Reviewed: December 16, 2006
Released: November 7, 2006
Iíll be the first to admit that I donít know a hell of a lot about the American Civil War, in fact, other than knowing it occurred, I canít honestly say why it happened, what these men were fighting for or which side ultimately won. The North if memory serves.
Does this make me the best candidate to write such a review? Probably not, but then Iím not writing this review with a whole lot of thought going into the historical accuracy of it all, Iím just going to try and determine if this is a good game or not Ė and whether or not its worth your hard earned dollars.
I know, as weird as it may seem, a Canadian is writing this review, and while history class taught me a lot about World War II and some other famous confrontations, we didnít learn much about the American Civil War, after all thatís American history, not Canadian, and since Canada had nothing to do with that event, it wasnít in our history books. When compared to American, Canadian history has been rather boring and uneventful. Sure weíve been a factor in a few historic wars, but our presence has never been felt on such a global scale as that of the good ole U.S. of A Ė and weíve certainly never gone to war against our own countrymen.
Ultimately Iím writing this review with one agenda. Iím hoping to see if thereís a game in here thatís worth playing and with a little luck and perhaps without even trying, I might even learn something about my neighbours to the South in the process.
Iím going to try and refrain from talking a whole lot about the historical facts and event and focus rather on the game itself, the good, the bad and the potentially ugly. If I start talking about the facts of the war chances are Iíll just make myself look foolish and ignorant Ė and Iím sure nobody wants to see me do that. So read on and Iíll give you the scoop on The History Channel - Civil War: A Nation Divided.
Itís scary going into a review knowing that youíre about to compare a new game to something as brilliant as Call of Duty. One only needs to play the first level of this game to see the developersí obvious attempt to catch some of CODís magic. While it fails to deliver the goods that the Call of Duty series dishes out so readily, itís also hard to play Civil War and not see the makings of what could have been a fantastic and highly unique gaming experience had it received a little more love and attention.
Civil War is a FPS (First Person Shooter) like no other. For the first time ever, weíre not confined to the obvious popularity of World War II or the laser wars of Outer Space. The History Channelís Civil War: A Nation Divided throws us into 1860ís American History. Players are tossed into the meat grinder and asked to partake in such horrific battles as Gettysburg, the Bull Run and Petersburg. Players are given the opportunity to play as both the Confederate army and the Union army through 12 levels.
Given the era which this game is meant to represent, Iíve seen a lot of concern on message boards from users expressing their worries over weapon re-load times. Iíll be the first to admit, Iíve never played a shooter with longer re-load times, but this doesnít mean itís a bad thing. Naturally when you use a weapon like the Springfield Musket, re-loads can take some time, especially when you consider that itís a single shot weapon that requires you to add gun power, the ammunition and jam it all down the barrel with that metal rod for each and every shot. Sure this takes a while, and yes, it sucks when you miss after such a lengthy wait, but it also adds a lot of urgency and authenticity to the game. However you shouldnít let this scare you off, as itís an extremely cool weapon to fire and does significant damage when you manage to hit someone with it.
For players who are less patient, there are many other weapons available, like the 5 round Colt M1845, which is essentially a revolving rifle. Thereís also the Henry .44 calibre rifle that hold 12 rounds and fires at a rate on 28 round a minute, thatís not too shabby when you think about it. Needless to say, these weapons never irritated me in the least and it brought a small breathe of fresh air to the typical weaponry to which we have all grown so accustomed. Personally, I enjoyed them all, even the single fire weapons. It was nice to play a game where automation wasnít the ruler of the day.
As I mentioned you do spend a fair amount of time hanging around trying to load your weapons, but then, so does the enemy. There were times when Iíd be standing 20 feet away from several enemies and weíd all be mashing gun powder into our muskets, itís really kind of comical when you think about it. Itís because of this, that the game makes such heavy use of melee attacks. Like the actual civil war, many battles are fought with simple and brutal hand-to-hand combat techniques.
Each weapon can be used to beat your enemy down, some, like the musket are also equipped with a bayonets, so you can charge your enemy and stab them in the gut. Re-loading often leads to this kind of fighting and often itís necessary to do so because youíre so vulnerable to enemy attacks. Sometimes itís quicker and easier to charge in on the enemy than it is to ready your weapon to fire. Naturally this forces to the player to plan their reloading times and plan them carefully. Fortunately if youíre charged while reloading you can still melee attack to defend yourself, but this means you have to start the reload cycle from scratch.
Had the game added a few more moves to the physical combat, Civil War could have created an excellent blend of both offensive methods, gunplay and melee. For the melee lover out there, the sabre and bowie knife can come in handy; and for those craving devastation, there are grenades, gatling guns and cannon stations throughout the game. Theyíre all great fun to experiment with and excellent for mowing down the opposition.
Overall the game plays without a hitch, but I do have a few minor complaints, the first being the use of cover. It seems like I can be squarely hidden behind a wagon or pile of logs and Iím still getting shot to pieces. There was to be little or no safety anywhere, which makes the ability to duck almost pointless.
Another problem is the stupid A.I. The computer opponents are idiots. If you stay outside of a certain distance, the enemy will never do anything but fire their guns and reload, step any closer and theyíll charge. If you become aware of this apparent line in the sand, you can pretty much make the enemy do what you want them to do, simply by moving closer or backing away.
