Robert E. Lee, Civil War General
As the smoke settles, you see them crossing the ridge. Dressed in the blue uniforms of the Union army, the well-supplied troops take the hill and dig in for defense. Having your troops already positioned for a counterattack, you launch a volley of cannon fire from the opposite hill, causing light casualties but rattling the enemy troops. Then you send in the attack: two brigades of musketeers, led by the Virginia Cavalry commanded by Major General J.E.B. Stuart, charging up the hill, scattering the outnumbered and awed Northern brigade.
Your men shout with excitement as the Northern forces beat a hasty retreat, surrendering the hill and leaving both supplies and blue-clad bodies scattered across the hillside. However, your rejoicing is quickly sobered as you look about for Major General Stuart, only to find him among the fallen, the victim of Union sharpshooters. While the wound is not mortal, you have lost a great man for at least one battle. You rally your men for another assault on the fleeing soldiers, while bringing in reinforcements from the rear.
Such is the stuff of Robert E. Lee, Civil War General, by Sierra. You are placed in the role of Robert E. Lee, the famed Southern general, faced with the difficult task of rallying an unskilled, unorganized, and poorly supplied army against the stronger and better trained Union. This game will take you through a variety of scenarios in both single and multiplayer modes, challenging your skills of strategy and tactics, which, if you succeed, will eventually culminate in the "what if" scenario of an all-out siege of Washington, D.C. by General Lee. Can you handle that?
Under Windows 95, setup for this game was a breeze. There were no snags, and all detection and installation occurred without any problems. The game has three installation options, ranging from the tiny (11 MB) to the massive (over 100 MB). I chose the medium installation, which was reasonable in terms of both size and performance. The entire installation process was effortless and took no more than a couple of minutes. This was a boost, as the game had already started to suck me in from the moment I opened the box.
The documentation for this game is great. In a time when all too many companies try to pass off an online help document as a manual, it is a good feeling to see a well-done manual. While this is not a catalogue of the weaponry and tactics of the Civil War (for all you grognards out there), it does have sufficient notation on both gameplay and military facts to allow any user not only to get into the mechanics of the game quickly, but also enjoy him/herself doing it. It weighs in at a nice 138 pages, in addition to the Multimedia Historical Supplement, which augments the manual rather than duplicating it. Although I can imagine some hard-core strategists out there looking for minute details on all weapons, units and factors within the game, I found that all game rules were rather straightforward and all NECESSARY information is included. This is a well-documented game, not a playable encyclopedia.
Now remember, I am not much of a strategy man, and the words "turn-based" are about as appealing as the phrase "root canal" to me. The phrase "twitch reflexes" better describes my kind of game. Even if I'm playing a strategy game, I want ogres rushing through the woods and missiles tearing through the sky after attacking choppers. However, this game broke through all of that.
On the box, this game boasts: "So realistic you can smell the gunpowder!" After seeing that, my first thought was "Boy, am I going to enjoy ripping this game apart!" However, I found that the game was not only very professionally done, but also very enjoyable. In fact, I cannot remember the last time that I opened a game (in which I was interested) where I didn't jump straight into the gameplay aspect. I broke that habit for very good reason with this title.
Immediately after installing this game, I found myself exploring the "Multimedia Historical Supplement," which is sort of a Civil War museum on CD-ROM, and for good reason. Yes, I studied the Civil War in elementary school, and no, I did not end up memorizing names of battles, generals or weapons. However, I was really intrigued by the supplement. It includes a series of documents, drawings, speeches (in audio) and video. These are combined in a skillful way to present an excellent study in the history, individuals, lifestyles, weapons and aftermath of the Civil War. This serves to set the background for the game, providing an understanding of weaponry, battles, leaders and other factors that are crucial to gameplay, but would turn the average non-grognard away from a manual.
