Recon: Ultimate General Civil War Early Access

By James Cobb 03 Jan 2017 0

Testing a new concept with a title of proven popularity is a solid business decision. Game Labs ran Ultimate General Gettysburg up the flag pole and many people saluted. Yet, releasing single RTS brigade-level battles would put the series behind NorbSoft’s Scourge of War series and would be boring. The developers decided instead to “go big or go home” and cover the entire ACW with their new title, Ultimate General Civil War.

While still in beta, the Steam Early Access version provides a good idea of what the finished product will be.

Easy on the Eyes and Fingers

This game’s terrain graphics have some of the earmarks of a Gainsborough landscape, Quilt-pattern fields, sparkling fords and streams, well-defined woods and slopes are done with warm color tones. Waves wash against the coast. Man-made features that include fences, farms, towns and outbuildings are clear and meaningful, giving bonus for cover. Forts in particular are outstanding with glacis, ramparts, huts and bomb-proofs shown. Rarely is terrain so well done in an RTS game.

ugcwfort

A costal fort appears formidable.

Unit icons are not so fancy. In the most zoomed-in view, details of individual men, horses and equipment lack detail. This nit can be overlooked since formations are clear with a “ghost” image indicating a formations’ facing. Selection can be done by clicking on the troops, the shield with their type floating above them with their numeric strength shown or the corresponding shield at the bottom of the screen. Shields flash when units charge or withdraw and routs are obvious. Captured units are white and can be moved to the rear. Animation includes troops going into column or line and smoke spouting from volleys. Test flashes on the screen telling about charges, melee, being flanked and ammunition shortages. Lines show movement paths and line of fire. A small inset in the lower left has bars indicating units’ reload time and supply with percentages for morale, cover and health. The inset also has a portrait of the unit’s commanders and whether he is killed or wounded. The unit’s strength, casualties and kills inflicted can also be found there. The mini-map is clearer than most similar games.

The interface is surprisingly simple. Units will deploy automatically from column to line and start firing. Other orders are done by on-screen buttons or shortcut keys: infantry can run, charge, detach and regain skirmishers, withdraw and fall back; cavalry charges and dismounts while artillery unlimbers and holds fire when their craving for ammunition drains supply. Direct movement is a simply click but indirect movement is done by dragging the icons along a route. Combinations of keys rotate units.

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Stonewall arrives to save the Henry Hill position.

The Thousand-Mile Front

This interface drives historical battles and a linked campaign. The latest version has nine historical battles from Aquia Creek to Fredericksburg along with twelve interstitial battles for the campaign. The finished product will go to the end of the war with six more historical battles, one hypothetical battle for Washington and eleven more interstitial battles. Each battle can be played from both sides with four levels of difficulty.

In the stand-alone battles, players are corps commanders overseeing a number of brigades with the occasional independent skirmishers, artillery and supply wagon. The brigades can be combined into divisions but battles usually require the flexibility provided by separate units. A prologue points out a players’ goals and anticipated enemy moves. The battle begins at the first contact with initially small forces but soon more units become available as the fighting spreads. Thus, an easy yet historical transition in handling large battles allows gamers not to be overwhelmed while still providing a free rein in play.

A game that provides brigade level action for all major American Civil War battles is welcome but Ultimate General Civil War is much more than that. The campaign game provides a historically solid RPG aspect not only by linking historical battles via the interstitial quasi-hypothetical clashes that reflect events that led up to the big fights but also by building players’ characters using the elements that civil war officers actually had. Characters have five attributes: politics, logistics, training, army organization and economy. The attributes determine how well players can equip their troops, how many brigades and corps they can command as the war progresses and how well the troops perform. The base scores for these are created by choosing the general’s background; whether he is a tactician, strategist or logistician, whether his background was infantry, cavalry or artillery and what his pre-war experience was - business, politics or the regular army. Depending on which side he fights for, the first two missions represent a small expedition to clear enemy forces from a fort or town and then defending the place. These battles are almost tutorials in game mechanics and tactics but can be challenging. The career can also end here as the character as well as subordinates can be wounded, adversely affecting troop effectiveness, or killed, representing the civil war’s high officer casualty rate. Death or a crushing defeat ends the campaign.

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Infantry weapons available for purchase are numerous.

After a victory, the character receives money and career points commensurate with his performance. Then the scene moves to the Army Camp which is divided into tabs for army, armory, barracks and career. Within the army tab, the status of the brigades along with their armament can be observed. Losses can be replaced with expensive veterans, cheap recruits or a combination of both. If the general’s army management skill is high enough, new brigades of any of the four unit types can be created in an existing division or in a new division. The armory displays the weapons that can be bought for each branch and the weapons on hand from survivors or captured arms. Each weapon has a picture with detailed specifications. The barracks has officers the general can buy from the academy as well as those officers already in the command but unassigned. The career tab shows the player’s history, available funds, reputation and earned career points that can be used to enhance attributes. After re-organizing his force, the player can go to the Battle Maps and choose to fight another smaller battle or go directly to First Bull Run. Alternatively, players can create a custom battle based on a map of a historical engagement.

The developers of Ultimate General Civil War are still adding battles, squashing bugs, improving AI and finishing the onscreen manual. The finished product may take a few more months to appear. However, the beta version clearly shows that this game will be a “must buy” for American Civil War game aficionados. Gamers could do worse than get the Early Access version. Why deny yourselves a great experience?

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