it’s a topdown military strategy game in which you don’t do much of anything but those two verbs. You perform them by controlling a small group of between 1 and 5 soldiers, whose sharpshooting and survival causes them to gain rank between missions, and each mission – across jungles, snow, and desert environments – challenges you to clear the map of enemies. You left click to move as a group, right click to shoot the little pixel enemies, combine left-and-right-click to toss a grenade at the hut they’re spawning from.
I liked it for its explosive barrels, the way the doors would sometimes fly off the huts when you blew them up, and the way an occasional pixel enemy would not die when shot but instead lie on the ground, writhing and spurting blood. It was gross and subversive and darkly funny – great, if you’re a kid – and in retrospect I can see why it caused a fuss.
Yet it’s also a shame that the press and the British Legion didn’t look a little more closely. If your soldiers, each of whom had a name, shot a little less sharply and therefore failed to survive, then they died forever and were represented by a white cross on the hill of the main menu screen. Every so often new recruits would come marching down the road to join the fight, walking past the gravestones of your spent soldiers to their own almost certain demise. I might not have left Cannon Fodder knowing anything more about World War I – it’s not set during any particular conflict – but at its core lay a very simple reminder of the human cost of war.