The following preview is based on the Early Access version of the game. The majority of the bugs described below should be hopefully fixed and won't bother players on release.
You were raised in a Southern family where priorities are God, country and family, in that order. You are a patriot and love your country with all your heart, only the country is divided and the nation is in turmoil. Your heart is broken in two but now is not the time for tears, now is the time for action. Do you join the side of the Union or the Confederates? Which side better represents the ideals you want reflected in your future America?
Ultimate General: Civil War is a strategy game by Game-Labs that puts you right in the middle of the bloodiest battle America has ever seen, a battle without which the United States might never have become the United States. You play the role of a commander who's trying to fight your way through the ranks not only to lead your men to victory but also to further your own career and ensure you play a significant role in America's future. Assemble your regiments, arm them and set out to meet the enemy in some of the most famous battles from this iconic confrontation. Numbers will definitely not always be on your side and to find your way to victory you'll need to form a strategic battle plan and command your troops to outflank and outsmart your enemies.
Ultimate General: Civil War can be bought on Steam for 29.99$. The game is in the Early Access state.
I never played the original Ultimate General: Gettysburg but after seeing the trailer for Ultimate General: Civil War, I was highly excited to get my hands on it and play a general in the iconic Civil War. I do need to mention that I was given a pre-release build that was not entirely complete. I encountered a few bugs and the game manual was not yet populated with any content which made the learning curve a bit steeper, however, these should be corrected with the full version of the game.
Let's start at the beginning. Before being introduced to your men, you are charged with making a few selections, each of which impacts your journey. Are you considered a tactician, strategist or logistician? Did you gain your military experience as part of the artillery, infantry or cavalry? And finally, as strange as this may sound, are you seeking a career in business, politics or a lifelong service in the military? Each of these selections will provide their own benefits such as adding some army organisational skills or increasing your reconnaissance abilities. Once this is done, you sit on top of a high wall and must decide which side to fall down to, the side of the Confederates or the Union.
I couldn't know which of these options would best suit my play style having never played the game before, but a large number of combinations to be made here should make for a different experience each time you play the game. Choosing which side to support was the only really significant option at this time as that would impact which side of each battlefield you'd be standing on in each mission. Once you've decided what kind of general you're going to be, you may start customising your army and outfitting the men. Regiments may consist of four different unit types, infantry, skirmishers, cavalry and artillery, each of which has their own set of weapons to be purchased from the armoury.
Building your army means forming a corps from several regiments of the above-mentioned unit types. Artillery is pretty self-explanatory although the others may be difficult to discern. From my experience infantry consisted of up to 1500 troops who moved incredibly slowly but could deal a lot of damage. Skirmishers were smaller groups that could be used for reconnaissance or to outflank the enemy but their low numbers meant they couldn't do much in terms of damage. Cavalry were the quickest and ideal units for charging down groups of soldiers.
There's also a resupply cart that follows your soldiers around and provides them with ammunition. The cart has an area of effect so as long as your soldiers remain within that area they should always have ammo available. There are also numerous weapons to arm your soldiers with and Game-Labs really did their homework with the info provided on the rifles and cannons so history nuts will have a ball going through the armoury.
After feeling that my soldiers were ready to storm in and tear down the gates of hell itself, I finally proceeded to the map where I would find my battle orders. Generally, you have two types of missions, attack and defend. Attacking presented you some options since you had to figure out what the best plan of action would be, where you'd have the best cover, or how you'd be able to outflank the enemy without being outflanked yourself, that sort of thing. Defending on the other hand mostly had you setting your soldiers in the most strategic spot and waiting for the enemy to run out of troops. The gameplay tries to be accurate to real events and as such you can expect slow troop movements and long times between firing while they reload their muskets. Fortunately, there is a speed multiplier which allows you to speed things up when not much is happening. The strategic decisions you can make include having your army hide in a forest which will make them more difficult to spot and also provide them with some cover when being fired upon. Standing on top of a hill provides better vision and you are also able to station your troops at a defensive station such as a small town where they'd fire at the enemy from within the structures. However, there are no alternate formations to help your soldiers be more effective in open battle, and a regiment may only focus on one enemy at a time instead of having the soldiers split to fire ahead as well as at the cavalry that just flanked them from behind.
Handing out orders is a simple process, you simply select the soldiers you wish to command and right-click on an area to move to or an enemy to fire upon. It's also possible to map out a route for them to take to a location in case you wish to avoid certain areas in between. Then you have the options to order troops to hold fire, retreat or charge. However, I did have some difficulties keeping my armies in check. After ordering my troops to fire on one enemy I often found them randomly deciding to change their focus to another. This meant that they spent precious time rearranging their formation to point to the new enemy they wish to shoot at, only to then change their minds again and turn back to the original target. I also often found my troops charging at enemies without me issuing a charge order which ended in half of them being killed before reaching enemy troops and the rest perishing shortly after.
Design and visuals
The first thing you might notice from the screenshots is that none of them really get close to the action. That's because you can't scroll in any closer than this, which is quite a shame because the visuals are one of the best things about this game. The battlefields are really good looking with lifelike forests and fields of various colours and shapes. The rivers look solid which is a pity, but water has always been notoriously difficult to recreate graphically so we may forgive them for this. After a battle, the field will be strewn with dead bodies and artillery craters which look fantastic.
The audio follows in the footsteps of the visual design in being rather excellent. There is a soundtrack playing in the background which fades away as soon as the action starts. Other than that you'll hear frequent shouts from the soldiers, gunfire and explosions. The audio doesn't have a wide variety but that which has been included works incredibly well.
I can see why the original game was so popular and Ultimate General: Civil War is set to follow in the same footsteps.
The scenery is incredibly well designed and creates some spectacular battlefields where you can relive these historic fights. The gameplay during the war is simple enough with a few additional command buttons available for some added control. The exclusion of base building as you'd traditionally find in RTS games might put some people off but that's not what this game is about, it's about recreating historic battles just as they happened, not spamming out endless droves of units until the enemy surrendered. Fortunately, you do have the added option of managing your armies between battles.
Ultimate General: Civil War is definitely not a traditional strategy game but it brings with it some unique elements that carve out space for it in the RTS genre. The gameplay is notably slower than in most RTS games which will be a letdown for some and a plus for others depending on their play styles. The learning curve is a little steep but if you were a fan of the first game, then the sequel will definitely be worth a look.