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Posted on May 15, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

American Conquest: Divided Nation – Game Review (PC)

By Jim Cobb

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If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels as Samuel Johnson said, then semantics is the last refuge of designers of historical games. Using phrases like “based on” and “inspired by” allows designers to pick and choose the areas on which they want to concentrate. Historical purists will tear their hair if the order of battle or terrain of such-and-such battles have been treated cavalierly. On the other hand, a game that covers a broad span of time can actually benefit from letting some aspects slide in terms of detail in favor of other features. Such a focused approach can yield a feel for a period better than a rigidly detailed simulation of battles and campaigns. CDV and Strategy Revolution’s third entry into the American Conquest series, Divided Nation, takes such a broad approach — but was this the correct choice?

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Odd Decisions

The introduction to American Conquest: Divided Nation dramatically intones that 19th century America was shaped by “…three massive conflicts: …the Battle of New Orleans, the Texas War of Independence and the American Civil War.” This statement has two sins of commission and one large sin of omission. Having been fought after a peace treaty had been signed, the Battle of New Orleans was neither massive nor decisive. The Texas War of Independence was important but not that massive. The Mexican-American War was both massive and critical to the future – yet this conflict is completely left out of the game. While we appreciate being able to play Jackson and Houston, the Mexican war offers many fascinating battles and campaigns. Why was it left out?

At the first battle of Bexar, Mexicans are holding the Alamo. The highest level of zoom gives a vague overlook of the fields.

Documentation (7/10):

The decision not to provide the usual tutorial is also strange. The official forum gives two reasons: the previous two entries in the American Conquest series have tutorials and the game mechanics will be familiar to all players. These statements seem to indicate that the marketing of this game is introverted, aiming only at previous customers. Why would a publisher turn its back on new buyers? Although fairly comprehensive, the 62-page manual is not systematically organized for players who want a taste of play quickly and would have benefited from an index. Given that the interface has some quirks not associated with all RTS games, a tutorial would bring many new players up to speed with less frustration.

Finally, one can only wonder about CDV’s continuing adherence to the controversial Starforce protection system. Fears still exist that Starforce harms some systems and recent activity revolving around Birth of America reflects so badly on Starforce’s parent company that some former customers have dumped it completely. Some players will reject a game using Starforce automatically, regardless of the game’s potential. Why does CDV keep such an albatross?

Graphics (14/20): Sound (8/10)

A Fading Beauty

A few years ago, the graphics of CDV’s games were state-of-the-art. The detailed 3D terrain and animated units were enjoyed even by those gamers who are not addicted to eye-candy. Time marches on though and what was once fine has first degraded to acceptable and is now at a stage where graphics can hinder play. The ability to make things transparent only extends to buildings, not vegetation. Units can become lost in vegetation. The lowest of the two zoom levels doesn’t get close enough and the mini-map gives only approximate positions, forcing players to pause the game and cast a click-drag net to find lost sheep. Another hindrance is the smallness of the font at the default 1280×1024 resolution. The unit information icon has a mass of useful information but many players will have to strain to see it. Changing resolution to 1024×768 helped me considerably with the font issue. The units and equipment seem detailed but the zoom stops before the view can be truly appreciated. Animation is helpful with soldiers using the ramrods and smoke billowing but a closer view of melee would be more interesting than the vague scrum we see. Sound effects are satisfactory with the requisite booms, rattles, stomping, and yelling.

American infantry forms into line with the attributes is the pop-up in the upper right.

Captured artillery is dragged away. Note the large red blot in the mini-map denoting many units.

Gameplay (31/60):

Forming Up

The mechanics of Divided Nation may seem familiar at first but a few minutes of play will show twists. Left click selects and right click moves; groups are created through click-and-drag or shift-click or use the group/ungroup icon and assign a number with CRTL+#. The twists come when unit size and types are considered. Unit scale appears to be regiment/cannon. A 24-space display holds icons for seven unit actions on how to move (skirmish on the way, don’t attack until ordered, melee only, etc.) and three formations: march, skirmish, and line. However, groups themselves can only be ordered where and how to move. Each unit must be selected individually to assume formation. In addition, a unit must contain an officer, a standard bearer, and a drummer to assume a formation; otherwise, the troops form a mob.

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