Sunday, February 11, 2007

History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided Review

History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided, developed by Cauldron and published by Activision Value.
The Good: Constant action, low price
The Not So Good: Lack of any real AI, completely unfair difficulty due to being shamefully outnumbered, no autosave, unbalanced weapons, single player only, ahistorical gameplay with a pace that is entirely wrong for this setting
What say you? A budget Civil War first person shooter with too many glaring problems: 4/8

It seems that games are now shying away from World War II and into a different historical era: the American Civil War. The recent explosion of Civil War games (Forge of Freedom, Take Command: 2nd Manassas) exemplifies this point. All of the titles I’ve seen published so far have been strategy games, and now it’s the first person shooter’s turn to tackle mid-1800’s warfare in History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided. What is it with The History Channel and long-winded game titles? This game takes a Call of Duty-like approach to combat: surrounded by friendly forces, you tackle overwhelming odds and complete objectives on the battlefield. Will History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided offer up a budget-priced level of entertainment?

For a budget title, History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided has some pretty decent visuals. The weapon models are probably the best aspect of the graphics, and all of the reloading sequences are detailed and painfully realistic. The character models look OK, akin to those seen in the original Call of Duty I would say. The death animations are highly exaggerated and they get repetitive and old quickly. Getting shot results in a camera shake that also gets annoying quickly, and smoke from shooting a weapon obscures your view, making it difficult to see if you’ve hit your target. The levels are very linear, and your path is almost always conveniently lined with impenetrable trees or rocks. A short documentary precedes each level, which at least uses the History Channel license somewhat. The graphics are slightly above where I would expect them to be for a title of this price. The sound doesn’t fare as well, however. The game initially has a good hectic atmosphere, but the effects repeat themselves far too quickly. One can only hear screaming every so often before it becomes quite bothersome. The game does voice all of its in-game dialogue, although History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided lacks funny or interesting conversations like in Company of Heroes or Call of Duty. Still, I don’t expect much from a budget title, and History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided pretty much delivers what I expected.

History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided lets you fight through twelve battles in two campaigns, one for each side of the war. The two campaigns are essentially the same except for the starting weaponry and the different colors of the enemy’s clothes. There isn’t anything notable about any of the game’s levels, as each of the historic locations lacks any real historical flair. History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided is also single player only, which is quite an odd omission for a first person shooter these days. Adding a multiplayer element to the title might extend the life of the game somewhat beyond the generally short campaigns. There is one glaring oversight in the campaigns: the lack of an autosave. I guess I just assumed the game would save my progress after I had completed an objective. Silly me! It wasn’t until I died (which is a common occurrence) right near the end of a level that I realized I had to do the entire thing over again. So, you’ll need to manually press that quick save button early and often.

History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided tries hard to capture the excitement of the Call of Duty series by featuring chaotic battles and skirmishes alongside your allies. However, there are a bunch of problems with the game that makes it frustrating to play. First, History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided is non-stop action: you will always be shooting someone. This is fine, except that the game features authentic weapons, which means long load times. You cannot have fast combat with slow weapons, and History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided clearly illustrates why this is the case. Civil War weaponry does not lend itself to fast-paced gameplay, which is why combat of the era was done in structured lines. The weapons of the Civil War were not accurate or fast enough to be used in unorganized skirmishes that involve running through the woods and storming enemy locations, which is the style of combat shown in this game. This completely ahistorical approach to combat is OK, but not if you’re going to feature realistic weapons. The weapons themselves are completely unbalanced. Some weapons have only one shot and extremely long loadtimes, while others file multiple shots and have short loadtimes. So you’re really just going to use one or two weapons in the game. Seriously, who is going to take on twenty enemy troops by yourself armed with a musket? Someone that’s going to die and have to reload the level from the beginning, that’s who. History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided has grenades, but they are only thrown about six feet and you have no accuracy control over them. Apparently all of the soldiers in the 1800’s threw like wimps. You also have to hold down the “look down sight” button to zoom in, instead of just pressing it to cycle the command. Of course, you are just as accurate not zoomed in, so there is really no point, especially since the cursor changes to red when you’re targeting an enemy soldier. You can escape some of the problems with weapons by using melee attacks with a bayonet or the butt of your gun, but these are really just last resorts.

History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided makes the game difficulty by throwing a ton of enemies at you. Since you are equipped with very slow weapons, this makes beating the game extremely tough and ultimately frustrating. The artificial intelligence in the game stinks, as the enemies will only use cover if they were manually placed there by the designers, and they will routinely just run towards you and engage in melee combat. Watching friendly and enemy AI engage in a slap fight to the death is funny at first, but sad in the end. Friendly units are generally useless and die too quickly, plus they rarely help you out while you get getting triple-teamed by crazed enemy soldiers. History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided is just not fun to play, as the game consists of ducking behind objects while your single-shot weapons take 10 seconds to reload and shooting at a never-ending stream of enemies using tactics that were never employed during the Civil War.

History Channel Civil War: A Nation Divided is a disappointing attempt at first person shooting in the 1800’s. While the game does come at a budget price, the game is just not fun to play, due to its completely unrealistic gameplay. The combination of tons of enemy soldiers and slow-firing weapons is just insane. This game would have been better if the levels were more realistic: fighting in lines with hundreds of people. As it stands, this is really World War II-style warfare with Civil War-era weapons and accents, and I just don’t buy it. The omission of an autosave feature is inexcusable, and the lack of multiplayer means that this game has really no replay value. The developers changed the setting, but this is not reason enough to purchase a below average first person shooter, even if it is relatively cheap.