In addition to that, itís possible to chuck a grenade between 4 guys and they wonít do a damn thing, theyíll just stand there and be blown away. Now thatís what I call intelligence. Itís a good way to clear out the opposition, but not altogether realistic. Still, aside from these few minor complaints, the game doesnít really have any significant problems. The gameplay isnít going to revolutionize the wheel, but itís still functional and entertaining.
On the achievement front, cause I so love those achievements. Civil War dishes them out rather easily. In just 2 days, I managed to get over 800 gamerscore. In fact, there are only 2 achievements that may prove difficult to acquire. Both involve finding hidden documents and photos throughout the gameís 12levels. For me these tedious searches are boresville and completely without value. Iíll probably settle for what I have.
Another minor issue with this game on the multiplayer Ė there isnít any. I think a 12 to 16-player mode would have been great as players rushed about, struggling to get their guns reloaded while someone charged them with a bayonet. It could have been great fun, but alas, weíre left high and dry. Perhaps in the future, if we see another civil war game, it will be more generous. As much as I hate to deduct points due to a lack of online play, these days there just doesnít seem to be an excuse for such an obvious oversight.
Itís no Call of Duty, but itís not bad. While the level of detail is nothing compared to COD, you can tell within the first few minutes that once again, this title had an influence. Right from the get go youíre running into a firefight. Cannons pummel the battlefield sending dirt and debris into the air; the screen shakes with the action, houses burn and are blown apart, wood panels and shingles fly through the air. Itís all clearly laid out to try and create the atmosphere of war, even though these battles donít seem to be big as I imagine they probably were. The action isnít as spectacular as it could have been, but itís still far better than I anticipated. I expected lifeless battlefields and boredom, but was pleasantly surprised by a decent level of activity and dare I say, chaos.
Another thing that made this game visually pleasing were the plumes of smoke that accompanied ignited gunpowder. When you fire most of your weapons, especially the musket, the smoke from the shot is often so thick that you canít even be sure if you managed hit your target. You pretty much need to wait for the smoke to clears to see if theyíre still standing or not. In fact, when walking through the thick forests, the smoke from enemy weapons is often the only indication as to where the shots are coming from. Use the smoke, spot your targets.
Water effects are decent, woodlands are thick with trees and bushes, textures are diverse and all this is accompanied with simple additions like falling leave and pollen floating through the air. Even the nighttime levels are nice, with great ambiance created by campfires and the sudden flashes of light when a musket is fired. While Civil War isnít on par with many other games on the 360, itís still above average and far better than I anticipated.
The character models are probably the worst part of this game, while theyíre not downright horrible, you expect people in a war game to get a lot more attention than they did in Civil War. Animations are a little stiff, enemy deaths arenít very exciting, and the lack of blood in what was probably one of the bloodiest wars ever! - seems like a major oversight. To be honest, I wanted Civil War to be grisly and horrific experience. When I fire a cannon at a crowd of troops I want to see arms, legs and entrails flying through the air, but no such luck.
Civil War is a great aural experience, not awesome but great. Making excellent use, should you have 5.1 surround sound Ė explosions can rattle your walls. The weapons all have great punch to them, not only bellowing out a loud blast as gunpowder ignites, but also sounding out the appropriate poof that comes from all the smoke they release. Cannons thunder, weapons crack and enemy characters moan out as death takes them. Itís all very well done.
The beginning and end of each levels turns into a bit of a history lesson as the events that are about to take place or just have are expertly narrated to keep the player apprise of how the actual events of the war played out. It all adds a nice favour to the game and makes it seems more serious than the actual gameplay does. After all, this History Channel did play a part in the game, so it seems only natural that Civil War attempts to educate the player as it entertains.
Itís hard for me to recommend the price of admission for a game like this. While it tries real hard to achieve greatness and had the makings and the potential of being a great game, itís just doesnít live up to the unique subject material. The game is fun Iíll admit, but the levels are short, the A.I. is borderline idiotic at times, and it simply doesnít deliver the goods for such a costly game. If it had been a cheaper game, then Iíd say it was worth it, hell, even a little multiplayer would have helped, hell, online multiplayer could have been fantastic.
For me, Civil War: A Nation Divided is a bit of a guilty pleasure. While the game could certainly have used some refinement in a number of key areas, at the end of the day I still enjoyed my time with it. Is it worth owing? Not really, at least not until the price drops, but it would certainly make a great weekend rental.
The gameís 12, linear and rather short levels can be mowed through in about 6 brief hours on normal difficulty (hard is downright brutal, but you can save anywhere, anytime), even less when you realize that you can pretty much run to the end of each levels, bypassing most enemies with nothing more than your sabre in a few minutes if you really want to. My recommendation is to stay away from easy difficulty, as this makes you nearly indestructible and impervious to damage. The ease really takes away from the potential enjoyment. The game is fun, but being an unstoppable hero is far from exciting.
I really hope this title receives another treatment, as the framework for a great game was certainly there, but wasnít executed to the fullest. The Call of Duty influence is obvious and as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. With a little work, Civil War could have been an incredible and totally different first-person experience, but as a whole it comes up short. Maybe next time it will get the extra development time it so desperately deserved. Thereís gold underneath this rough exterior, someone just needs to find a way to exploit it.
For the curious out there, like I was, go rent it and give it a try for yourself, but save those dollars until the price tag drops and the bargain bins catch it. Civil War isnít a bad game, but isnít really worth more than about 6 Lincolns.