If you’ve ever wanted to take a step back in time (between 1492 and 1813 and in North and South America), then American Conquest will appeal to you. We’d also like to ask the question why you’re so interested in America’s colonisation, but that’s another day’s work. For now, we must ponder the saturation of the RTS market. From the initial attempts in the likes of Populous and Dune, the genre has moved on surprisingly little and many would argue that the original Command & Conquer (or indeed Dune II) is still the pinnacle. Regardless if that’s true or not, it would be fair to say that things have stayed much the same since C&C; and since then wave after wave of games have either tried to better it or to take a different direction. So far, none have truly succeeded on both counts. I’m glad to say that, with American Conquest, this genre, in its current isometric viewpoint and action/resource gameplay style, has hit a big brick wall that signals the end of the road. That’s not to say that the genre won’t continue or that new innovations won’t be made (particularly the rough transition to 3D), but in the Command & Conquer style of things American Conquest is as good as it’ll ever get. And damn, is it ever good.
There are a total of 42 missions, spread over eight different campaigns based on five different periods of American history. There’s a nice selection of campaigns, including Columbus’ Voyage, Pizarro’s Raids, The Seven Years War and The American War for Independence. You can choose one of 12 nations to play, including France, Britain and America. From just reading that you’d expect American Conquest to be high in detail and you’d be right, American Conquest has a very high level of detail and it’s pretty historically accurate. The number of different routes you can take (play as America and you can play a certain set of missions, play as France and you’ll play a different set of missions with a few overlapping ones, i.e. from a different perspective) gives a massive amount of longevity that is hard pressed to tire of, unlike so many other RTS’s. Another element that has great depth is the number of troop variations; there are well over 100 per country and you can often end up with tens of thousands of soldiers in an army. The problem is that there can be up to 16,000 (yikes!) soldiers on screen at any one time, so things either get too hectic for your brain to keep up with or it all descends into a scrappy melee.
Forget about killing everything on the map, with American Conquest the idea is to reach very specific goals and often that can be simple things like reach a certain population number, or find a building. Very rarely will you be told to kill everything on the map. Several missions can be just defending a fort with a set amount of men against an onslaught of enemies. However, the bulk of missions are a variety of varied objectives and at times it can get quite complex. For example, sometimes missions can only be completed by forming alliances with enemies on the map and creating a large enough collective force to take down the main objective. It requires some impressive skill to successfully juggle multiple alliances at once and complete the mission without bloodbath at some point.
While resource management plays an important role, it’s not half as important as it is in most RTS games, here strength of your army takes precedence and that doesn’t necessarily mean you need lots of cash. Upgrading troops is done by building special buildings for them to train in, so while the initial building costs money once you’ve got it built it will eventually pay itself off, so you can see why having a constant flow of large sums of money isn’t required.
There are more than a few buildings to play around with and this is where American Conquest will start to get tricky. Firstly you’ll need a building for creating peasants, then you’ll want a building to create buildings to train peasants into troops and then to upgrade the troops. Then there’s feeding, clothing, arming and housing the colony and then you’ll need to properly defend each building, unless you want the enemy to go in for an easy kill. One particularly important building is the storehouse – the enemy could easily take this over without the proper defences. If you’re brave enough to take over an enemy storehouse then you’ll receive all the resources in that building. As you’ve now gathered, an awful lot of detail is present in AC and a fine example of this is that your troops will take more damage from buildings with more windows – it makes sense, doesn’t it? Luckily enough, while it all can get very complex (especially when you factor in creating defence buildings such as fortresses) a well-worked navigation system allows for a smooth introduction; just don’t be put off by the initial depth.
The AI is a collection of two extremes – extremely clever and extremely dumb. The system for combat is impressive enough, if they feel like they’re going to lose then they’ll run for the hills. This depends a lot on their morale, which is affected by how many victories they’ve had, food supplies, equipment and pay. If they get a case of the jitters then they’ll desert the army – you can either round them up or shoot them. It’s also extremely dumb – I’m amazed at how half-assed their pathfinding skills are. They can walk through a dense mass of troops no problem, but ask them to walk through a forest and instant confusion sets in. Unless you’ve got at least 25 of them in the area, don’t even think about asking them to kill a few wild animals for dinner, chances are they’ll be killed. Yes, even that small bunny there is lethal and there were no Holy Hand Grenades in 1850!
The graphics are standard fare – 2D isometric, running on a very similar engine to that used in Cossacks. When battle gets heated things can just turn into a random mash of colours, but this is a result of having 10,000 people on screen more than anything else. Most of the objects in the game are static and pre-rendered, but regardless they’re well designed and don’t do anything wrong. The only real problem with the graphics is the fog of war, which will return once it’s out of a scout’s field of vision, or the scout gets killed. But overall the graphics are fully functional, though not groundbreaking.
American Conquest is one huge, massive game. It will take many, many hours to get close to completing and an awful lot of perseverance (simple navigation will offset this a fair bit). There’s nothing badly wrong with it, but if you’re looking for a new experience then you’ll not find it here. Otherwise a solid and immensely enjoyable game, recommended to all RTS fans.
Score: 7.0 out of 10
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: 09.04.2003
Author: Mark Murphy
Language of publish: english