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PC Game Review - Take Command: 2nd Manassas


Take Command: 2nd Manassas (Developer: MadMinute games; Publisher: Paradox Interactive)

Review by John Barratt 

The first title in MadMinute's American Civil War RTS tactical-level series; Civil War Bull Run: Take Command 1861 was very well received by ACW gaming enthusiasts when it appeared last year. Not having played that game, I came to its successor completely fresh.

Installation went smoothly and easily.

My review copy had problems in loading its full manual , but it is a tribute to Manassas's excellent set of tutorials that within a couple of hours I was into the game, albeit making the same mistakes - getting lost in the woods etc – which a green brigade commander of 1862 might have done.

The game covers the whole 2nd Manassas campaign, from Cedar Mountain to Chantilly, as well as 2nd Manassas itself. Each action is represented by multiple scenarios, both historical and hypothetical, in which the player takes on the role of Confederate or Federal commanders from brigade to army level.

The first thing to strike one on loading a scenario is the excellence of the graphics. Even in low resolution these are excellent, whilst at higher resolution both the terrain and combat units seem at times almost like a Don Troiani painting come to life. Juggling the camera angle allows the player to move from a bird's eye view through to a ground level stance behind the firing line which displays the impact of combat in all its detail.

Almost as impressive are the sound effects. The background music is unobtrusive, and allows full scope for the wide array of other noises. Not only is the din of battle, from musket crackle to the terrifying whoosh of shells, captured effectively, but equally well done are the natural sounds of a hot June day in Virginia. The tension of awaiting attack or cautiously probing for an ambush in the hot summer woods, in an ominous silence broken by occasional bird song or the sound of distant firing catches much of the atmosphere of combat reality.

Even the effect of combat on the soldiers themselves is captured in a number of ways. The men of a green unit or one near to breaking will visibly begin to waver and become disordered, a clear sign for a wise commander to pull them out of line to recover if time will allow it.

The player interface is both intuitive and well designed. Mousing over the buttons brings up a concise explanation of their use. The AI provides a challenging game as an opponent, and also allows the player to decide to what extent he wishes to micromanage the actions of his troops. Subordinate commanders left under the control of the AI will tend to react in a similar way to their actual historical counterparts, whilst "routine" actions, such as loading and firing by individual units, are handled automatically, leaving the player free to concentrate on manoeuvres and tactics.

Particularly impressive is the handling of artillery. A player (or the AI) has a large number of movement and other options for each gun, down to the selection of the appropriate ammunition type for a particular situation.

As this player soon discovered, it is quite easy to lose one's way on the battlefield. An excellent feature is the detailed map which can be called up in each scenario, showing current dispositions of "friendly" forces, and of such enemy as have been spotted, together with roads, streams and other topographical features. The player will be issued orders and objectives at intervals by higher command, and use of the map is essential to ascertain one's bearings. Also invaluable is an Order of Battle of units under the player's command, with reports on the current state of each.

Gameplay speed is often a major factor in the success of an RTS product. In Manassas this is excellent, with troops reacting and moving at a realistic speed, and rarely too quickly for a player to lose control except in some hectic combat situations when this would likely happen in reality.

Serious gripes for the reviewer are very few. My only slightly raised eyebrow came when I noticed limbered up artillery, and infantry formations, moving through intact rail fences with no apparent delay or obstruction. But this is a very minor grouse, which has no significant impact on the game as a whole.

Conclusion

This was my first experience of the Take Command ACW series, and I was most impressed. Any gamer with a serious interest in the American Civil War will enjoy this game, and equally importantly, gain significant insights into the realities of Civil War tactical command and combat. As for myself, I'm putting in an order for the first game in the series, and eagerly looking forward for the next promised title – Shiloh . I will really get lost in the woods in that one!

System Specifications

Minimum
P-3- 1000
256 Ram
64Mb Direct X9 video card
1.3 HD space

Recommended
P4-3.0
2GB ram
256Mb Direct X9 video card

Reviewer's PC
P4 -3.20
1GB Ram
256 MB Direct X9 video card

Review by John Barratt (johnbarratt46@johnbarratt46.plus.com)



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