Shattered Union Hands-On - Civil War on the Xbox
We get our hands on the near-final build of the Xbox version of this turn-based strategy game.
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Shattered Union is a game that takes the turn-based style of gameplay found in the popular Advance Wars series and combines it with a Tom Clancy-style technothriller plot about the United States shattering into different regional factions and a second civil war erupting. It's definitely a cool premise, and the thought of pitting modern-day tanks against attack helicopters is exciting. With Shattered Union shipping later this month, we got our hands on the latest code to see how the Xbox version of the game is looking at this late stage.
The premise of Shattered Union is this: After a controversial presidential election polarizes the country and a nuclear explosion destroys Washington D.C., the US splits apart into six factions, organized along geographical and cultural lines. To make things even worse, those meddling Old Europe nations deploy military forces to the ruins of Washington, D.C. for "peacekeeping" purposes. Your mission in the campaign game is to choose a faction and battle it out to reunite the country by force. You do so by purchasing and maintaining your faction's military force, and choosing either to invade other territories or defend your own when your neighbors invade you.
Basically, Shattered Union is going for simple yet deep gameplay. This is a hex-based, turn-based game in which you get to move your various military units across the map in an effort to destroy the other side's units. And, in many ways, the relationship between units makes sense, even if you're not a student of military tactics. For instance, tanks will wallop pretty much any other ground unit, but they're vulnerable to other tanks and helicopter gunships. Helicopters, however, are dead meat versus antiaircraft vehicles--but then, AA is vulnerable to pretty much everything. Infantry are great against other infantry and thin-skinned vehicles, but they're vulnerable to artillery, and so on.
We played as Pacifica (the Pacific Northwest corner of the country), and invaded Northern California for a showdown with the California Commonwealth. Prior to the battle, you have to decide how many units to bring with you. This is important, because any units that you commit to one battle are unavailable for the rest of the turn. This means that if you commit all of your units to invading a territory and then another faction attacks you, all your units will be unavailable to defend, because they're already in battle somewhere else.
Because Shattered Union is set in a hypothetical, near-future setting, you'll have many of the weapons that the modern-day US military has at its disposal. This includes M1 tanks, Apache helicopters, stealth bombers, and more. There's even older equipment, to represent the aging arsenals of the National Guard. You can purchase new units each turn, but, as expected, the more modern stuff is way more expensive than the older stuff, so preserving your force in battle is doubly important. If you manage to successfully conquer a territory but lose 90 percent of your armor doing so, you're going to be at a complete disadvantage for the rest of the game. This makes husbanding your resources very important, and you have to think in both the long term and short term in this game.
The Xbox version of Shattered Union is darn near identical to the PC version, with the only notable differences being that the controls are obviously redefined to work on the gamepad, and it's not as sharp or as crisp in appearance as the PC version. The controls are fairly intuitive, and they translate well to the Xbox's controller. The left thumbstick lets you move the cursor around so you can select units and give them orders. The right thumbstick controls the camera, and you can move it left and right, as well as zoom in for a tight look or zoom out for the "big picture." Meanwhile, the triggers let you rotate the camera so you can swing it around. It'll only take a couple of minutes for you to pick up everything you need to know to play the game.
At this point, it's hard not to like Shattered Union. The game features a cool military plot, along with some elegant and deep gameplay. This is very much a beer-and-pretzels-style wargame that casual gamers can enjoy, and it's got a cool premise that should appeal to strategy and military fans alike. We'll see how it does when the game ships later this month.