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PC Preview - 'American Conquest: Fight Back'

by GreyOoze on Sept. 9, 2003 @ 2:50 a.m. PDT

Scheduled for release in early October, this stand-alone expansion to last year's American Conquest adds the standard new nations, units, and campaigns to the mix, along with a brand new mode of play. We take a look at an advanced beta build of the game to see how things are coming along...

Genre: RTS
Developer: GSC Game World
Publisher: CDV
Release Date: October 1, 2003

Pre-order 'AMERICAN CONQUEST: Fight Back': PC

Released a little over a year ago, American Conquest by GSC Game World and CDV used an enhanced version of the Cossacks engine to present a game based on the initial discovery of the new world and many of the notable skirmishes and battles that occurred throughout that period. The game featured many of the core aspects of the real time strategy genre, such as resource gathering and unit production. What separated American Conquest from the pack was its formation based combat (much like Cossacks), a heavy emphasis on structure occupation, a huge dedication to historical accuracy, subtle yet extremely well implemented line of site and bullet modeling, and finally, the updated engines ability to display an astounding number of units on screen at one time. All of this lead to a game that could accurately depict the sheer scope of any battle fought during this time period, at least in terms of numbers.

Like Cossacks, its predecessor, American Conquest enjoyed mild critical and retail success, indeed appealing mostly to hardcore strategy and history fans. In a lot of ways, American Conquest is the quintessential niche product, establishing some rules of its own in an already broadly defined genre. Myself, I really enjoyed the games watered down take on the strong points of real time. The formations gave the combat a certain amount of control, as well as a degree of elegance common to this era. The combat itself was brutal, some of the heaviest action I have ever seen in a game like this. In the end, it was time well spent. I figured an expansion would come along, some new nations, a few new scenarios, the usual.

And based on this current beta build of the game I’ve been checking out, it appears that in a lot of ways that’s what we’re going to be getting with Fight Back, the upcoming stand alone expansion to American Conquest. There are some differences, the most notable of which is the fact that the game is a stand alone product, which doesn’t require you to have the original game to play it. Fight Back does bring five new nations to the game, which are Germany, Russia, Haida, Portugal, and the Netherlands. The addition of the five new nations brings the total number of nations included in the game to seventeen. There are over fifty new units, and total of twenty six new scenarios throughout eight all new campaigns. All pretty standard stuff. One other addition that’s not so standard however is a new mode of play, entitled battlefield mode. Battlefield mode essentially eschews in game resource gathering in favor of all out combat. In this mode, the player starts out with a set amount of the games various resources (gold, iron, stone, food, and wood) and spends them on various unit upgrades. The kicker is that, where most of the resources affect your units in battle, the more of a particular resource you spend upgrading units at the beginning, the less of that resource you will have once the bullets start flying. For example, just like American Conquest, Fight Back requires that each of your units receive varying amounts of gold on a routine basis as a form of pay. This affects their morale, so if you run out of gold and can’t pay them, they will eventually refuse to fight for you and run away. So the more gold you spend on upgrading units, the less you will have to pay them with. This introduces some subtle strategies, as players will be forced to decide between a good army and how much of a risk they’re willing to take.

Aside from bigger maps, and much improved multiplayer code, about the only thing missing from Fight Back that was in American Conquest are the original scenarios, of which there were some good ones.

Discounting the new battlefield mode, an average game of Fight Back, when playing as a nation and not one of the native Indian tribes included in the game, usually starts you out with a handful of peasants, who you would task to start building up your base of operations. There are a lot of buildings and structures necessary in order to get things started, including farms, blacksmiths, three different types of mines, storage areas, and churches. There are however, some additional buildings specific to the time period that can and should be built, such as forts, blockhouses, and town halls. Houses must also be built in order for your population to expand. Many of the buildings, such as the blacksmith and town hall, offer upgrades for anything from resource gather rate, to weapon strength. Many of the structures themselves can be upgraded, such as mines, and doing so usually allows them a greater capacity in some manner or another.

Basic units are generally built in the fort, while the more specific units are created in the fortress, a truly massive structure that the player can build once they have the required resources. Units range from simple pikemen and archers to musketeers, dragoons, and cannons. Each nation in the game wears not only the actual uniforms they wore in real life, but many of the uniforms are upgraded depending on what time period you’re fighting in. In addition to the standard units, the game also allows players to build more specific units, such as officers, standard bearers, and drummers. Each of these specific units allow the player to form their standard units into formations of varying sizes. While the game can be played using the mob and glob technique common to RTS games, it is extremely difficult to do, and isn’t much fun. Formations allow for greater flexibility and maneuverability, as well as defensive upgrades and concentrated firepower. Truly, formations benefit the player a lot, and they are surprisingly easy enough to assemble and use. There are several different types of formations that can be switched to on the fly, depending on the situation, and they are a real hoot once the bullets start flying. With formations, Fight Back really captures the feel of the style of combat used during this time period, just as American Conquest did before it.

In addition to formations, another subtle feature of this game is with buildings, and the ability to occupy them with troops. Just about every building in the game can be occupied with different amounts of units. Even peasants can be used for this task. While allowing units to occupy buildings is be no means a new concept with RTS, I have never played a game where the idea is more tactically important to your overall survival than either American Conquest or Fight Back. Not only should every building be occupied, but buildings should be situated with defensive fire first and foremost in mind. The protection and defense doing so cannot be overstated, and it is likely players will not progress very far into the campaigns without learning this strategy.

Fight Back is very similar to American Conquest, and like most expansion packs, doesn’t deviate much from the established formula of the original content. What the new game seems to do most of all is to offer more in terms of sheer gameplay. American Conquest is a fun game, and does have a decent fan base around the world, and the feeling I got with this beta was that the developers simply wanted to offer existing players more options while reintroducing the game to new players. Additionally, it appears the game is set to retail at the reduced price of $30, $10 cheaper than the original game sold for when it first came out. With Fight Back, what you are getting is a more refined game with some new additions to boot. My only question with this approach is whether or not Fight Back will offer enough new content for veteran players. I must admit I’m not completely sold on this whole stand-alone expansion pack idea. I have dealt with a few games recently that fall into this category and, while they’re a good value for the new player, they tend to leave veteran players of the original title out in the cold. For veteran players of any game, purchasing a stand-alone expansion pack is, in a lot of ways, like buying the same game twice

At the same time, I would like to encourage those of you who may have had a curiosity or two about either Cossacks or American Conquest to give Fight Back a try. The battles are a lot of fun, and the formations bring a nice change of pace to the standard fare. The full version of the game is currently scheduled for an October 1st release, and with the value price tag, would be a steal for new players. Consider giving it a try.

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