Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Maybe it’s just me, but I always was a fan of the American Civil War. In my youth I was fascinated by the battles that took place, blue fighting grey over slavery and states’ rights, it was a bloody but interesting conflict that really should not be forgotten. Now if they can only make a good game about it….
Well, that is unfair. Sid Mayer’s Civil War was a pretty good tactical game back on the PC, but since then there has been very little to play. In a market flooded with first person shooters, it’s amazing that the only games so far to incorporate the Civil War in it has been a pair of games by the History Channel, which for some reason has decided, with the help of developer Cauldron studios and Activision, to try and recreate the war between the states in a first person shooter romp.
Now I know what you’re thinking and you would be right to say that this is perhaps not the best idea for a game. Well, you would be right in many regards. Despite some promise, “The History Channels Civil War: A Nation Divided” is nothing more than a tacky, by the books FPS that really does little except entertain for a few hours at best.
You basically play out twelve historical battles, six for the Union and six for the Confederacy, in relatively short, linear levels that have you pitted against your brethren in a series of battles. Bookended by factual (and probably the point of the game is to educate in the end, and not be that fun) videos about the battle you will partake in, you are basically thrusted into combat with a mini movie explaining your first objective. While the game does have many faults, I will give it this, it did do a good job in recreating the chaos of war, having troops pop out of clearings and from cover, taking popshots every now and again, or rushing into close quarters combat, which will happen a lot because it is perhaps the best way to really kill your opponents.
The game basically has you do missions that range from defend/attack a certain area, to blow up obstacles or major targets with barrels of explosives. In attempts to try and vary the gameplay, each level has a distinct flavor too it; one level has you sneaking around a union encampment to sabotage and steal important documents. Another has you navigating a large swamp to mount a surprise attack on Confederate forces. Each level at least is varied enough to be playable.
Sadly the game is ridiculously easy. If you want a challenge, where you need to duck and cover, play it on hard, because every other mode you can literally just run around and bayonet everyone in your path, without so much as losing a smidge of your life. It also doesn’t help that the weapons in the game take time to load primarily, some of the better ones only giving off one shot, while weaker weapons let you shoot from 5-12 rounds in a semi-quick succession. Being accurate is the key, and thanks to some slippery controls this is easier said than done. The games controls are loose and very sensitive, so moving the cursor just a slight bit will make you miss your target, which can be fatal if you have four to five soldiers firing upon you at once.
The game also suffers the hallmarks of any budget title, poor graphics and mediocre sounds. The game is pretty much ugly, with similar animations, weak textures and bad, sometimes crippling bugs that cause the game to clip or not even register your checkpoints. The sound is done better, at the very least it sounds like what it should, cannons going off, men shouting left and right (which is also repetitive) and the muskets giving that familiar boom, complete with a puff of lingering smoke. Sadly, voice acting is atrocious, and the constant repeat of lines by the same two actors is almost ridiculous at times.
“The History Channel: Civil War, A Nation Divided is a poor game, and one that is really only worth a single play through in the end. It’s short, linear, and its presentation is mediocre at best. It was a bold risk to make a game about a war that didn’t happen against Nazi’s, and an even bolder one for a company like Activision to publish, but in the end, a lot of polish would of made sure this musket didn’t misfire like it did. So hopefully the next Civil War game, whatever it is, learns from the mistakes made here, because it is refreshing to see something different in the FPS market, even if it’s something that is weak and not worth your time.