North American cover art
|Developer(s)||Personal Software Services|
|Publisher(s)||Personal Software Services|
|Designer(s)||Alan Steel, Sean Pearce, David Bolton|
Theatre Europe is a turn-based strategy video game developed and published by Personal Software Services. It was first released in the United Kingdom for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Atari 8-bit home computers in 1985. It was later released in France by ERE Informatique in 1986, and was released in the United States by Datasoft later that year. It was also ported to the Tatung Einstein home computer in 1989, exclusively in the United Kingdom. It is the fifth instalment of the Strategic Wargames series.
The game is set during a fictional war in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, in which both sides use nuclear and chemical weapons against each other. The main objective of the game is to fight conventional battles in continental Europe, whilst trying to avoid a worldwide nuclear holocaust. Throughout the game, various capital cities and their civilian populations will be destroyed by nuclear weapons; the game will only end once either side is forced to surrender or if the entire population of Europe perishes. In order to request a nuclear strike, the player was required to call a dedicated telephone number, which led to an automated message announcing the authorisation code.
During development, the developers obtained extensive information and statistics of military strength from the Ministry of Defence and the Soviet embassy in London. Theatre Europe gained national controversy upon release, receiving criticism from both the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and The Sun newspaper. Some high street retail chains refused to sell the game upon release. Despite the controversy, the game received critical acclaim from reviewers. Praise was directed at its accuracy, playability and value for money. It won the "Best Strategy Game" award at the 1985 Golden Joystick Awards and was nominated for the "Game of the Year" title.
The game is a turn-based strategy and revolves around a fictional conflict between the powers of NATO and allies of the Warsaw Pact. The player has the choice of choosing either NATO or the Warsaw Pact (collectively referred to as Soviet forces), or a "demo" computer versus computer option, where the game plays itself. The game takes place over a period of 30 in-game days, in which one day is equal to one "round". There are three types of difficulty; level one, in which unless provoked, the enemy will not use nuclear weapons, whilst levels two and three will enable the enemy to use nuclear and chemical attacks to prevent the player from winning the game.
The main feature of the game is focused on a map of Europe and western Russia, which displays accurate terrain such as mountain ranges, major cities, borders and all military forces belonging to each side. The game also features an arcade sequence which involves shooting down enemy units in order to secure combat bonuses; this gameplay mode, however, can be ignored by changing the game's settings. If the arcade sequences are turned on, the player will be notified to choose a battle on the map. Depending on the area chosen, an illustration of a battle commencing in countryside or a city is presented with various forms of military equipment including aeroplanes, helicopters and tanks. The player must shoot down and destroy enemy units using their cursor, in similar style to Missile Command. The outcome of the arcade sequence will affect the game; performing poorly will result in severe losses throughout that round.
After combat has been resolved, the player must move and assemble their forces in continental Europe, which is known as the movement phase. Two special units are exclusively available to the Warsaw Pact: "the 1st Airborne Army which can be flown directly behind enemy lines, and the 1st Amphibious Army which can move over the sea to a tactical attack point". Units are moved by cursor, and only one may be moved at a time. Once all units have been moved within a round, the attack phase will begin. Any amount of friendly units may attack an opposing army; however, once a unit has been dispatched for battle it cannot be stopped until the current attack phase concludes. During the attacking phase, a separate screen displaying combat information, such as enemy numbers and casualties, is displayed. If the screen detailing the attacking phase has been turned off in the settings, the battle will instead be decided on warrants of air superiority and armaments.
After battle sequences, the player will have the opportunity to rebuild their units by allocating a quantity of armament supplies, such as air support, which can be issued to any friendly unit on the map. After rebuilding ground units, the game will move onto an "air phase", which consists of commanding aircraft such as aeroplanes, bombers and a limited number of reserve air units. Several options for allocating air forces include: counter air strikes, reconnaissance on enemy movement, interdiction, assault breakers, and deep strikes. Counter air strikes involve attacks on enemy air bases, whereas interdiction involves aircraft being sent behind enemy lines in order to attack supply and movement networks. If interdiction aircraft are discovered in enemy territory, there will be a chance that the side will respond with a retaliatory nuclear strike. The remaining three aircraft options are to attack a single unit, strike enemy territory, and attack railways in order to disable enemy reinforcements, respectively.
The game allows the player to request chemical and nuclear tactical strikes against the enemy. A chemical attack is automatically targeted at an enemy capital city, and will conclude with a readout announcing the outcome of the attack, such as civilian casualties. In order to launch a strategic nuclear attack, the player is given 30 seconds to call a dedicated 1-800 telephone number and obtain a special authorisation code from the automated answerphone message. Once the authorisation code has been received, the player will be given three separate options on how to proceed. Standby mode will postpone the nuclear launch, whereas a strategic launch will involve one nuclear warhead targeting a city. The third option, known as "Fire-Plan", will issue a full-scale nuclear strike across Europe and may result in a nuclear holocaust, which will end the game.
