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Commander 85 is a weird retro-adventure that looks like WarGames meets Stranger Things

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Remember WarGames (opens in new tab), the mid-'80s Matthew Broderick movie about a kid who hacks into the US military's supercomputer and almost touches off World War 3 because he thinks he's playing a videogame? Commander 85 (opens in new tab) looks a lot like that, but streaked with a few decades of nostalgia rather than the very real fear that young whippersnappers and their newfangled gadgets would be the death of us all.

The game is a "sci-fi thriller" about a kid who gets the hottest new computer of 1985 for his birthday—a Commander 85—which comes equipped with a proprietary, Eliza-like AI interface. (Eliza (opens in new tab) was a faux-AI developed in the 1960s and popularized as a tech demo "game" on early home computers.) But instead of accidentally ringing up CENTCOM, you, your friends, and a "crazy scientist" will embark upon a quest to discover the secret of the Commander series of home computers, uncover the truth behind the Roswell incident, and end the Cold War. No pressure.

Commander 85 looks like it will lean heavily into Eliza-style gameplay, but with an underlying story rather than simple back-and-forth chat between computer and user. Plot points are randomly generated to keep things interesting through multiple playthroughs, and there will be various tasks and side quests to take on, some optional and others not—if you don't do your chores, for instance, your parents may ground you from the computer.

It's the kind of thing I really can't put my finger on. I dig the "WarGames meets Stranger Things" setup, but I'm not sure that randomizing story elements is the best way to tell a good one; I love the 80s, but too many on-the-nose references, like that "House Alone" poster on the wall, can become a distraction. But the teaser really rings my bell, and I won't lie, the YouTube description hooked me:

"Now you can play games all day long with buddies! Bad news —Your mom won't allow this. Nuclear War might be an issue as well. What do you have to do to be able to play on the computer?"

How can you not be curious about that? Commander 85 will launch on Steam (opens in new tab) on September 30, and while you wait there's a Discord server (opens in new tab) you can jump into here.

Andy Chalk
Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.