American Conquest is, for your author, the right game at the right time. Having recently written articles for Mad Gamers on both matters of taste regarding war and videogames, and the merits of historical accuracy, it is somewhat pleasing to have a game which encapsulates both these issues. American Conquest, as one can imagine, is based upon the history of the Americas from the time of the Conquistadors through to the War of Independence – there is, within some two hundred years of history, much range for this game and it is pleasing to encounter a game which fulfils the promise of its scope. So, how does American Conquest play?
Even the most cursory of glance at this game shows it to be real time strategy – however, this is an apt description as the game is not only played in real time, but also features elements of strategy. Whilst this may seem somewhat obvious, it is a sad fact that many RTS games require little in the way of strategy, more a case of the ‘tank rush’; however, there will be more on this later.
The ranges of game modes is relatively standard: there are single-player campaigns and of course, free play and multiplayer. This is perhaps the first area where it becomes obvious that this is an accomplished package. The range of campaigns, to begin with, is diverse and varied. There are scenarios based around the arrival of Columbus, Pizarro in the so-called ‘land of Gold’ (Central and South America), the Seven Years War of Britain and France as well as the aforementioned War of Independence. Placed amidst these is the attempt by Tecumseh to resist the Americans and form a Native American alliance. The most thoughtful aspect in this all is the fact that both sides in most of the conflicts are playable – forcing the player to consider proceedings from a standpoint that is alien to them. Replaying the War of Independence, for example, making sure that it is the British who emerge with control of the New World, is interesting to say the least and a fun introduction to ‘what if’ history.
Each campaign is made up of five missions. These can range from such simple tasks as destroying the enemy camp, to escorting priests, to making contact with allies separated by hostile nations. By way of an introduction to each mission there is a cursory explanation of the background history – this helps set the scene and provide a context, and, when playing through a campaign with both sides, an interesting window of thought can be formed by the player from the converse to their last campaign. This can aid the involvement that is felt with the game – not only will it make the player consider things from an angle that may be unfamiliar to them, but it will also provide an instant familiarity and empathy with the goals of the mission. The most important of these two factors is that of the challenging of preconceptions; it is pleasing to see a game handling such complex issues by simply showing each side of the conflict and letting the player do the rest of the thinking.
As mentioned, American Conquest is an RTS; however, there are some features of note. The most prominent of these is the 3D terrain. This manifests itself in the game in two ways. Firstly, by the line of sight for ranged attack units. Structures and missile attack soldiers (Musketeers, Fusiliers, Harquebusiers) placed on higher ground will have a greater range and greater penetration into the ‘fog of war’: this can be used to great advantage for picking off stray enemy units and extending control of the terrain. On top of this, units climbing terrain will move more slowly, whilst units descending will move, at times, at a rate of knots. Again, this can be used to the player’s tactical advantage – however, it is not quite so clear cut. Other than the obvious topographical features, such as hills, it can be quite difficult to see which part of the lie of the land is on a steeper incline. Perhaps the inclusion of a mesh that overlaid the landscape would have been helpful – especially given that this option is available to show inaccessible areas of the map.
The combat itself is well structured – there are two types of civilisation in American Conquest, native American (Delaware, Sioux etc.) and European (Britain, France and Spain – the USA is classed within this category), and these have a different tech tree leading to different discoveries. The natives, for instance, develop different types of archer as their ranged units – European-style nations develop muskets for this purpose. Again, this adds an element of replay value. Playing through the game with European powers, before heading back to sample how the native Americans would fight, is a worthwhile experience.
The historical accuracy in the game, as mentioned, is very precise and this actually has an effect on the game rather than being needless window-dressing. The accuracy of the musket-based units for instance, is modelled, so that at the extent of their range the chance of hitting something is slim. Whilst this has little effect when fighting stray units, pitched battles become something else – especially when one considers that the long reloading time of muskets and their like is accurately represented. When facing off against a concentrated attack it pays dividends to hold soldiers’ fire until the last minute, thus unleashing a deadly volley. Of course, having melee soldiers nearby further aids this, as your ranged units can then retreat behind the safety of steel to reload. This system can be somewhat unwieldy as it has to be executed manually – quite a challenge when there are many battles going on, especially on the higher difficulty levels.
