Shattered Union Xbox
Published by 2K Games
Developed by PopTop Software
Release Date: Out Now
Shattered Union, an introduction.
With the Xbox 360 almost upon us it's good to see that there's plenty of life still left in the original console. The Xbox has had some great games over the last few years but if the console is guilty of one thing it's not having enough variation, with some genres being neglected altogether. Turn-based war games for instance haven't made an appearance at all to my knowledge. Until now that is.
What's the game about?
Shattered Union is the latest game from PopTop Software, the developers of Railroad Tycoon 2 & 3 as well as Tropico on the PC. Shattered Union is a turn-based war game, based around a fictional US Civil War. In Shattered Union the US is split into 6 factions (Pacifica, Great Plains Federation, California Commonwealth, The Republic of Texas, The Confederacy and New England Alliance) as well as a European Union faction, and you'll play as any one of these and battle it out to gain control of the US. The game allows you to play a one-off battle in Skirmish mode, a single-player Campaign mode as well as offering Xbox Live and System Link games.
What's good about the game?
As we've already hinted Shattered Union is a unique experience for Xbox gamers. Being able to play a turn-based war game on the console makes a refreshing change from the many sports, FPS and driving games that arrive on the Xbox. What makes this even better is that the battles themselves are actually very enjoyable. Essentially you have a hex-based battlefield and in true PC war game fashion you'll move your units and then the AI enemy will move their units and so forth. Battles are also familiar in that the attacker will attack and if the defender has any 'health' left after the attack it will then make its own counter attack. The units in the game are all modern military units of sorts and range from basic infantry such as militia to the B2 stealth bomber. Strategy conventions such as the fog of war are present and the terrain does have a bearing on how the combat plays out. Before a battle begins you're told what the victory/defeat requirements are. You'll have set locations on a map that are worth a set amount of objective points and you'll have to have a certain amount of objective points (or stop the enemy from having a certain amount of objective points) in order to avoid defeat and losing the territory. During the game you'll have a political reputation which is affected by your actions on the battlefields. Basically the more destructive you are with buildings and landmarks the more of a negative reputation you'll earn. There are a variety of special powers in the game and the ones you'll have available to you depend on your political reputation, which puts an interesting twist on the game play.
What's not so good about the game?
The most disappointing aspect of Shattered Union is that it doesn't have any kind of diplomacy options. There are no diplomatic deals or forming alliances or signing treaties and this takes a lot away from the game. Why not throw in some carefully crafted enemy leaders and give each faction some personality? Why not add a little diplomacy and a bit of Alpha Centauri/Civilization style faction leader conflicts and friendships? There's a lot that could have been done to make the strategy map aspect of the game much more worthwhile. As it stands it's basically a screen for deciding which territory you'll attack next as well as giving you the opportunity to arrange your armies. The battles are enjoyable and will certainly be appreciated by gamers that like turn-based war games. I daresay some will notice how the AI doesn't always appear to be as ruthless as it could be (even on the highest of the three difficulty levels) but for the most part this doesn't spoil the experience and once you tire of the AI, you can always play against human opposition.
How does it look?
Turn-based war games aren't known for looking wonderful and Shattered Union does nothing to change this. The battle map graphics are fairly rudimentary but are easily good enough for a game of this nature. The vehicles and aircraft etc. are oversized compared with the landmarks and civilian areas but like in other war games, this is essential to make them easy to see. I would have preferred the option to switch to having icons instead of the actual vehicles to make the units even easier to see when the camera is zoomed out but sadly this option hasn't been included. Battles are quite basic in that you'll see your unit attacking (or being attacked by) the enemy unit. The unit status is represented by a 'health' bar in a kind of Advance Wars/Fire Emblem style. The explosions and other effects are quite basic really but they do get the job done. The presentation of the game on the whole (and particularly on the strategy map) does appear to be lacking, which is a shame because underneath the rather basic exterior lies an enjoyable strategy game.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Shattered Union could have been better for deaf gamers. The opening cutscene isn't subtitled which is unfortunate as it describes the background to the initial state of the fictional US. The 3 tutorials that explain how to play the game aren't subtitled either and this makes them useless for deaf gamers, which is very disappointing to say the least. The main game shouldn't cause too many problems though. When on the strategy map all the information is shown visually through the use of text and icons. On starting a battle the victory/defeat conditions are shown in text so again you'll have no problems with these.
It was a brave move bringing a traditional turn-based war game to the Xbox and both 2K Games and PopTop Software deserve a great deal of credit for giving Xbox gamers something refreshingly different. Whilst I have very few complaints with the battles, the strategy map portion of the game is inadequate to say the least and could do with a large overhaul to make the game a more worthwhile experience. It's also a shame the game isn't fully subtitled but apart from the opening movie and the tutorials not being subtitled, there's little to cause deaf gamers any problems. If you're looking for an enjoyable turn-based war game experience then Shattered Union is a good choice but it needs more substance to make it the experience it deserves to be.
Overall Game Rating: 7.0/10
Deaf Gamers Classification:
(Click the letter or here for details)
Shattered Union is a breath of fresh air from the usual stuff we see for the Xbox and war gamers will be pleased with how the battles play out. However in terms of presentation, it falls short and the strategy map aspect of the game is quite poor and provides no diplomatic options and generally lacks charm.