|a game by||2K Games|
Shattered Union succeeds in spite of the naiveté of its premise. If the game's theme of a disunited United States is purely for marketing attention-grabbing then more power to 'em. This game engine, though, is plenty good enough for nearly any other era or setting, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say the theme is provocative, rather than cynical. Perhaps we'll see a sequel where some other political union is subjected to the shattered treatment -- perhaps the EU, where it soon may be closer to actuality, or maybe the RU's predecessor USSR, a union that shattered before history's eyes.
While implausibilities in the game background are too numerous to outline in detail (Parts of the Mid-Atlantic states are in the hands of EU "peacekeepers" who waste no time attacking their neighbors!) and might, generously, be chalked up to lack of familiarity (Where's Hawaii?) the makers of Shattered Union do know something about making a stable, attractive and vastly playable game.
Old conflict simulation hands will be glad to see the return of turn-based strategy and hexes(!) for movement regulation, both applied to the graphical 3-D environment that has become the state-of-the-art in the so-called "real-time strategy" click-fest genre. So instead of scrolling all over a map trying to keep track of your own units while anticipating your enemies -- which actually works against the enjoyment of wonderful visuals -- you can take your time, consider your moves, gauge the lay of the land and enjoy the excellent vehicle models. Moving your armored columns across the landscapes and through the highly individualized cityscapes, the game is like a miniatures table come to life.
You can fight a one-battle skirmish, or take the part of a faction in the campaign game. There is plenty of variety among the factions, though, and, with the high scores chart, interest in beating yourself lends game-to-game interest. Multiplayer is for skirmishes only and worked well, with minimal lag.
In the campaign's strategic map phase you must manage the application and composition of your forces, but it's somewhat thin on situational information and there is no diplomacy or intel aspects to the game. There's a Political Reputation rating that changes depending on the amount of collateral damage done in a battle. This rating and your faction are both factors in assigning Special Powers available to you during a battle. These powers are many and varied and include such hard assists as mortar fire and long-range artillery, as well as such soft aids as demoralization of an enemy unit and forced march.
The game is easy to learn and with enough variety for repeated play that, with AI improvements and some depth added to the campaign map phase, it borders on an addictiveness comparable to the better entries in the Civilization franchise.
So overall it's a buy, except possibly for those who might find the apparent wishful-thinking anti-Americanism of the setting disturbing (It depicts Washington DC as a post-nuke grease spot with a ruin of the Washington Monument in the middle.) Rather than despair at such a desecration some might take pride in the knowledge that, even while Europe burns, this game will be your only chance to see US cities in such a ruined state.