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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

Formations are key to play. March formations are easy to use but deploying into line becomes unwieldy because the line initially forms at right angles to the march axis. Holding down the right mouse button and dragging creates a “ghost” outline of how the line will face upon release. This feature would be nice if games have small numbers of units but most scenarios have many troops. The game’s ability to choose between fast and slow modes with a slider to adjust speed within those modes keeps Divided Nations from only being a clickfest but can make play tedious. Artillery constitutes a different type of unit as does cavalry. Mixing types in groups diminishes the group’s effectiveness. Individual units can range from elite troops to the rawest militias. The difference between the two can be seen in the unit information icon which displays the likelihood of panic and events that cause panic. An inexcusable mistake which hurts play is the “Skirmish” formation. Instead of a loose firing line, this order creates a hollow square. The absence of a true skirmish formation takes away an essential part of American warfare.

British riflemen, distinguished by the green jackets, rip American militia. Yankee troops flood through the hole left by the crater at Petersburg.

Campaign missions, random maps, and multi-player games add more functions to units. In campaigns, special units such as sappers can build field fortifications and structures such as hospitals, tents, and field kitchens. These structures then produce other special types like medics. Performing such tasks requires resources in gold, wood, and food. Random map and multi-player games start with a group of peasants that build structures and gather resources. The new structures create more units and start a modest tech tree to create even more units, buildings, and structures.

Solitaire game play is divided into five single battles, nine campaigns, and random maps. The individual battles and campaign missions are frustrating exercises in “almost history.” The Battle of New Orleans is a good example. The kinds of units are right with US regulars, Creole militia, British Highlanders and Riflemen all there and rated accurately. However, you can only play the American side and the battlefield deployment is all wrong. The Americans start far from their fortifications and boil out of their camps higgledy-piggledy, taking many minutes to appear and leaving no room or time for formation control. Worse, the field is covered in black until units move up. Fog-of-war should be restricted to hiding enemy units; the commanders had maps of the field. Once the Americans see their own fortifications, moving lines into them so fields of fire are not blocked reminds one of Tetris. Artillery cannot be placed behind formations because the lack of elevation causes them to fire into their own infantry — but giving them a good line of sight is their death warrant as they deconstruct when hit by the least bit of fire. Units will fire at targets automatically unless the ”Disable Attack” stance is used. Artillery usually automatically chooses ammunition type but players can force guns to use grapeshot. At New Orleans, these features should work in the American’s favor but, once again, the map intervenes. Forests are very close to the fortifications in the game so, instead of struggling up a long, steep, clear slope, the British jump out of the woods onto their enemy. With the easy AI, these attacks are small and piecemeal but higher levels see the British come on in clouds. Simply not done, old boy, beastly form.

The campaigns are as follows: one Mexican, one Texan, three Confederate, and four Union operations. The campaigns have locked missions so players must play all five missions of the Gettysburg campaign in sequence. Losses are not carried over. Game objectives are broadly stated at the beginning and hints are given during play but the fatal problems seen in the individual battles are still present.

The background of the campaign menu is striking. The editor allows for creation of idyllic as well as warlike scenes.

Given the amount of space taken up by explanations of them in the manual, the Random Map and multiplayer modes seem to have been what the designers really wanted. Random maps are constructed with over thirty variables. Games can be won by either annihilation or points. Both solitaire and multi-player play resembles Warcraft style resource gathering and production. Anything historical seems tacked on as an afterthought. Players can create a fine world with the powerful editor. Perhaps very patient individuals can create historical battles.

Armchair General Score: 60%

Pros: The single missions and campaigns catch the flavor of the period sometimes. The unit and terrain graphics are fine when taken alone. The map editor is powerful and easy to use.

Cons: Play is not historical enough and no innovation is present. The interface is clunky. The AI is stupid and random map play, the heart of the game, is reduced to the silliest resource/structure-oriented level of the most mediocre RTS games.

Last Word: In the end, American Conquest: Divided Nations fails both as a historical game and a “light” game. The designers’ efforts seem diffused between the aspects of history they want to simulate and creating an empire building game. Oddly enough, they could have easily achieved one or the other. As it is, nothing of import was accomplished.

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