In the world of video game backdrops, the Cold War isn’t quite as popular as World War II. The reason is simple: it never went hot, and if it did, there is a good chance that it would have turned into a nuclear winter survival game. Precipice, developed and published by LRDGames, embraces this and kindly asked you to keep everyone alive while thriving for world domination.
Precipice’s gameplay loop is simple: you and your opponent —USA and USSR — take turns. During each turn, you spend a limited amount of action points on diplomatic initiatives, espionage and more in order to bring other countries under your umbrella. Whoever has more countries in their sphere of influence at the end of round 50 is the winner.
The easiest and safest way to gain a country as an ally is to grant them aid and start talks. However, this also costs quite some time and resources, especially if the country is already friendly towards your opponent. Swifter and riskier are coups, which, if successful, replace a country’s government with a friendly one.
Really impatient players can skip all that paperwork and simply invade a country. With a bit of luck, the victim caves and aligns itself with the invader. With a bit of bad luck, the war drags out and domestic unrest rises. With some really bad luck, the people become so unhappy that they dethrone you, ending the game.
That said, the other player doesn’t have to sit there and watch the war unfold and this is where Precipice’s escalation mechanic comes into play. If a player deploys troops abroad, starts a war or gets caught while doing some naughty spying, the opposition can send a protest note. Then get the UN involved, threaten the opponent with military intervention and finally push the button to launch the missiles into their home country.
The escalation mechanic is effectively a game of chicken. Whoever backs down loses face and their relations with a number of random countries drop. If nobody does, everybody loses. Precipice isn’t a war game and once the missiles have been launched, everybody dies.
While the basic idea behind the escalation mechanic is great, it comes with a couple of issues. In the standard scenario, the AI is too soft. It almost always backs down and gets penalised all the time. There is never a reason not to protest against AI actions and eating the occasional penalty is worth it.
In other scenarios with a more aggressive AI, protesting becomes impossible. The AI always escalates things until the nukes fly and you are left with no choice but to let the AI reign freely and stick to safe diplomatic actions. Even in multiplayer, the system is flawed, as one player can simply blackmail the other into accepting their demands or end the game prematurely.
The diplomatic and espionage actions work a lot better, but become somewhat repetitive after a while. Random events and side missions such as unifying Germany and Korea or aligning with the Asian Tigers, add a bit of variety, but can’t break the monotony.
Another issue is the lack of action points. Both sides get only five per turn, which is so little that large parts of the world often end up as neutral countries halfway through the game, giving you little incentive to convert hostile nations early on.
A good amount of customisation options would compensate for some of these issues, but right now, not even the turn count can be changed outside multiplayer. At the start of a match, you can select a number of minor perks, like adding a stability modifier to certain countries, but like so many aspects in Precipice, it adds little to the way the game is actually played.
At the end of the day, Precipice shows potential and is entertaining for a while, but is in need of more variety. Right now, it more often than not hands you a victory or literally blows up the game, with no middle ground.
Precipice is now available for PC and Linux.