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American Conquest: Divided Nation

Ho hum, another day, another Real Time Strategy game. It may sound harsh but, as a jaded old gamer, many RTS classics have lived on my hard drive in the past, Command and Conquer, Shogun Total War … so my personal standard is pretty damn high. As I pulled my review copy of American Conquest from the jiffy bag it arrived in, I was immediately underwhelmed by the terrible looking screenshots on the back of the box and examining the manual proved dispiriting as it appeared stoke my fears that this game would be simply some bog-standard RTS code with an American Civil War theme. A theme of no interest to me whatsoever – well I am English you see.

I’d much rather be making up captions for the latest online shooter than for an RTS title…

Still, I installed the game and began to play in the hope that the dull packaging was disguising a quality game that could be added to the long list of RTS greats.

The game certainly starts with some interesting if predictable options. Single Missions allows you to play one of ten missions picked from the campaign-made maps. Random Map allows you to design one yourself and download others from the American Conquest website. Here you don’t involve yourself in historical battles, you create your own land to fight for. These maps require you to hunker down and build and collect resources. The more you get, the better settlements you can make and create better units for the inevitable battles. So far, so familiar.

The final mode is the Campaign Mode. This requires you to take on the role of a real-life general in the US Civil War and manage your troops in a selection of battles arranged in their real-life historical order. This mode was the one I found to be most pleasing, if a tad worrying. I mean I’m not sure I want to play for a side that was all for keeping slavery going. But, queasy liberal worries aside some enjoyment can be dredged from the various maps on offer. I have always enjoyed the challenge of a full-scale battle, manoeuvring troops, creating formations, controlling morale and ordering the charge. American Conquest’s big plus is the amount of units it can push around on screen at relatively high detail. The individual soldiers look a bit “spritey” close up, but the sheer amount, coupled with some lovely backgrounds, means that it is always reasonable to look at.

…or a sports game…

The actions of your soldiers are well programmed. The guns take a realistically long time to load and can be highly inaccurate, so combat is a mixture of ranged and hand-to-hand. Soldiers also have morale that needs to be kept up, if they become too demoralised, they will break and run, which can turn a bad situation into a disastrous rout.

What lets the Campaign mode down is the rather poor AI responses of the computer controlled units. While your own troops AI is pretty good, your artillery units will always use the correct ammo for example, the enemy’s seem to have very little brains and mill about in confusion which can destroy the illusion of a well fought battle. The problem is that although on an individual unit basis the AI is good, the whole battle can be a technical nightmare due to interface issues that make ordering in support troops to finish off a nearly defeated enemy harder than it needs to be.

…or any other type of game at all actually.

American conquest is a mediocre game. Although it looks nice and sounds nice, it still feels like a dated game. The Resource Management mode is enjoyable but still feels like something I was playing some time ago(coff – Age of Empires – coff). The Campaign mode is fun, if flawed, but still it is nothing new and does nothing to improve upon a fairly creaky old gaming genre.

I suppose, if you have an interest in US history, you might eke more enjoyment from the game than I did. But, I am afraid all the fears I had when I first unwrapped the game came true. Playable but, in the end, pretty dull.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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