Despite some flaws with its strategic game, Shattered Union is a fun, turn-based wargame that anyone can pick up and enjoy.
- Cool premise of a modern-day American civil war
- Very easy to pick up, yet also offers challenging gameplay
- Lots of replayability.
- Strategic portion of the game lacks depth
- AI factions don't gang up on the leader like they should
- Easy to get mired down.
It's easy to dismiss Shattered Union as a clone of the hyperpopular Advance Wars games found on Nintendo's handheld systems. Yes, there are certainly similarities to Advance Wars. For example, Shattered Union is a turn-based combat game that features simple yet deep mechanics that are easy to pick up but hard to master, just like Advance Wars. But Shattered Union feels more like a spiritual heir to Panzer General, the great PC wargame of the early '90s that helped define the "beer-and-pretzels" style of wargaming. Panzer General was a huge hit because it offered elegant and simple gameplay that belied a considerable amount of strategic depth and replaybility. In other words, it was a game that just about anyone could pick up and enjoy, from the complete newcomer to the grizzled wargame veteran. The same could almost be said of Shattered Union, because it's a lightweight wargame that anyone can play and enjoy. In fact, Shattered Union gets the combat so right that it's a pity that the rest of the game doesn't measure up; otherwise, this could have been a classic in the making. As it is, it's an enjoyable, though somewhat flawed, strategy game with a ton of potential.
The problem with most modern-day military wargames is that it's tough to find a fitting opponent for the United States and its military. So the solution in Shattered Union is to pit the United States against itself. Thanks to a deeply divided electorate (sound familiar?) and some dastardly Russian sabotage, the United States shatters into six regional factions, including Pacifica, the California Commonwealth, the Great Plains Federation, and the New England Alliance. To further complicate things, the European Union "invades" the smoking ruins of Washington D.C. (destroyed by a terrorist nuclear bomb) to restore order, thus setting the stage for the mother of all civil wars. Your job: Take control of a faction and reunite the shattered union by force. At your disposal is an arsenal of modern-day weapons--M1 tanks, B2 stealth bombers, Apache gunships, and infantry units, as well as a few hypothetical ones. And while the American factions tend to have the same arsenals (the Europeans, naturally, have their own gear), each faction does have at its disposal its own unique units and special powers. These special powers vary, but they come in both "good" and "evil" types, and you gain access to them by your political reputation in the game--but we'll get to that a bit later.
Shattered Union takes place on two levels. The first is the strategic map, which divides the country into territories, though not necessarily states. Each faction starts with a handful of territories, which generate revenue that can be used to purchase new equipment or repair existing ones. During each turn, you can manage your units, and you must decide whether to attack a neighboring territory, or whether to defend a territory when invaded. Whether you go on offense or defense, you have to allocate forces to that battle; those forces will be unavailable for other battles later that turn, so it's important to keep a reserve, in case someone counterattacks you in a different territory.
When you go into battle, you have the option of letting the computer automatically deploy your forces or doing the honor yourself. Your can have a wide variety of units at your command, and each has a role to play. Infantry are cheap and numerous, though relatively lacking in firepower and protection. Stick them in the confines of a city, though, and they might be tough to dig out. Engineers can lay mines and other obstacles to try and channel advancing enemies. Light armor have decent firepower and speed, making them great scouts, but they're vulnerable. Heavy armor are the kings of the battlefield, but they're slow and expensive. Antiaircraft units are worth their weight in gold, because they may be your only defense against fighters, bombers, and helicopters, but that also makes them a priority target for the enemy. Artillery can pummel most light units, but they're also high on the target list for the enemy. Units can only attack once per turn, and when two units engage one another, the game shows only those units and the results of the battle. There's very much a rock-scissors-paper balance to the units, but that doesn't mean that combat turns out the same way every time. There are modifiers that can improve or decrease your odds of success (for instance, is the enemy unit dug in to the confines of a city while your units are exposed on the open land outside the city?), as well as just plain luck in the way the virtual dice roll.
Of course, the relationship between the units is important, but what's also cool in Shattered Union is how they relate to the battlefield. Basically, as you battle over chunks of America, the game keeps track and remembers everything that happens. Blow up a bridge and it'll stay destroyed in subsequent battles. Pummel a city to rubble and it'll remain rubble, should you happen to revisit that battlefield. That also brings up an important feature in the game: political reputation. If you inflict too much collateral damage (by, say, leveling a city with a B-2 bomber to kill some infantry), then your political reputation will take a hit, as the global media instantly transmits your deeds around the world. This will affect you in battle several ways. For one, it may result in more partisan units appearing to battle against you, and these units, though extremely vulnerable, serve as excellent scouts, and more importantly, canon fodder that can make a unit waste its attack for that turn. More importantly, your reputation will affect your special powers, which are abilities that are unique to each faction. The better your reputation, the more "good" your special abilities, such as being able to heal units or to extend their visibility range. Conversely, the worse your reputation, the more "evil" abilities you can unlock, such as tactical nuclear cruise missiles and depleted uranium munitions for that extra punch.