This turn-based strategy game was released in 1995 by Empire Interactive Entertainment, and depicts the entire American civil war. The game has both a campaign mode, where you get to lead the side of your choice to victory, and a scenario mode in which you can fight individual, tactical battles. After choosing what kind of game you want, you'll be taken to the realism screen, where you can set the difficulty/realism for the game. There are nine different realism factors, with five different settings each, so in essense you have 45 different difficulty levels to choose from.
Unfortunately the scenario mode isn't much to speak of, since it only includes four battles (Bull Run, Wilson Creek, Mill Spings and Shiloh), and on top of that the battles really aren't that interesting; Your divisions are represented by banners on the map, unless you zoom all the way in, in which case you'll be presented with ugly animations. You can choose to attach or detach divisions from the command chain as you see fit. Having them all attached gathers them around you commander and enables you to move them all at once, but detaching them gives you much more tactical flexibility. Unfortunately the battles take place in realtime, and the clock ticks fast, which means you won't have time to command a lot of individual divisions around if your army is large. Because of this, it is very easy to lose control of what is going on, and it generally ends in a lot of confusion (not to mention defeat).
The campaign mode is where the game really gets interesting, since you now have control over your nation and not just your army. The majority of the campaign takes place on the strategic map screen, which shows a map of the eastern part of the united states. From here you get to decide what your cities produce and where your armies and ships go. As in the battle mode, you can attach or detach your divisions and brigades from their commanders, so you have a choice of spreading your armies out to cover more ground or assembling them in one place to strengthen them. You also have the choice to replace commanders as you see fit and you can create new armies and brigades if you have built enough divisions to do it. All your commanders come from your commander pool, which consists entirely of historical commanders, each with different strenghts and weaknesses, and putting the right man in charge can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Your goal in the campaign mode is to amass victory points, and when you have enough, you win. You gain victory points by capturing cities, both those of your opponent and those who start out as neutral. How many victory points you need depends on the difficulty setting. As noted above the campaign game is turnbased, you give your orders by night and they are carried out by day. But even though it's turnbased, you don't have time to sit back and relax, carefully pondering what to do next, since there is a time limit. On the higher difficulty levels, you'll won't have time to issue all the orders you would like, and you will have to prioritize, while on the lower levels you'll have plenty of time to come up with a good strategy. What this game sorely needs is some kind of ledger that can tell you how many resources each city has available, and what those cities are producing at the moment. Even on the low difficulty levels, where you have plenty of time, it gets very tedious to check all your cities (there are a lot of cities in this game) each turn to see if they have amassed enough resources to built that infantry division you want.
Moving your armies around can be confusing at first, untill you get the hang of it. Railroads and rivers are very important, as they can greatly speed up your armies if they use them, but of course you can't transport troops along a railroad or river if you don't control it, which means that controlling important stretches of railroads and rivers become imperative to your war effort. When your armies encounter the enemy two things can happen; if either of the armies is garrisoned in a city, the result will be automatically calculated and you'll just be told how it turned out, but if the two armies meet outside a city, you'll be asked if you want to play the battle yourself. If you choose to do so, the game will enter battle mode, excactly like in the scenarios, and you then have to do your best to defeat your enemy. Luckily you can just ask the computer to calculate the result leaving you to get on with the game. When ships go into battle the result will also be calculated automatically.
As mentioned earlier, there are many different levels of difficulty, which means you can make the game as simple or as hard as you want to. Or at least, that's what it should mean. Unfortunately the AI is not very good, and winning the game with either side, on any difficulty level, isn't very difficult once you get acquainted with the interface and game mechanics. The difficulty level still matters, though, as it decides how many different types of buildings and troops you can build, how well your troops respond to your orders and many other things, that can help make your game more complex, if not really difficult.
So how are the graphics? Well, as mentioned above, the graphics in the battle mode are pretty bad, and unfortunately they aren't much different in the campaign mode. Your armies are still represented by banners, and you cities are represented by squares. But in the campaign mode, the graphics at least serve their purpose. Although they aren't excactly pretty, they do make it easy to figure out what's going on, where your armies and ships are at, where they're going, where your major cities are, etc.
The sound is little bit more interesting, because although there are almost no sound effects there is quite a sound track. The game's playlist is full of authentic music from that period, and although the quality isn't great (midi), it still adds some flavour and helps get you into that civil war mood the game is aiming for. You can tell that the designers have done what they can to make this game as authentic as possible; besides the music, and the authentic generals, the game features an encyclopedia, which is accessible from the main menu. It contains many interesting tidbits about the civil war, including profiles on many of the leaders of that time, newspaper articles from the civil war, and it even contains lyrics to all the songs on the playlist, allowing you to sing along to songs such as "Roll Alabama Roll" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom", if you please.
All in all, this game has too many flaws to be recommended to anyone but those with an interest in the civil war, but if you're one of them, you might find it to be an entertaining game, at least for a while. However, it should be noted that a number of patches were released for the game, and that those patches corrects a number of the flaws mentioned in this review. Most noticeably the graphics have been given a major overhaul, making it look like a completely different game (in a good way). These patches are not applied to the game since they break the battle mode of the game. However, they can be found in the extras section on this page, so if you don't care for the battle mode, go ahead and apply the patches simply by unzipping the patch archive to whatever directory you put The Civil War in. It should also be noted that the screenshots are from the unpatched version, and the review applies to the unpatched version.
The final score for the game is three out of five. I would have given it two, since it just has too many flaws, but the patches pull it up to a three, by correcting a number of those flaws. Enjoy!
Be sure to check out this game's extras section for the manual, hints and - most important - the patches!
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