Background and release
Personal Software Services was founded in Coventry, West Midlands, by Gary Mays and Richard Cockayne in 1981. The company were known for creating games that revolved around historic battles and conflicts, such as Battle of Britain, Bismarck and Falklands '82. The company had a partnership with French video game developer ERE Informatique, and published localised versions of their products to the United Kingdom. In 1986, Cockayne took a decision to alter their products for release on 16-bit consoles, as he found that smaller 8-bit consoles such as the ZX Spectrum lacked the processing power for larger strategy games. The decision was falsely interpreted as "pulling out" from the Spectrum market by video game journalist Phillipa Irving. Following years of successful sales throughout the mid-1980s, Personal Software Services experienced financial difficulties; Cockayne admitted in a retrospective interview that "he took his eye off the ball". The company was acquired by Mirrorsoft in February 1987, and was later dispossessed by the company due to strains of debt.
In an interview with Your Computer magazine, Richard Cockayne stated that Theatre Europe received heavy criticism from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and The Sun newspaper, respectively. The CND accused the developers of "bad taste", despite Cockayne claiming that the organisation never "looked into the product". During development of the game, Cockayne and Mays obtained figures and statistics of various military strength from the Ministry of Defence and the Soviet embassy in London. Cockayne asserted that the statistics the developers gained were realistically plausible, stating that he would let the "horrifying results speak for themselves" during the game. Game designer Alan Steel stated that during testing, he was "alarmed" to discover when the computer played itself, the Warsaw Pact always won a conventional war overwhelmingly, forcing NATO to either surrender or begin a nuclear war. Steel adjusted the game to give NATO a chance to win. Theatre Europe was first released in the United Kingdom for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Atari 8-bit home computers in 1985. It was then re-released in France and the United States for those consoles in 1986. Due to lobbying from the CND, high street outlets such as Boots and John Menzies refused to sell the game in their stores, with the former finding it "morally offensive".
The game received critical acclaim upon release. Gwyn Hughes of Your Sinclair defended the accuracy and morality of the game, stating that it was not in "bad taste" and that the game was a "well researched program", which he thought would give the player an insight into the nature of modern war. Philippa Irving of Crash similarly stated that Theatre Europe offered more than a usual "run-of-the-mill" war game and heralded its simplistic nature, adding that novice gamers would "get in to it with ease". John Gilbert of Sinclair User added scepticism over the developer's intention of making something "so serious" as opposed to their other titles, however he praised the game as a "brilliant, if chilling" simulation. A reviewer writing for ZX Computing similarly stated that the game was "superbly chilling" and "extremely" well-presented. A reviewer of Computer and Video Games criticised the inferior graphics on the ZX Spectrum, stating that they were "a bit flawed" in comparison to the Commodore 64 version.
Mark Reed of Computer Gamer noted that the game attracted media attention, despite the objective of the game discouraging the use of nuclear weapons. Reed praised the presentation and gameplay, also stating that the use of a joystick and keyboard is "excellent". A reviewer of Zzap!64 heralded the presentation and value for money, stating that it is overall "very special indeed". The reviewer also gave praise to the sound, suggesting that the game featured "one of the best pieces of micro music ever". Peter Connor of Advanced Computer Entertainment said that Theatre Europe was a "gift", in regards to its value of money and level of playability. The game won the "Best Strategy Game" award at the 1985 Golden Joystick Awards and was also nominated for the "Game of the Year" title.
- Wade, Bob (June 1985). "Theatre Europe review (Zzap!)". Zzap!64 (2): 18–20.
- Hughes, Gwyn (August 1986). "Theatre Europe review". Your Sinclair (8): 67. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
- Irving, Philippa (July 1986). "Theatre Europe review (Crash)". Crash (30): 54, 55. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
- "Theatre Europe review (CVG)". Computer and Video Games (61): 43. October 1986.
- Gilbert, John (August 1986). "Theatre Europe review". Sinclair User (53): 61.
- Reed, Mark (August 1986). "Theatre Europe review". Computer Gamer (17): 95.
- Daniel Goldberg (20 October 2015). The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 978-1-60980-640-8.
- "History of PSS". Your Computer. 6 (6): 84–85. 13 June 1986. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- "Personal Software Services overview". Retro Aisle. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
- Jarratt, Steve (May 1988). "Seasonal Drought". Crash (52): 7. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
- "Mirrorsoft has new strategy with PSS". Personal Computing Weekly. 6 (7): 6. 12 February 1987. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
- Arnot, Chris (26 March 1995). "Taking pain out of gain". The Independent. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
- "Theatre Europe release list". GiantBomb. CBS. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Schofield, Jack (29 August 1985). "Futures (Micro-Guardian): Anyone for Armageddon? / Computer war games". The Guardian.
- Connor, Peter (December 1987). "Theatre Europe review". Advanced Computer Entertainment (3): 90.
- "Golden Joystick Awards". Computer and Video Games. EMAP (55): 90. May 1986.
- "Theatre Europe and Iwo Jima review". ZX Computing (86): 43. August 1986.