Review: History Channel: Bull Run
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Like The Total War series
Bull Run is a real time strategy game. This means that the
game runs continuously; the only pauses are the ones dictated
by the gamer. This creates a realistic feel to the game, and
a sense of urgency but it also means that control cannot be
too involved and the game cannot be too massive in scale.
If that happens either the player becomes overwhelmed by all
the info or tired out from the continuous clicking.
THC: Bull Run actually strikes a fairly
good balance with a lot of this. At the lower levels (brigade
battery level), it is possible to control the game and micromanage
to your hearts content. You can move all your sub-units into
independent locations to set up an appropriate crossfire situation
or to protect your flanks from enemy attack. Getting your
troops to hold fire can be difficult at times but you can
change your parameters to keep them from wasting ammo.
Troops can move a variety of ways.
To travel quickly and to prevent your troops from becoming
fatigued, the best way to move is in column formation using
roads to get there quickly and efficiently. The problem of
course is that your troops are in traveling mode
and that means that you had better make sure your route is
secure before you set out.
Likewise you can deploy your troops
into a variety of combat formations and move that way but
your troops will become tired and their effectiveness will
be diminished possibly at the time you need it the most. Combat
formations allow for effective combat utilization but there
are some problems with the system. For one, the way you get
troops to face in battle is somewhat clunky and irritating;
in general you can only have the troops rotate a small percentage
at a time. While the AI forces can turn and initially fire
on you almost immediately, you spend your time clicking on
the facing icon trying to get your troops turned to combat
This probably brings up the only real
major problem I have with the interface. In games like Close
Combat you have the ability to click on leaders and give them
direct orders. It would be nice to be able to click (or right
click) on a battalion or brigade commander and actually give
them an order. Instead you have to click on the commander
and then find the order in the list of available orders below.
In general this doesnt cause too many problems but in
some instances, like the one listed above, where a quick response
is really needed, you may find the interface frustrating.
This is probably a good time to bring
up the AI. I have to admit that the AI in this game is not
only above average, but in some instances reaches into the
superior level in the game. I am extremely impressed with
some of the AI capabilities. When enemy forces encounter your
troops they just dont rush in pell mell and take a beating.
I have seen multiple times the tactic of fixing the enemy
in place and then using fire and maneuver to actually try
to flank my troops. The enemy AI is patient and tries to find
the best place to attack or defend. On the higher difficulty
levels you will have your hands full trying to keep your troops
in the fight. On the defensive they will reposition themselves
appropriately to face the biggest threat. You can win, even
on the more difficult levels, but you need to be smart with
your troop movements otherwise you might end up with a nasty
Friendly AI is similar, although troops
under your command at times dont seem to think or show
the individual action you think they should. For example,
I have had troops under my command fail to face the proper
way in the face of enemy fire while at other times the seem
to react not only appropriately but brilliantly to
an enemy maneuver that I missed.
In all honesty, based upon the historic
sides involved the AI actually is a little too good. The troops
do not appear to be the green rookies that really fought in
the 1st Bull Run, rather they appear to act like battle hardened
soldiers, standing firm when I would have thought normal men
would have run. Yes, you can get enemy troops to break (and
your troops can break as well) but the troops hold formation
probably better than their real life counterparts. In addition,
there is no domino effect on your troops.
During Bull Run the losses that the
Union Forces took caused a general route of forces all the
way back to Washington. In THC: Bull Run separate battalions
and brigades continue to hold their position despite the crumbling
of their flanks. I am sure a lot of this is due to the designers
intent; I mean who would want to play a game where there is
a very good chance that your whole army will desert if the
conflict gets too hard. It would be realistic but the challenge
may be more than most people would want.
The game varies in overall complexity,
ranging from brigade command all the way up to full army command.
Keeping control of your troops is relatively easy while under
smaller brigade or even division commands but once you start
getting into control of corps or army level units, it becomes
much more difficult. All units have some level of independent
control but unfortunately you cannot issue orders to your
subordinate commanders to attack in a certain direction or
to defend along such and such line.
To be honest, there are no large tactical
games out there that really do this well. Most games are just
like THC: Bull Run, they rely on the individual to make decisions
down to the battalion deployment level. While this caters
to the micromanager in most of us wargamers, it really is
unrealistic. In real life a corps commander would order his
division commander to do something, he wouldnt specifically
place the battalions in a certain area or even really try
to get down to the lower levels as in this game.
Believe it or not this is not a slam
on the game. Most people want control down to the lowest level
and this game brings it. I think the real problem arises when
you are trying to control what amounts to 20 - 40 different
battalions, artillery and such while reacting to enemy forces
that pop up. In the civil war troops didnt move that
fast so in general you have time to react but I I think this
scope of game wouldnt translate well to faster moving
combat like WW2 or probably even WW1.
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