On the 34th floor of some glimmering silver spire in downtown Manhattan an Executive Managing Senior Vice President and Director has been told by his boss, the Directing Executive Managing Senior Vice President, to do some photocopying for the design team determining what the new Real time Strategy Game is to be based on.
“What else is there to do”, the CEO asks. “We've modelled the invasion of everything from ancient Egypt to the battle of Arrakis”?
“What about invading America”?
“Good idea Jack, now that even Vietnam is passé, the American consumer might enjoy invading the homeland; have a pretzel.”
12 months on and here we go. From Native Americans to Europeans, you have the choice to settle amongst the numerous lands of the Americas, from the plains to highlands, with 12 different nations: England, Spain, France and USA (founded by European colonists). Second, there are the natives: Incas, Maya, Aztecs, Sioux, Hurons, Delawares, Pueblos and the Iroquoian Confederacy. Naturally, I picked Ol Blighty. It's only because we were busy with the French we lost the colonies in the first place.
As you would expect, the game is reassuringly complicated. If you simply want to go and shoot some people then you're going to be in for a bit of a shock. It's all about the long game; the establishment of a base and then the mobilisation of an army which fights its enemies along the lines of statistical probability. This is a game for the planners not the executers.
The problem with this genre, is that they have to work on the grounds of attrition. Statistically, you always win if you produce more troops than the opposition. This means the tactical element tends to get lost in the battle to produce more and more troops. It is just a matter of luck as to whether or not you survive long enough to reach the necessary production levels. Then you overwhelm the enemy.
In American Conquest there are some tactical elements which differentiate it from the typical RTS. I studied Napoleonic warfare at university and a battle in the game is just as I envisioned it would be in real life. Your cannon blast holes in the enemy lines, your infantry shock assault the wounded formations before your cavalry charge down the fleeing masses. As everyone knows from the film “Waterloo”, box formations protect against cavalry and line protects against infantry; get it wrong and you go the way of General Ney. This principle is reproduced in the game and adds that extra element of battle craft which so many strategy games lack.
For me however, that is not enough to differentiate the game from the hundreds of others in the genre. You build dwellings to make people, forts to make troops, mills to produce food and so on. You must manage their output to build a massive army then off you go. It's not that I'm not a fan of the genre in general, I loved Command and Conquer, it's just that we haven't really moved on, all we seem to get is variations on a theme.
In terms of the other more functional elements they all work reasonably well; the graphics are good; the armies all have different uniforms and buildings blow up properly. The sound effects are also good; there are hammering noises when buildings are put up and people scream when they get shot. The sea shimmers, the smoke blows and so on. This is definitely a polished product.
One issue though. The music drives me mad! You have to play this game for hours at a time, yet the listening to this is akin to listening to an acid house version of the 1 st four bars of the theme to Black Beauty without any drugs. Turn it off and put a record on.
In conclusion, I was remarkably unimpressed. The review pack came without an instruction manual, but I didn't need it; probably because I'd seen it all before. It is a polished product and if you are a fan of the period then this is may be worth buying. The tactical battle options add an interesting dimension, although this was not enough to hold my interest. A very average game.