UNTHINKABLE though it may seem, it has happened. Whatever caused it, whether by mistake or murderous intent is now irrelevant as men and tanks line up either side of the great divide, waiting to pull the curtain on Armageddon.
Whatever happened to the post-war dream? What happened to all the nukes? Did the Green Party finally get their way and have them all destroyed? Did we shell out all that money to discover that Trident did not work after all? None of these questions are answered in Red Lightning.
As the commander of either the Nato or Warsaw Pact forces it is your job to respectively save the world for democracy or save the world from democracy, with the help of your logistic talents, your cunning mind and, of cours4e, a few hundred thousand foot soldiers, vehicles and planes, all armed to the teeth with death-dealing weaponry. I know whose side I am on.
As the informed reader will realise, it will all develop into a battle of superior equipment versus superior forces. For some reason SSI assumes that the Sovs have initiated the aggression and that all the nice Nato blokes were at home with their wives and families when it started, so all three scenarios have the Pact at full mobilisation with the good old allies in various stages of disorganisation.
Battle takes place on an impressively large 54 x 54 hexagonal map covering Western Europe from Brussels to Gdansk and as far south as Munich, although some of it is sea and naval battles are not handled in this simulation. The display is colourful, easy to read and quite pretty.
Players take it in turns to move and assign orders to their units, each turn lasting 12 hours of game time. Nato forces always move last because of their more effective communication network, which can give them a distinct advantage as they can step out of trouble when they see it combing.
Air combat is directd by one of the menu options. Weather conditions are taken into consideration and the full range of modern combat aircraft is supported.
Other special operation features include deployment of parachute regiments, special forces and tactical battlefield missiles. Concurrent missions, which you do not control but can influence, run in Norway, Iceland and the sea around Europe.
The different levels and "realism toggles" provide the scope for a variety of game types from the purely strategic to real in-depth unit management. A wonderfully concise and yet informative manual tells you everything you could ever want to know - except where Mr Benn lived - and even supplies some of the formulae the combat algorithms are based on.
The whole war experience is driven by mouse with the aid of pull-down menus. Some annoying features exist, like the inability to change your mind about troop movements, but I suppose if I complain SSI will only say that it adds to the realism of the simulation.
The computer is a worthy adversary and does not rely on cheating to bolster its overall strategy. It can occasionally get a bit thrown if you attempt something impossible or unusual, like a massive airlift of troops miles behind enemy lines to cut off supply routes, but it recognises and deals effectively with all the big plays.
With such a range of skill levels and great playability, Red Lightning is suitable for both novices and hardened warmongers. SSI has set the standard for strategy games on the Amiga.