Commander: Conquest of the Americas Impressions

The minds behind East India Company bring us another complex strategy game, complete with flashy ship combat.

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Nitro Games' business is deep strategy. We saw its complex vision come to life in last year's East India Company, and now it's applying its know-how to the Americas. Commander: Conquest of the Americas takes place in the Western hemisphere in the 1500s and features larger battles and deeper economic management than the developer's last game. Commander seems like the kind of game you'd lose hours to at a time, but we asked lead designer Kim Soares to share more details about this intriguing strategy title anyway.

The first half of the demo focused on the overhead strategic map. Soares had established several colonies at this point, from Canada all the way down to the northern coast of South America. From here, he brought up the game's menus to show us how deep the management aspect of the game could get. You will need to balance a number of important facets of your developing empire. For example, you have several different building types to construct in your colonies, and they are split into three different categories: official government structures, morale-building structures like churches, and production facilities. You will automatically gather raw resources, but only when they exist within your colony's sphere of influence. As your influence expands, you may then gain access to materials, such as gold, that you couldn't access before that. When you have the right resources--say, coffee--you may then set up production chains to create consumable goods out of them.

Soares says that the interface may look intimidating at first but that it is actually quite easy to use. To impress upon us the game's user-friendliness, he pointed out that when you're setting up a complex trade route, the game will point out any problems with the route. In this instance, there was a gap in the route that would cause certain goods to build up because there was no place to deliver them on that particular route. This feedback allows you to compensate before the route even becomes active. The ease of use was matched by smooth visuals and map scrolling that made the game easy on the eyes during the demonstration.

As with East India Company, your advisors are an important part of your strategies. You will take advice from four different advisors: your royal advisor, your trade advisor, your military advisor, and the archbishop. These individuals will give you missions and offer advice, but you want to be careful not to get on their bad side. Your play style may not please every advisor, but you can still thrive even if you don't maintain an impeccable relationship with each one. For example, if you focus on military might and ignore religious concerns, the archbishop may not be too thrilled, but you can still lord over the high seas. But if you disappoint every advisor, your overall standing with them might drop precariously low. The game will offer you plenty of warnings if your advisors are in a perpetually lousy mood, and if you don't change your selfish ways, that could mean game over.

Naval warfare will provide the battlefield excitement. Whereas East India Company was limited to six-on-six battles, you can now control up to 15 vessels at once. You can manage your battles in strict real-time strategy fashion, by selecting ships and issuing commands, or you can take direct control of any vessel. This lets you micromanage every aspect of the battle, from the shot type you load into your cannons to the exact area of the enemy ship you wish to target. If you'd rather stick with the RTS view, you can create squads, which makes it easier to issue commands to multiple ships at once. No matter which gameplay style you choose, you'll want to zoom in toward your ships to check out the astounding detail on them. We saw crew members with limps shambling along the deck and marveled at the rich shadows and beautiful reflections. The water looks great, but it's also more than just pretty eye candy. The waves will affect the aim of your cannons, just as icebergs and high winds might also influence the course of battle.

Commander: Conquest of the Americas is about three pillars of gameplay: trading, management, and naval warfare. It looks like Nitro Games is poised to deliver on all three counts. The game is slated for a July 2010 release, but if more information is released before then, GameSpot will sail the high seas to bring it to you.

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