Imagine how the Civil War might have played out if the battle of Gettysburg had been fought with armored tanks and flying zeppelins instead of cannons and cavalry. Radioactive Software's inventive pairing of futuristic weaponry and historical 1860s-era warfare is enough to make Gettysburg: Armored Warfare's what-if combat scenarios an exciting prospect to explore. But the promising premise of this multiplayer-focused real-time strategy/third-person shooter hybrid falls apart almost immediately once you suit up and hit the battlefield. With its broken gameplay, graphical glitches, and missing design elements, Gettysburg: Armored Warfare feels painfully unfinished. While there's a shadow of a good game lurking beneath the myriad problems, the reality is that it's a disappointing mess in its current state.
A few head-scratchers pop up right from the get-go, like the fact that the cool plot setup is never explained or even directly referenced in the game. It's the year 2065, and history is poised to repeat itself when deteriorating relations among several states in the Union spark civil unrest and threaten to destroy the government. Around the same time, a freak Hadron Collider accident creates a temporal rift, allowing a general with ancestral ties to the Confederacy to return to the 1860s with modern-day technology in tow. This leads to an arms race as rival states ferry high-tech guns to the past in an attempt to win the war and rewrite history.
It seems absurd that you have to hunt around online to download and read the instruction manual to get any inkling of why Union and Confederate troops are duking it out with machine guns. It's an unfortunate oversight and a missed opportunity, considering the main appeal of the game hinges on its unique futuristic twist on American Civil War history. Figuring out controls and how to play without searching online is equally confusing, since there's no tutorial to speak of. You just have to dive in and experiment.
The online Army Skirmish matches have you building a custom army and hopping onto the battlefield as either the Union or Confederate forces. You're free to conduct your troops by issuing traditional RTS commands with the mouse, or you can drop down at any time to take direct control over a single unit in third-person view to blast away at foes at ground level while the AI takes over the rest of your soldiers. You don't lose your troops permanently when they die; fallen units respawn automatically at your starting camp. Matches continue until one side runs out of ticket points, which are lost every time units are killed and also slowly leak away over time as your opponents capture more territory.
Deathmatch mode, the more enjoyable and functional of the two available play options, changes this up slightly by ditching the RTS controls and focusing on the third-person aspect in bigger matches for up to 64 players. Either mode can also be played offline against the computer AI, but whether you're fighting bots or fellow humans, Gettysburg: Armored Warfare's numerous issues manifest quickly.
Managing your troops from afar via RTS commands is ugly business in more ways than one. At a distance, battlefields are a muddled sea of dark, drab colors, and the touchy camera angles and hypersensitive zoom make getting a good angle on the action a constantly jarring, frustrating struggle. Selecting groups of units and issuing commands also brings up a ghastly network of neon-green lines that zigzag everywhere to obscure your view, but that's not even as offensive as the hamstrung RTS combat. Mousing over enemies brings up a "right click to attack" prompt, yet doing so does absolutely nothing. Your soldiers stand there twiddling their thumbs as they get mowed down, and the only way around this is to maneuver your group near enemies to trigger the AI's auto attack or drop into direct third-person control of a nearby unit. It's a broken system that saps all of the effectiveness and potential fun from the real-time elements.
Things fare slightly better when you take direct control of individual units on the ground. The third-person perspective is actually fun to dig into at first. It's the only portion of the game that feels like it works somewhat the way it's meant to. Slogging across the massive battlefields without the ability to run or engage a speed boost is a slow, tedious process, but enemy encounters do spark fleeting moments of excitement as guns start blazing. However, getting up-close and personal soon reveals other issues. While there's a satisfying mix of troop types to choose from--ranging from tanks, artillery, airships, and steamships to mounted cavalry, snipers, gunners, and specialists--they're wildly unbalanced and rather one-dimensional.
It's awesome that you can have 1860s-era forces fighting next to modern troops. The problem is that the older historical combatants are no match for their futuristic counterparts. For example, tanks can steamroll most opponents with ease, making quick work of cavalry and foot soldiers. The weapon system is half-baked too. Infantry carry different gear, like grenades, guns, and sabers. These armaments appear at random, and though it looks like there are multiple slots on the HUD for carrying more than one weapon at a time, the ability to pick them up and switch between them hasn't been implemented. It just isn't rewarding to play weaker units, and the impreciseness of many attacks means shots don't always line up or connect well even when you're rolling with the big guns.
The difference between playing as the North or the South is purely a cosmetic one, though units are visually appealing. A few of the four available battlefields also look sharp at times, at least when you don't run into graphical blips and bugs. At the ground level, AI-controlled foot soldiers phase right through stone walls and other obstacles like ghosts, while you get caught up on them and have to press a button to awkwardly volley over. Taking down zeppelins should be a dramatic affair, except that when they come plummeting out of the sky in a ball of flame, they actually phase through the ground and disappear rather than crash and explode. These quirks deaden the impact of third-person combat to an extent.
Gettysburg: Armored Warfare's biggest letdown is that it has some interesting ideas at play to match its neat premise, but doesn't come close to delivering on its potential. With more time to squash the bugs, flesh out the missing features, and tighten up the loose screws, this could be an enjoyable game. Since development and fine-tuning are ongoing postrelease, it might be worth checking this one out in a few months, but right now there are just too many problems and not enough online players to make it worth your time.