Arguably the best of anything ever made for the SEGA CD console, Third World War is an excellent game of global politics and economics. It suffers from the same syndrome that plagues the likes of Dark Wizard and Herzog Zwei: a great game released on the wrong system for its genre. Had developer Extreme released the game for PC, the system that most die-hard strategy fans and wargamers use, Third World War would no doubt have sold much better than it did for a console that offered mostly action/arcade games – and was short-lived besides.
As the name suggests, Third World War is a "what if" wargame set sometime in the late 20th century, when conflicts all over the world have erupted once again. As the leader of one of sixteen nations, you must develop your economy and military in a bid for world domination among other countries bent on the same. To win, you must conquer most other countries via economic prowess or military might.
Billed as "a game of high-stakes international brinkmanship, economic power plays, and gunboat diplomacy", Third World War achieves its goals spectacularly by offering plenty of options and an intricate engine that links everything together in a complex chain of causes and effects. For example, you can conscript a large number of soldiers into your army, but that will negatively affect your GNP (Gross National Product), the level of international trust, and increase the burden on the government budget. On the other hand, you can concentrate your efforts on developing domestic industries, but doing so may leave your defenses weak, making the country more prone to attacks either by terrorists or nuclear weapons (a small economist's quibble here: it would be more appropriate for the game to call it GDP not GNP, because it focuses on income produced domestically, not income produced by the country's nationals). You can attempt to conquer other countries by dominating their economy (via foreign investment), giving aid to terrorists or revolutionaries, manipulating the media to increase your public support, and many more options. The amount of choices you have in the game, and the kind of balance you have to strike between different factors, is nothing short of astounding – doubly so in a console game. There are plenty of nice touches of realism elsewhere as well. For example, you will get $800 million a month for each country you dominate. But any military damage you may have inflicted on the country will be deducted from this amount until you have paid all the damages. You can issue three commands per turn at the start of the game, but as you expand your country's reach, this number will increase.
The game offers five very different scenarios, all of which are interesting and require different strategies to win in. These include the (almost obligatory) Cold War scenario, a "third world countries are really strong" scenario, and one where it is best to win using economic prowess. Although you cannot directly adjust the difficulty level, your choice of country to lead effectively acts as such.
In every aspect, Third World War is a top-notch wargame that every fan of the genre should try, whether or not you like the SEGA CD console. It is deep, engaging, and a lot of fun. My only gripe is that the battle controls are a bit awkward, but that is a nitpick compared to how good the rest of this game is. Every PC wargamer should download the game, as well as the GENS emulator, to really try it out – because it is well worth the five-to-ten minutes of effort it will take to get the game running on the emulator. Two thumbs up, way up!Reviewed by: Underdogs