Developer: GSC GameWorld
Release Date: 02/07/2003
Developer GSC GameWorld is a company that hasn’t really manufactured their magnum opus yet, relying mainly on their relatively popular series of historically-themed games named Cossacks to pay the bills. Each Cossacks game was an attempt to recreate famous wars throughout history via a top-down RTS perspective, allowing players to learn by doing. But now GSC is resurfacing with a brand new, and (unsurprisingly) historically accurate, real-time strategy game that focuses on the European colonization of North American between the 15th and 18th centuries. In American Conquest you’ll command literally thousands of units simultaneously as you recreate everything from Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the American Revolution. And while this may seem like a obvious continuation of the Cossacks series one needs only spend a few minutes with the game to realize that it is vastly improved over its predecessors.
American Conquest spans 300 years of intense conflict and as such is a fairly large game, both in terms of campaign diversity and general vastness of in-game environments. From the onset you’ll have the option to choose from eight unique campaigns spanning a total of 42 missions. You’ll also not be limited to playing on only one side; some scenarios allow you to play first on one side of the battle and then on the other, giving you the opportunity to check out multiple perspectives of the same event. As the name of the game implies, it is mainly focused on the American aspect of history but you can also expect representation for other factions like France, Spain, various Native American tribes, Mayan, Incan, and Aztec.
The same dynamics that nearly every other RTS on the market relies on can be found in American Conquest. While it is true that you can command up to 16,000 units at the same time, you’ll still be expected to jump through the hoops that make up the conventional RTS etiquette. Accumulating various types of resources, building bases, and slaughtering the opponent is very much a sticking dynamic in American Conquest – but the fact that the battles play out in a historically realistic manner and thousands of soldiers can be ordered to their deaths at the click of a mouse makes the whole experience feel like something new, despite the obvious irony of it all.
But the whole game isn’t focused purely on waging war and winning land; the missions will sometimes require you to merely accumulate a set amount of resources or reach a specified population. Though as you progress through the campaigns you’ll begin doing things like taking over enemy structures and using them to dish out major damage to their surrounding army. Being able to take over an opponent’s building and using their resources against them is one of the things that makes playing this game so entertaining.
Some scenarios allow you to play from the ground up, meaning you’ll have to build, maintain, and manage your army as you prepare for war – other scenarios will plop you directly into a pre-designed environment with a set amount of units and resources at your disposal. Regardless, the only way to win a battle is by training a sufficient amount of troops, and the only way to do that is to make sure you have a boatload of peasants on hand. Unlike many other strategy games, American Conquest doesn’t allow you to simply click on a building and queue up five dozen super-soldiers. Instead, the only unit you can actually create from scratch is the peasant. Once you’ve created a peasant you must order him into a building and then choose to train him into a combat-ready unit.
The interface and physics of American Conquest is worlds improved over the Cossacks games but still suffers from a few minor annoyances. For instance, your units won’t necessarily attack nearby opponents on their own; in one scenario I watched as a single, fairly weak, enemy unit scampered about killing off my units one at a time with nearly zero retaliation of friendly unit onlookers. Ordering large amounts of units across the terrain can be frustrating since environmental objects seem to easily hamper your army’s ability to move. Also it is easy to overlook useful units in a frantic situation since your view is often obstructed by large buildings.
Aside from the extensive single-player campaign American Conquest also includes a single mission mode wherein you can choose from nine available scenarios and play through them in any order you choose. There is also a random map mode, which is basically a typical battle that takes place on a randomly generated map. The multiplayer modes include your standard internet game and deathmatch, but the historical battles multiplayer mode is probably the most unique; enabling online players to reenact a multitude of battles within set parameters. Those who really want to dive headlong into the world of the New World will also want to check out the included mission editor, which includes tools for creating varying degrees of terrain and map designs.
Visually, American Conquest is surprisingly detailed in terms of its terrain and structures, the various units are adequately unique allowing you to easily pick out a specific unit in a medium size crowd. But when you are talking about thousands of units converging on a specific area of the map you’ll be lucky to make out who is winning let alone what kinds of units are doing what. The audio presentation isn’t quite as impressive but does feature some stirring orchestrations that randomly play and accompany the on-screen action nicely. The various sound effects used for things like rogue musket shells and cannon fire are great, giving the player an excellent allusion of reality and immersion.
Overall, GSC has managed to create one of the best historically accurate RTS simulations ever made. The game play isn’t quite as tight as some of the more popular games in the genre but the attention to detail in terms of customizing battle formation, being able to take over enemy bases, and realistic combat physics makes American Conquest a game that any real-time strategy fan would be proud to include in their collection. American Conquest is as entertaining as it is educational, a perfect historical simulation to keep gamers occupied until Cossacks 2 is released later this year.