Review By: Jared Black
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With the exception of World War II content, in general I’m a big fan of The History Channel. Although the channel’s WWII content is usually just as good as anything else, they show so much of it that I’ve long since grown tired of any shows related to the war that gave us Rosie the Riveter. Many gamers feel the same way about shooters set in World War II, and for the most part I agree. Aside from the Call of Duty series, I’ve been bored of WWII shooters for a long time.
Which is why I was genuinely excited about The History Channel Civil War – A Nation Divided, a game set in the Civil War, developed in collaboration with The History Channel, and even featuring the Call of Duty publisher at the helm. Unfortunately a myriad of problems plague the game, and as a result it falls well short of being a viable alternative to most WWII-based shooters.
Things start off promisingly enough, with the game featuring twelve of the war’s most pivotal battles including Bull Run, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and more. Six are played from each side’s point of view, with the last one on each side locked until the first ten are completed. The player takes on the role of a different soldier for each battle, although really it doesn’t have any kind of an impact on the game since we don’t hear his thoughts, and they all play exactly the same way with slightly different weapon sets. At the beginning of each battle, excellent clips from the History Channel (narrated by the same guy that does many documentaries on the channel) plays to set it up, and at the end scrolling text informs the player of what happened after the battle ended.
I was left wanting to know more about the events surrounding and leading up to each battle, but I realize that this is a FPS and not an edutainment title. Although the game never really delves into the issues surrounding the war (yes, it was about more than just slavery), both sides are treated with dignity and presented as honorable forces. The ending of the game is a simple one, but quite stirring if you have an ounce of patriotism in your body.
Unfortunately, with only twelve battles there just isn’t a lot of game here. While a few of the battles are quite long, several latter battles are startlingly short and end abruptly. For example, at the end of the Chattanooga mission, the game presented a stirring speech by my commanding officer. I was hyped up for the final charge, and then…the game faded to the post-battle screen as our forces charged forward to attack. This left me feeling cheated, wondering why I couldn’t take part in what would’ve probably been the most exciting part of the battle. There are also a few battles where the player takes on a stealth-based objective (such as sabotaging the enemy’s telegraph), and these are generally shorter than “regular” battles as well. Overall, experienced gamers can probably finish the game in about 5 to 6 hours, with little reason to play through it again.
My other complaint is that the clips running before and after each mission discuss the terrible numbers of soldiers that died that day, but yet the missions are setup in a way that the player never gets that sense of scale. I realize that soldiers actually involved in the battle did not kill thousands of their opponents single-handedly, but I would’ve liked the ability to at least look out over a hill on occasion and see hundreds of soldiers fighting over the next ridge. Instead, battles progress through mostly linear areas where only a handful of soldiers charge at any given time.
As for online play, well, there simply isn’t any. On Xbox 360 the game does track Leaderboard rankings, and of course you get the usual assortment of achievements that could provide some form of replay value, but PC gamers get neither of those. The Xbox 360 version also has an area reserved for new downloadable content, but as of press time none has been released. Still, despite these few features the game basically has no replay value unless Activision offers expansion packs in the future.
Getting back to the game that actually shipped, unfortunately a number of flaws mar the gameplay in what could otherwise have been a unique shooter. Supposedly running on a modified version of the Call of Duty 2 engine, the game definitely has a CoD2-ish feel to it. Along with an assortment of authentic weapons, melee combat plays a pretty important role as well. In fact, it plays a larger role here due simply to the fact that Civil War era weapons do not reload quickly. On a number of occasions I was waiting on my one shot musket to reload, while an enemy a few feet from me did the exact same thing. Rather than wait, I ended up canceling the reload animation by charging forward and melee attacking the enemy while he was still reloading. This actually adds an interesting dynamic to battle, but after the novelty wears off tends to be pretty annoying due to the stupid AI displayed.
Posted: 2006-12-05 16:31:46 PST