The game takes into account such factors as morale, weaponry (even down to the variety between the many kinds of rifles, cannons, etc.), supplies, organization, health, day/night, charges, charismatic leaders (generals, etc., who can also be shot or killed, thus robbing your opponent of this bonus), and many other critical concepts. The interface clearly gives you information on all these aspects, so there is no need to wonder how many shots you have left (yes, these are real soldiers with real problems) or how badly wounded certain units are. Not only that, but the interface gives you an easy toggle between a simple graphical presentation and a more complicated numerical one, which can be changed on the fly. In addition, the game accounts for differences between the two sides (morale, technology, supplies, training, support, etc.) and gives you an overall feel that yes, these are your men, and you will think twice before you send a brigade charging into certain death.
In addition, you will find that between battles, you have a chance to restock your men, reorganize your troops, or even discharge an ineffective officer (although the fault is probably all yours, but it feels good anyway). This section of the game is not difficult to perform and helps one understand the state of distress that the South was in during the war. This part of the interface is all graphical, and users should find no problems understanding it. This break in between battles is both desired and realistic, letting you choose how to build the Confederate army. After all, you are Robert E. Lee, Civil War General.
Once I got into my first battle (which you can do practically immediately if you like), I started to understand the attraction of a turn-based system. Never before had I played a turn-based strategy wargame that made me feel the kind of tension, excitement, and "just five more minutes" feeling that a well-done real-time wargame can convey. As a game progresses well, you can feel the excitement of cornering an enemy brigade and forcing it to surrender, as well as the dread and "please wake me when it's over" horror of a rout on the battlefield. This game has all of the "kick-butt" tactical feel ofor , but with a deeper strategical element.
This is where this game really scores true. The game is easy to get into, and once you are into it, nothing -- not the interface, audio/video, system requirements, nor the game concept -- gets in the way of gameplay, which is what a game is all about. If you want to jump right in without touching a manual or reading a single page, you can do so. If you want to browse the museum, read the manual from cover to cover, and take notes while doing so, you can. The execution of this game is very smooth, and I am glad to have the genre introduced to me in such a skillful manner. I would get into more specifics on why this game is so good, but I'd rather have you check it out for yourself and see. You'll thank me for it.
Graphics and Sound
As I said before, the multimedia aspect of the game is well done. On the battlefield, it feels almost as if you were looking at an old diorama or reenactment model, but as soon as you hear the rebel yell of the soldiers and see the gunsmoke and aftermath of an attack, you will feel differently. All individual skirmishes are accompanied with video (and of course audio) footage from civil war reenactments, with hundreds of men dressed in period costume and carrying period weapons, pulling you into the game. Even if you feel that the video gets in the way or is occasionally repetitive, you can simply turn the battle video off with the click of a button. In addition, the multimedia found within the historical archive is well-produced and properly chosen, providing a great deal of atmosphere to an already well-done product. Also, the artwork for the manual and screen backgrounds is both appropriate and very stirring. It is done by Mort Kunstler, who has received several awards for his beautiful depictions of the chaos that was America's Civil War.
486-DX 33MHz, 8 MB RAM, 12 MB hard drive space, 2X CD-ROM drive, mouse, SVGA 640x480@256 colors, SoundBlaster or compatible, Windows 3.1 or Windows 95
Reviewed on: P-133 w/ 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive
To sum things up, the interface is intuitive, the graphics are good, the multimedia adds another dimension to the game, and I just can't find anything I didn't like about the game. I found so much more in this game than I had expected, and hope that Sierra makes more quality games like it. While it may not find as wide an audience and is not as long-lasting a classic as genre-setters like Civilization, Doom, and SimCity, this is an excellent game. It is the best of its kind that I have played and I give it a 92. This game grabs you and does not let go, and it deserves every single point it gets. If you want to find yourself pulled into a different era, faced with both the small and large-scale challenges of the Confederation, battling with both brawn and brains, this is the game for you. Even if you aren't sure if that describes you, buy this game anyway. You will like it. Very much.