Date of publish: 15/11/2020 17:44 CET
About A Game
You Can’t Spell America Without ME
History has always been a rich source of content for the Real-Time Strategy genre. The more prominent ones in recent years include the Age of Empires series and the various Cossacks titles. American Conquest is the latest offering from the brains behind Cossacks. If you’ve seen the in-store poster advertisement, you would probably think it’s a spin-off of Cossacks because not only does the graphics between the two looks alike, but that the packaging bears an uncanny resemblance as well. Such cases normally occur either because the game is a stinker and the developers have to subliminally trick unsuspecting shoppers into buying it or because the developers are trying to create an identity for its line of games. Well, thankfully, American Conquest is very much a case of the latter.
Unlike the European settings in Cossacks, American Conquest revolves around, as you can deduce from its title, wars in America. It starts from Columbus’ voyage back in 1492 and ends after the War of Independence in 1783. Along the way, you get to play as different sides in the same war and also control various native American tribes in eight campaigns.
What is refreshing is that each mission in the campaign can be finished in about one to three hours once you get into the momentum of the game. However, if you are thinking that this translates to easy gameplay, boy, are you ever so wrong! The learning curve is steep and you will need some time before familiarizing yourself with the controls. Even then, there are still more strategic options you can master to improve your game. To give you a better idea of the depth the game has to offer, let’s just say that the instructions manual isn’t 76 pages thick for nothing.
Developers CDV’s preference of simple illustrated scrolling mission briefings to short movie clips is reminiscent of that in Age of Empires. It provides a textbook-like look to the game, which I thought was a nice touch since the game plays out like a history lesson.
War is often large-scale involving thousands of troops onscreen. Units in your command range from the non-military (such as peasants), to musketeers and mounted dragoons. Because of the large number of troops, it is thus only logical to offer the option of placing them in formation. This is one big area where expertise is needed.
A squad requires a flag bearer and a drummer. If either of them perish in battle, panic sets in in that squad and morale is lowered (more on morale later). A formation can take many shapes, each with its own attack and defense bonuses. To make things more realistic, there is the ‘friendly fire’ option available. When enabled, your troops will shoot even when a fellow soldier lies in the line of fire. While this might be more effective in killing your enemies, it also brings the death toll of your men up.
Standing guard can also boost defense in a squad. The downside is that it makes your troops sitting ducks for attacks from outside their range. Knowing your units’ strengths and weaknesses and ensuring a good mix of units in your squad is vital to your survival. Kudos to DCV then for having an automatic option to top up on units when they are killed too.
Hiding your archers in buildings is also a good form of protection. However, unlike some games that allow your archers to shoot at enemies at the base of your tower, there is a 45 degrees angle restriction on your shooters – They can’t shoot from blind spots such as a “blocked” wall.
At the start of the game, only peasants can be produced. You can then assign duties like farming and mining to them or train them into soldiers. To make this task easier, an ‘infinity’ option to produce peasants endlessly is available. Despite this, I still found the system of having to produce peasants first a redundant task especially when you need replacements fast and there are no more peasants in sight.
Imitation of Life
As in real life, your people and weaponry such as cannons require resources to sustain. Each unit will consume an amount of resource every now and then so you have to have enough farmers and miners to replenish that supply. Cannons for example, need iron for cannonballs before they can operate.
There is also a morale feature, as I had mentioned earlier. After victories in battle, your troops will feel better, boosting their attack power or after one too many casualties, your troops’ egos will be suitably deflated causing them to flee from battles.
Some landscape feature animals too. These beasts, when driven into states of panic by your intruding army, can turn nasty against you. They are highly dangerous and takes many men to down. As you can tell by now, realism plays an important role in American Conquest.
Veni Vidi Vici
When you are finally done with the campaigns, you would probably be ready for multiplayer action. The multiplayer modes are unique and some are highly interesting. Apart from the usual kill-everyone-in-sight and deathmatch modes, there are what is termed ‘Historical Battles’ to simulate. History is recreated in its full glory and with a different strategy, you might be able to outwit the great tacticians of the past and refute the documented outcome.
The ants came marching one by one, Hurrah, Hurrah…
In between appreciating the faint strains of an instrumental piece and the authentic gunfire sounds, a thought sprang into my mind – “Gee, these people sure look like ants”. I often had difficulty differentiating my soldiers from the enemies from erm…wheat. The default screen resolution is 1024×768 and though the manual had a screenshot with a 800×600 option, this was not present.
The lack of a highlight or glow on your current selection makes it very hard to see what you are controlling at the moment as well. What is available instead is a little white cross on the ground where your soldier is standing on – and it blends in a little too well with the environment. In the confusion of war, I found it nearly impossible to control individual soldiers.
American Conquest is very much like a chess game. You need a clear mind coupled with intelligence to master and excel in it. Victory is not determined solely by killing everyone in sight but rather by winning the battle with minimal casualties. Most of the missions don’t require you to eliminate the enemy presence. Some are as simple and modest as reaching a certain population or acquiring enough resources. Even on missions where you have to overthrow an enemy, it is sometimes unnecessary to rid the map of your enemies’ units. The objectives are clear-cut and gives you full concentration on the job at hand, instead of having to waste time pondering what exactly you are supposed to accomplish.
However, like chess, not everyone will take to American Conques. For some, the sheer thought of having to read through the manual is enough to put them off the game. For history buffs and History students who would rather play a game then read about the events, this one’s for you. Games are one of the best ways of learning. I remembered writing Geography essays about crops based solely on my knowledge from nights spent on SimFarm and passing them. If it works for me, it might too for you.
Written by Cai Jiahui
Original date of publish: 11.05.2003