The effect of a volley of fire is that it breaks the morale of the enemy, forcing their units to flee. This introduces us to another excellent aspect of this game – that of morale. This factor is affected by the amount of casualties suffered, closeness to a unit leader, and death of an officer. This forces the player to take an active interest in protecting their soldiers, for, without due care and attention, they simply flee the field of battle. Units can be grouped together around a standard bearer (there is a nice touch of realism with the 16th and 17th century British standards and the way in which the Americans do not gain the Union Flag until the 18th century after the Act of Union, 1707), drummer and officer. This allows formations to be created (line, column, square for infantry; line, column or wedge for cavalry) with further tactical options – for example, forming a square when facing a cavalry charge.
The level of challenge present in the game is quite high – even the easiest of levels proves challenging at first play. This is, of course, preferred to the game itself being too easy, and the feeling of accomplishment when a particularly difficult mission, or high difficulty level in free play, is conquered is sweet indeed. American Conquest requires a very pro-active approach – sitting back and shoring up one’s defences will only result in the player eventually being overwhelmed. The player is forced to go out and gain information on enemy territory, launch pre-emptive strikes and research new technologies to aid the soldiers in the field. Again, innovation can be seen here, every building can be fortified by placing units inside which fire out at oncoming attackers. Until this is fully comprehended it is very easy to be overwhelmed in the early stages of any game. Even peasants can be placed inside, though these are less effective than actual soldiers. Nevertheless, this aspect forms a vital part of any defensive system – although, as mentioned, unless this is coupled with a proactive approach (attack, patrolling units etc.) eventually the defences will succumb.
By way of a pre-emptive strike against the Daily Mail reader, the question of taste is of importance – one can construe this game as having a distinct lack of taste. However, this would be grossly misrepresenting what this game is about, and a grand insult to the intelligence of gamers in general. The present author accepts that, superficially, replaying events that are stained with blood and indeed still affect the modern-day world may appear to be in bad taste – yet the representation of events from both sides allows the player to comprehend, admittedly on a very simple level, why events occurred and what the reasons may have been. Providing a background to proceedings not only forces the player to consider the events from more than one standpoint, it also reminds us, when dealing with the past, that judgement should not be granted based upon modern concepts and values. The fact that our pre-conceptions can be challenged is only secondary to the fact that a game should provide fun and entertainment. Not only does American Conquest have the latter point in spades, it also provides the former, stimulating the player’s intelligence long after all the campaigns have been cleared.
Exemplary in almost every respect. In fact, the only detracting factors are the way in which the terrain causes problems and the difficulty in organising one’s forces. Otherwise, this is a superbly balanced and entertaining strategy game.
Well drawn, with a useful zoom function for overseeing the larger maps. The lack of a mesh for the terrain is problematic, yet the character animation is detailed and well animated.
The standard array of tunes that will have you reaching for the music volume. The sound effects of gunfire, as well as battle cries are effective and, at times, atmospheric. Indeed, defending tooth and nail, only to see hundreds of native Americans charge your position, is spine-tingling when one factors in the war cries of the attack.
Many modes of play are present, providing campaigns on top of the random map mode, and the joy and pressure of multiplayer. Combined with the, at times, stern difficulty level there is much to get through in this game before it can be considered completed.
An excellent and varied RTS with a challenge that will last for many hours, coupled with an intellectual undercurrent that will have gamers considering what they are playing for a long time afterwards. This is indeed a rewarding game on more than one level, and one that is strongly recommended to both fans of the genre and also those that would not normally imagine tackling a real time strategy game. An accomplished game, to say the least.
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: 16.03.2003
Author: Rich Hartis
Language of publish: english