American Conquest Fight Back Review

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Graphics: 7.5
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : 7.5
Overall : 7.7
Review by Erin Ellis

In the increasingly homogenized real-time strategy genre, the only differences between games are sometimes superficial. A good RTS game needs to provide an innovative, well-balanced and entertaining experience to capture the attention of a notoriously anal-retentive and cerebral sect of gamers.



A recent entry into the crowded RTS field is CDV’s “stand-alone expansion pack” American Conquest: Fight Back. You do not need a copy of the original American Conquest in order to play this iteration. Fight Back makes a valiant attempt to provide a visually satisfying, historically accurate game that also provides gamers with grand, fingernail-chomping battles. Success is rarely total, for while Fight Back provides a decent amount of entertainment, there are a few imbalances that gamers will start to notice, and these hiccups will eventually detract from the overall experience.

Fight Back offers the usual array of gameplay options: campaigns, single-mission scenarios, multiplayer and random maps. However, there are also tactical Battlefield scenarios that allow you to become more familiar with the large-scale engagements that are the rule of the game.



These tactical scenarios provide you with pre-set groupings of units and simple objectives that force you to exercise the battlefield operations lobe of your brain. Though challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the game, persistence will most likely pay off when you delve into the campaigns. Fight Back provides you with opportunities to fight extremely large battles with up to 16,000 units onscreen. The sheer scale of some of these engagements is a definite departure from the typical RTS formula.

With 50 new units added to the host of unit types from the original game, Fight Back offers a wide variety of tactical maneuvers. In a defensive situation, you can set your ranged musketeers in the front line, backed up by pikemen, and have them hold their fire until they can see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. After the first volley, quickly move in your pikemen while your musketeers reload. If you’re not overly sentimental about your pikemen, order your musketeers to fire another volley into the enemy while they’re engaged with your pikemen. Now, as the enemy starts to break, charge them with your cavalry and finish the route. This tactical element of Fight Back’s gameplay is its strength, and it’s what sets it apart from many other RTS titles.



I freely admit that the first time I heard a volley of muskets I jumped a little. The sounds within the game are good though limited. The music is engaging enough, but it can start to feel a little repetitive, so you have the option to toggle it off. It’s inevitable that you’ll feel the music is repetitive when you’re playing a game that could potentially provide so many hours of gameplay.

Spread throughout different periods of history and dealing with up to 17 unique nations (5 have been added since the original game), Fight Back includes 8 new campaigns. Spanning the German search for El Dorado to the Tlingits revolt against Russian colonists in Alaska, they will provide you with the standard palette of RTS missions: jungle crawls, conquer and defend. Each campaign provides quite a history lesson in the form of text with a voice-over narrative at the start of each mission. If you’re not much into book-learning, you can skip these little lectures. I found them to be rather lacking in true historical detail. Where are the revelations about the Europeans mangling natives who did not fill their gold quota every day? I mean, really! Each mission takes place on a 2D map containing a rich topography, optional quests. For instance, you can ally yourself with neutral tribes in order to trade resources or purchase the services of military units.



I have nothing against 2D graphics. To be honest, there are 2D offerings that excite me more than some 3D creations these days. Fight Back offers vivid and colorful 2D environments presented in a ¾ isometric view. The terrain is varied and tactically significant. There are two camera options: one close-up and one higher level. Now, while the environments are colorful and rich, they are the type of maps that are conducive to losing units. If you happen to leave an ungrouped military unit or a peasant in a grove of trees, good luck finding him. That unit will most likely sit out the conquest of North America picking daisies and scratching himself. There are ways to identify idle peasants, but it requires selecting a 'dwelling’ and then clicking on another icon. That’s two clicks too many in my book; which brings me to the bad news.

Too much micro-management is a bad thing in a true RTS. If you like micro-management, you’re more likely to enjoy one of the Civilizations or Total War games. Empire building sims are a blast. I’m partial to them myself. However, real-time games containing enemies who constantly attack are not suited for an excess of resource and unit management. This necessity quickly becomes frustrating and ultimately a serious deterrent to proceeding through the game.


Five different resources are a bit excessive for a game like Fight Back. Each of these resources requires a structure of some sort and peasants to harvest the material. I appreciate the developer’s attempt to convey a realistic picture of the world and its vagaries during this time period, but these attempts ultimately interfere with the gameplay; a capital sin.

If I have to make more than two clicks or keystrokes in order to start producing a military unit, I am going to quickly become annoyed. Fight Back requires you to create a peasant, send that peasant inside a structure such as a fort, then, select the fort and select which variety of military unit into which you would like to turn that lowly serf. I’m sorry. That’s too much. Even with hotkeys and rally points, it’s too much. I would much rather spend my time sending out scouts, forging diplomatic relations and engaging in tactical maneuvers than clicking away, trying to produce one unit of cannon fodder.


Granted, you have the option to pause the action and then give orders to your troops and buildings, but this just interrupts the flow of the game, and it ultimately ends up feeling like a bit of a band-aid. For my part, I would rather maintain the tension of a real-time game.

Of course, if you’re looking for tension-filled games, there are a few multiplayer options available including the new Battlefield mode. Offering wider appeal to tactical strategy fans and their ilk, this new gameplay wrinkle should entice more people onto the internet.


Conclusion:

Fight Back was obviously crafted with large-scale tactical battles in mind. The unit types are numerous, and historically accurate. The AI is solid as well, so I find it a bit of a contradiction that players would be required to spend so much unnecessary time on base, unit and resource management. It detracts from the core strength of the game. In a way, the developer has undercut themselves. If not for this imbalance, I feel that the American Conquest series is very close to breaking into the first rank of RTS games with its own unique take on the genre.


American Conquest: Fight Back offers a somewhat different experience within the saturated RTS genre. Unfortunately, it does not offer an overly satisfying experience, for while it is rife with large-scale battles, containing literally thousands of units, it also contains a lot of superfluous micro-management that just does not quite fit in a game of this variety.