Date of publish: 07/11/2020 13:53 CET
Keith Pullin always wanted to go to South America. But invading it with a horde of vicious Conquistadors wasn’t quite what he had in mind…
Francisco Pizarro’s rout of the Incas at the start of the 16th century is one of the most despicable events in the annals of human history. The treacherous Spaniard tricked the naīve Peruvians out of all the land and wealth they owned and then had them executed. Even by normal conquistador standards his greed and ambition were extreme. But it was this kind of cruelty that set the standards in America and over the next few hundred years things only got worse. Welcome to American Conquest.
With more than 300 years of New World conflict, 42 missions across eight different historical campaigns and 12 separate nations including Spain, England, Aztecs, Incas, Mayas, Sioux, Iroquois and the American Union, American Conquest is a hardcore monster of a strategy game. If you’ve experienced the delights of Cossacks, then prepare yourself for an all-encompassing gaming experience that’s ten times as intense.
After spending a weekend tearing up the Americas with a new preview version, it’s clear that when this historically accurate RTS hits the shops in early 2003, it’s likely to be about the toughest thing you’ve ever played.
One of American Conquest’s main claims to fame is that you can control up to 16,000 troops at the same time, and, believe us, from what we’ve seen you’re going to need every one of them.
From the outset, the enemy AI is finely tuned. Native tribes specialise in guerrilla tactics and constantly hit your base from all sides with small groups, and then quickly disappear back into the jungle. So, when playing as the Spanish, for example, you have to always think ahead – like a game of chess.
Winning a battle is not just a case of throwing hundreds of troops at your Mayan attackers. Any bulldog tactics usually result in your neatly arranged formations of riflemen and swordsman being lured into narrow Andes valleys and slaughtered in a manner that, in fairness, they probably deserve.
To beat the wily native defenders you have to play them at their own game. Elevation is crucial. If you can line an escarpment with ranged weaponry and shoot down into the mob, satisfaction is guaranteed. Likewise, if you can occupy one of the many caves and cubby holes dotted around the numerous massive maps, the surprise element as your soldiers pop out like demented, psychotic rabbits will reap major dividends.
In the final version of American Conquest, it should be interesting to see how these specialist tactics affect the feel of the whole game. In theory, what we should actually be presented with is not just a 300-year parade of evolving weaponry, but a rolling demonstration of how tactical warfare itself evolved. And as we’ve stressed before, the size of the game means that you can stage your historical clashes on the scale at which they actually would have occurred.
FRIGGING IN THE RIGGING
The focus on historical accuracy is not just limited to AI and tactics either. The developers have tried to keep the visuals as realistic as possible. Playing American Conquest is a surprisingly pleasant aesthetic experience. Individual soldiers clean and reload their weapon after each shot is fired. Even forts have puffs of gunpowder wafting out of them as soldiers try desperately to gun down the relentless enemy advance.
Ships are also an impressive sight. Resplendent with full rigging and casting a shimmering reflection on the rolling waves, the navy is a truly awesome sight. On top of this, maps evoke a huge amount of atmosphere and realism, with rivers that flow at varying speeds and even magnificent waterfalls.
The old-school isometric style might be a sticking point for some, and admittedly it does look a bit haggard alongside the likes of Praetorians (which you can check out on our cover discs). But when it comes down to it, American Conquest, like Cossacks, blends functionality with ageing good looks (a bit like Sean Connery), and any criticisms will probably arise from simple prejudice rather than constructive reasoning. Certainly as far as we can tell, this should be about the best looking isometric RTS around.
LEFT LEG IN, RIGHT LEG OUT
By far the most awkward aspect of playing American Conquest will be managing your vast armies. In the version we’ve been hacking away at, there appeared to be a fair amount of indecision in the ranks. When you select a large group of soldiers and send them to a certain location, half of them go one way and the other half choose another. This is purely because the armies are so massive and spread out over such huge areas, a soldier on the east flank is in a completely different part of the map to a soldier on the west flank.
Ultimately, to work with such mamoth numbers, it will boil down to good management. Dividing your armies up into manageable chunks should quell some of the problems. But still, it means that to succeed in American Conquest you will need to be one hell of a strategist.
And if our strategy goes to plan, we’ll have a definitive verdict of this gargantuan game within the next few months.
Written by Keith Pullin
Original date of publish: 10.01.2003