One of the things I've realized as I've looked back on the history of the hobby is that there are many games that are hard to appreciate out of context. If you weren't alive and gaming at the time of their release, looking at them now will leave you puzzled and nonplussed. GDW's Twilight: 2000 is such a game. Its first edition was published in 1984, when the Cold War was still very much a going concern. Hardliner Konstantin Chernenko led the USSR and Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Films like Red Dawn depicted a Soviet invasion of the United States, while miniseries like The Day After showed us the horrors of a nuclear war.
I can't say I lived in fear of World War III, as some people I've known have said of themselves, but I won't deny that, at the time, I found it implausible that the Warsaw Pact would one day simply cease to be, without a shot being fired in a war with the West. Consequently, a game like Twilight: 2000, in which players took on the roles of American soldiers trapped in Poland after the functional collapse of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, resonated powerfully with many gamers, myself included. The game's background included a limited (but nevertheless devastating) nuclear exchange that left most of the major nations of the world unable to continue hostilities, leaving anarchy in its wake.
The player characters, as highly trained and heavily armed men -- and women, as Twilight: 2000 presumes that women will take on combat roles in its future history -- thrown on their own resources to do whatever they wished. And it was here that I think Twilight: 2000 was at its most interesting. In such a chaotic environment, PCs should be counted on to take full advantage of their superior firepower and the lack of widespread governmental authority to commit mayhem on a vast scale. This was a common experience of many gamers I've met who played Twilight: 2000 back in the day, including my own group of friends, whose characters set themselves up as mercenary kingmakers in post-war Poland.
Despite this, the adventures GDW actually produced to support the game assumed a somewhat more altruistic approach, with the PCs being akin to the "necessary barbarians" of many a tale of the Old West. Thus, they'd hire themselves out to defend villages from bandits, overthrow would-be tyrants, and generally attempt to maintain a veneer of civilization amidst the the societal upheaval of World War III. Some of the players in my Dwimmermount campaign played in a Twilight: 2000 campaign that hewed closer to that approach and the stories of their characters' exploits are almost moving -- proof, I think, that, in the hands of a good referee, the game need not degenerate into macho gun fantasies and nothing more.
Still, looking back on Twilight: 2000, it's very much a product of its age and I suspect that younger gamers, who were born and entered the hobby after the fall of the Soviet Union, wouldn't be able to get their heads around its central premise. GDW attempted to revamp the game in the early 90s to take into account contemporary history, but the result was a flat, unbelievable game, lacking all the historical and cultural markers that made the first edition so potent. I understand there's been yet another attempt to rework the game and, while I haven't seen it, I find it difficult to imagine that it could recreate the strange glory of its predecessor, which, for all its faults, was a game that nicely captures the era of its making.