I’ll state right from the start – I have never played Cossacks – not because I didn’t want to, only because I never got round to buying it. Therefore, American Conquest, the latest from GSC Gameworks, came as quite a surprise to me.
I didn’t know what to expect, so the first thing that surprised me were the absolutely lush graphics. RTS games have always been a bit on the staid side when it comes to terrain graphics – plenty of detail but something always seems to be missing. Not so with AC, the ground detail is superb, rivers flow beautifully and trees and bushes are particularly lifelike. Although everything is 2D sprites, the units are fantastic and there is a real sense of a 3D element.
The game appears to try and maintain an accurate historical timepath, running from Columbus’ landing, right through to the American Revolution. When playing in campaign mode, you get a little history lesson at the start of each new scenario that sets the scene for your objectives perfectly.
The most noticeable difference between American Conquest and any other RTS is seen in the use and creation of troops. Any one unit is exactly that – one unit, and each units strengths are accurately mapped to – A conquistador with a pike and armour is more than a match for just about any single Mayan / Aztec opponent, but slower and prone to ranged fire. This tends to lead to battles on an epic scale with upwards of 500 units engaged on the screen at once (with very little sign of slowdown too I must add).
Again, in a break from the traditional RTS mould, troops are not created out of thin air – if you want 100 musketeers, you will need 100 peasants to create them. Peasants are created from dwellings (the more dwellings, the higher your population limit), while the troops are created from a fortress. You therefore need to churn out an endless supply of peasants (ctrl click on any build icon gives infinite production), having set the rally point on your fortress, and, as peasants go in, your musketeers come out.
Micromanagement is kept to a fairly simple scale; you need grain to feed your population, and wood, stone, iron, gold and coal to buy / manufacture your troops and manage any upgrades. Mines have worker limits that increase with each upgrade and farming is pleasantly efficient. Resources appear to be a bit on the scarce side, so upgrading the mines and ensuring they are always maxed out with workers is a must. It is also worth setting a few troops to guard each mine as they are very easily captured.
So, having got all your mines producing and plenty of peasants gathering wood and corn, the time is right to start organizing your massive forces. This can be achieved by forming them into armies, controlled by an officer with a standard bearer and drummer also required for morale purposes. Unfortunately for you, you’ll find that the officers are not much into leading from the rear, and have a bad habit of charging in and getting killed quickly, leaving you with an effective, but not so easily controlled force. Also bear in mind that you will need a lot of troops – buildings can be (and often are) heavily defended and you will lose an awful lot of troops capturing buildings (mind you, when you get cannons, you can just blow them up from a great distance).
Adding some good sound really enhances the battles and AC does it perfectly – the music is not too loud and the battle sounds and effects are realistic.
As said before, buildings can be defended – all you need do is stick a few troops inside and any building becomes a virtual blockhouse. However, they are by no means impregnable as a great deal of though has gone into building defence and there are zones of fire limited by the buildings themselves – once you can get troops inside these zones they cannot be hit by ranged fire and can then storm the building – but expect heavy losses.
The same kind of detail has been applied to ranged fire – ordering a musketeer to shoot an enemy at extreme range fails more often due to the inherent inaccuracy at large ranges. This is also especially noticeable with cannons – until you manage to afford all the upgrades from your town centre.
Unfortunately, despite all the detail that has been put in place, American Conquest suffers a bit from a slightly dodgy AI. Big battles are really the name of the game here but the AI just sends continuous streams of enemy troops to harass your positions which are easily defended against, while you can build up a huge force and then just march in and wipe everything out. Also, all your units often appear to have been taking performance enhancing drugs, as the speed that they can move around at is somewhat inappropriate.
Forming your troops into an army is also not without problems – setting them to ‘stand ground’ (the army takes up a very nice box formation) means they do just that – if attacked they might fire back but generally they just stand there and take a beating. Leaving them in standard formation has the opposite effect, they will follow the enemy till either it or your army is obliterated.
Despite these minor niggles (which you soon become accustomed to and work round), the game is eminently playable and a worthy addition to any collection, especially for the history lessons.
*A.I. score: 07
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: around 05.04.2003
Language of publish: english