Operation Blockade is the type of game that I don’t normally like. Basically you are charged with defending a bunker against waves and waves of enemy troops. Its kind of like a shooter, but you don’t move from your position. You can spin around and look up and down, but you don’t go anywhere.
That said, I played this game from start to finish, and whenever anyone in the test lab was walking by and happened to see it, they all asked if they could play.
In the past games of this type suffered from one major flaw, and that was the graphics. In a pearl harbor game of the same type, it looked like you were playing on a 386 computer with an aging graphics card. Not so here.
When you shoot down an airplane, it looks very realistic. When you hit a ship, it catches fire and can sink in a variety of ways. Some ships roll over, other go into the water bow first and still others seem to explode and just settle under the waves fairly quickly.
The game is vaguely based on World War II. Your opponents are obviously supposed to be the Germans and the Japanese. The game never comes out and says it, but it’s pretty obvious, especially considering that some of the ships are named after German ones, like the Hipper, Scharnhorst and the Bismarck.
At the beginning of the game you are faced with planes from the beginning of the war, including by-planes an the like, and your weapons are also primitive. By the end of the campaign you are fighting primitive jets and full-scale aircraft carriers, but your weapons have also been upgraded, so the game stays pretty much at the same difficulty level throughout. It does get harder toward the end, but not terribly.
As with most games of this type, the controls are simplistic and easy to learn. You move your guns around with your mouse, fire with the left mouse button and zoom in with your right mouse button as if looking through binoculars. You can fire while zoomed in by holding down the right mouse button and the left as well. One the keyboard the numbers one through four change to your four different types of guns, and that is about it.
Using the correct gun against the correct target is the key to success, though any weapon pretty much will work against any opponent, just less effectively in most cases. The first gun is your anti-personnel gun, which I occasionally had to fire at aircraft if I was running low on ammo. You start with a Thomson SMG and as the game progresses you are upgraded to a Browning automatic rifle and eventually to a .50 machine gun, which is great for shooting down some types of aircraft as well. Mostly though, if you can destroy landing craft as they approach, you won’t have to use your anti-personnel arsenal too much.
The second group is your anti-aircraft guns. You start with a pitifully weak gun that is not much better than your anti-personnel weapon. Eventually you are upgraded to a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft cannon, which is great for use against smaller ships like PT boats as well. You will be at this gun a lot during the game.
The third group is the anti-ship cannon. It is used to fire at ships and is upgraded as you progress up to a 155mm howitzer. It takes several hits to sink some of the larger ships, even when the gun is maxed out to the highest level you can obtain in the game.
The final group is your anti-tank weapon. You hardly get to use this one, as most of the time you are going to want to destroy tank transporting landing craft before they reach the beach. Sometimes they will slip through though and then you have to use it because your anti-ship weapon can not angle down far enough to hit the beaches themselves beyond the shoreline. The weapon is good for clearing large groups of infantry however, and can kill an entire landing craft of troops if aimed properly when the door drops down.
You have to conserve ammo too. If you run out, you might be out of luck. You can get more by either sinking enemy cargo ships or transport aircraft, so you need to save at least some ammo when you get low and hope one of those units decides to come into range.
Don’t worry about the plot of the game. It’s ridiculously silly and merely a way to string the arcade-style missions together. Basically, your country, the United States – whoops, I mean the United Sovereign Territories – is nearly conquered. So what is a beaten nation to do? Well, in this case they build a secret bunker on an island near the main harbor for your enemy. One man is put in the bunker and told to shoot anything that moves. Since the enemy is incapable of flying around you for whatever reason, you are then able to take on their entire army, navy and air force alone while your country supposedly fights and wins back their land piece by piece.
I think I sank enough ships during the game to create a man-made reef around my island, not to mention the hundreds if not thousands of airplanes that met their fate there. I was beginning to root for the enemy. After all, a nation that gets that technically behind, not to mention militarily outnumbered, kind of deserves its fate.
You are not totally alone on the island. You can call for limited support. If you are being overrun by ground troops and tanks running up your beaches, you can ask for friendly bombers to target your own position. That pretty much clears up the sandbar other than your super-secret nearly indestructible bunker. You also can call for fighter support to shoot enemy airplanes and torpedo bombers to punch holes in enemy ships. Your allied units can be called again after a short time, but they can be shot down too, and after that you can’t ask for help from annihilated units till the next mission. Although the enemy has unlimited numbers, you apparently have an air force consisting of nine planes.
The biggest flaw in the gameplay is that is gets to be monotonous after a while. Elements do change to attempt to keep things interesting. There are day, night, dawn and dusk attacks on your bunker, and the units upgrade over time. There are also special missions where you have to destroy certain types of enemy units, or kill everything within a set amount of time. But after defending that same island for several missions in a row, you probably are going to need to take a rest.
In the end, Operation Blockade comes off as the best game of its type. It’s great for a mindless diversion and since missions last between five and fifteen minutes, you can play for a bit and then get out if you like. Graphically, it has no equal in its category, and the value price is perfect. The other major strongpoint is that anyone can play it. When one of the other editors had to bring his son into the office for a day, we were able to keep him entertained with the game for hours, and he is only six years old.