So to kick off, let’s look at the original, American Conquest. This takes place between 1492 and runs up to the War of Independence, so you’ve got plenty of scope here for lots of different factions, development of new weapons and the use of massive armies in huge battles. What more could you ask for?
Each mission kicks off with a briefing that at times feels more like a quick history lesson than a way of telling you what you have to do. Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of history as much as anyone, but being given the background on why I’m playing a mission is no good unless I get a clear idea of what I’m supposed to actually do. At worst, the briefings can be a bit vague and sometimes you’ll find yourself having completed a mission without knowing it… so it pays to check the objectives regularly or you could carry on playing for no reason.
Many of the missions are designed to test your lateral thinking or resource management skills as much as your tactics so you’ll find yourself equipped only with troops and told to gather gold or only have a limited number of troops so you’ll need to tread very carefully. This is actually a pretty good way of keeping you interested as rather than just wipe out the opposition, you have to think hard about what your goal is and what you’ll have to do to achieve it.
Now any game can give you good level design, but if the game mechanic is poor, you’ll not want to bother finding out. GSC, as they’ve shown with Cossacks, are keen on modelling individual units as realistically as possible. This means factors such as morale, motivation etc are key in keeping your armies under control and effective in battle. Later on, when you get more modern guns, rifle fire can be a battle winner, but the long reload times make them vulnerable, so protect them with other troops and make sure they don’t get flanked to keep morale up. The interface is well designed to give you all this key info as you need it, which is important as you don’t want to be flicking away from the heat of battle to make a moral check… so in this area, GSC have gotten it just right.
In a real battle, any building can be used as a defensible position and American Conquest works the same way. This is actually a brilliant move as suddenly, placing your building becomes a tactical exercise, because you can now lob a load of troops inside giving them a large attack and defence bonus as well as substantially reducing the chance of the enemy destroying it. In fact, I’d recommend making garrisons as often as possible as the AI has an annoying tendency to take your troops rushing off chasing after enemy units… and if you don’t keep an eye on the, the bugger’s will follow the enemy all the way back to their base…
On the downside, in the interests of realism, American Conquest has a fair few wild animals wandering around… after all, this is an ‘untamed’ land. However, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a deer in the wild, but I’ve never seen one go off and attack a battalion of armed soldiers. Well, I haven’t seen it until I played American Conquest. Honestly, if the American wildlife was as hostile as they are in American Conquest, you’d be bloody amazed Americans ever made it to adulthood. Seriously, every living thing attacks you and boy are they ever tough! In fact, an errant wild animal can sway the tide of battle against you as a buffalo with an attitude wipes out your platoon that were supposed to be flanking the enemy.
Overall, American Conquest is an enjoyable, if rather dated looking RTS that has plenty to offer anyone who’s interested in American history. It’s not without its flaws though and, to be honest, although it plays a decent enough RTS, there’s more modern, more accomplished games out there.