“Go up to your brother, kill him with your gun. Leave him lying in his uniform, dying in the sun. WAR. War has never been so much fun.”
After opening with that irrepressible theme, Sensible Software’s magnum opus drops you straight into the campaign screen: a recruitment line with a lush green hill in the backdrop. A hill that will fill with graves as the game continues on. The top of the screen declares the score for the Home and Away “teams”. After the first mission it reads “Home: 47 Away: 1”. Obviously, we are winning.
See, death is not the end in Cannon Fodder. Death simply means you need to find more recruits for your squad. Death means you need to resupply and charge again. Death means that you better learn how to make mass graves.
Cannon Fodder immediately drops you into a war zone with uncanny resemblance to the jungles of Vietnam. Hell, even Mission 4 goes ahead and says it out loud. Welcome to the jungle. Now suddenly you know what you’ve gotten into. Vietnam is no Holy War, it’s a Crusade. There is no grand evil on the other side of your iron sights, just a philosophy and violence that serves as a proxy for the true conflict.
At first you’ll be laughing along with Sensible Software, “What a sick, and twisted sense of humor these guys have,” you’ll think to yourself. You’ll give your squad a command and watch them execute your command. You’ll glance at their call signs: JOOLS, JOPS, and STOO. Vietnam nicknames if I ever heard any. “Fire!” you command. They lay down a salvo, sweeping the target and quickly eliminating those enemy bastards. “You’re right, Sensible,” you’ll think “war HAS never been so much fun.”
But now they’ve got you.
Not far after you’ll come across an enemy camp and find the corpses of soldiers torn open in the field. You’ll lay into the enemy in retaliation. A single soldier will lie there, half dead, his guts torn open, crying out in pain. You’ll laugh of course. How gruesome, but such a dark joke. After a few seconds alive he’ll still not be dead. You begin to wonder if you should put him out of his misery.
Your mission is a success, of course. Your mean will be promoted, and you’ll relish the little denotations of your rank. You’ll nervously laugh at the “score” up at top, and head off to your next mission. Then you will learn.
Poor JOPS. He was always so eager to fight the good fight. As lose him as you cross the river, a hidden enemy fighter managing to get a shot in before you exit the water and can fire your weapons again. You lay into him, and watch as the bullets juggle his corpse across the field.
From now on you will show no mercy. You will open fire without hesitation. You will relish the way your bullets riddle the lifeless corpse of the enemies. You will watch the poor fuckers not lucky enough to be killed bleed out slowly. You’ll see a man be reduced to a charred skeleton. It won’t phase you. Instead you’ll make sure to kill every one of those like him, and enjoy it. You’re not even sure if he was armed, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.
You’ll see your squad be demolished by an ill placed explosive canister. A stray grenade from an enemy guerrilla will reduce you to one man, and under your command, that one man will take down twenty enemy fighters.
The list of the dead will grow longer. You will no longer remember their names as you did that first squad of yours. The numbers designating how many fresh recruits you have left for the mission will grow more important than the names of those soldiers. It doesn’t if they have more experience or not. A bullet is a bullet, and it takes life equally from all soldiers. The score will become important. You need to be winning.
Of course you’re winning. You have superior numbers, better weapons, and an intelligent commander.
Then you stop. It hits you like a whirlwind of Agent Orange.
War isn’t fun anymore.