Date of publish: 10/11/2020 20:18 CET
GSC Gameworks’ latest real-time strategy title features detailed gameplay, massive battles, and lots of historical depth.
It took a Ukranian studio and a German publisher to make a really American game.
GSC Gameworks’ American Conquest is a new real-time strategy affair from the makers of Cossacks, and there’s a lot to like from their sophomore RTS effort.
The first thing you notice about American Conquest is that it’s no Warcraft. Otherwise, there’d be an orc brigade fighting for the British during the American Revolution, and that just wouldn’t be historically accurate.
Sure, there are plenty of the usual gameplay suspects: Resource gathering and management, peon creation, building construction, etc., but there’s enough in American Conquest that’s different to keep the experience fresh.
Specifically, the biggest difference between American Conquest and your traditional RTS comes in troop strength. Instead of following the path of representational troop strength, GSC sticks with the same formula used in Cossacks, where troop strength is exact.
In other words, one conquistador is worth exactly one conquistador. Consequently, massive battles are the watchword of American Conquest. At first glance, it brings a level of depth and complexity not normally found in RTS games.
Unfortunately, American Conquest doesn’t always give you the tools you need to properly manage your affairs.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works: A fortress serves as your central defense, housing and barracks building. You throw up a couple of dwellings for peasant creation. Peasants can be used for mining, chopping wood or harvesting food, but you also need to send peasants into the fortress to make soldiers out of them. I like to think there’s a miniature R. Lee Ermey somewhere in there calling them maggots to whip them into shape.
Fortunately, you don’t need a ton of peasants to run your township effectively. Mines have caps on how many workers can be inside, and food gathering is pleasantly simple and efficient.
The flip side of that, though, is that you have to constantly pump a steady stream of peasants into the fort to keep your army in fighting shape. CDV thoughtfully made it easy to crank out units in increments of five, and has an effective rally point system where peasants will stream directly into the fortress. It would have been nice to see them take the extra step, though, and have an option to set the dwellings to churn out an unending barrage of peasants as the food source allows.
And make no mistake, you’ll need every last body you can muster. Capturing an enemy building can take upwards of 50 soldiers. Fighting a sizable enemy force easily takes a couple of hundred soldiers at a clip.
Of course, when you get a few hundred soldiers on the screen, there’s got to be an effective way to manage that many sprites, right? Right? Well … not so much. To organize your troops into an effective fighting force, you need a standard bearer, drummer and officer.
Once you have all three of those special units and at least 15 soldiers, you can form an army and deploy the troops into one of three formations. Officers, however, have a tendency to charge right into battle. They’re brave, sure, but not very good fighters. Once all your officers get killed off, it’s impossible to reorganize your armies in the heat of battle.
But what battles you have! Graphically, American Conquest is amazing. It’s all 2D sprites, but the units look fantastic. Buildings in both the construction and completed phases are gorgeous as well as historically accurate. Terrain, particularly water, is excellent.
The sound is great, too, with faint strains of colonial music dancing in the background while booming musket fire pours into enemy ranks.
The timeframe in American Conquest runs from Columbus’ landing, through to the American Revolution, which makes it a must for history buffs with a yen for the powder-wig and waistcoat years. Each new scenario starts with a detailed history lesson breaking down the context for the task you’re about to undertake.
Just to give you an idea of how detailed gameplay is in American Conquest, consider town defense. Every building can garrison units. The more units you pop into a building, the higher that structure’s rate of fire goes. However, buildings can only fire at units within a zone of fire ranging from 45 degrees to minus-45 degrees from windows and loopholes.
Also, stopping power on ranged weapons depends on how close enemy units are. For troops outside of buildings, ranged weapons only work within two of five zones of sighting. Otherwise, your troops will engage in hand-to-hand combat.
For all the time and effort that went into game mechanics, American Conquest does have a couple of problems. The game, for example, defaults to “fast” mode, which makes all the enemy units run around like they’re on 17th-century Red Bull. Dropping it to “slow” helps a little, but using the game speed slider bar doesn’t affect unit movement relative to the rest of the game’s functions, it just makes the entire thing move like molasses.
Another problem is with enemy and unit AI. Instead of building forces for a massive attack that can actually do some damage, the computer usually sends constant waves of enemy troops in to harass you and hamper your army-building effort. Usually, if you can keep a few troops alive and keep piling on, it’s fairly simple to construct a sufficient fighting force to go in and destroy the opposing fortress, which the computer won’t rebuild.
Your troops will often take “stand ground” orders to heart and just stand there taking a beating instead of fighting back when attacked. Or, units will chase an enemy all the way back into their town, getting cut down by perimeter defenses instead of retreating.
For its couple of flaws, though, American Conquest is a unique enough game that RTS fans and history buffs should give it a shot. Chain shot, grape shot, buckshot. Whatever makes your inner colonialist happy.
Intricate and detailed gameplay, massive battles, beautiful graphics, lots of historical depth and accuracy.
Clumsy unit organization, spotty AI, game speed often too much too fast.
A unique enough game that RTS fans and history buffs should give it a shot. Chain shot, grape shot, buck shot. Whatever makes your inner colonialist happy.
Written by Jason Scavone
Original date of publish: 17.03.2003