Shattered Union is the newest game from 2K Games and PopTop Software, makers of the Railroad Tycoon series. It’s also one of the first turn-based strategy games to come from a major publisher in quite some time.
The storyline is rather intriguing as well. In 2008, a very unpopular president is elected after a tie vote. Within a couple of years, civil unrest spikes to the point of domestic terrorist events, causing the full enactment of the Patriot Act with martial law going into effect in numerous parts of the country. In 2012, the Supreme Court steps in and throws out the nominations of several candidates from the less stable parts of the country, allowing the president to be re-elected. On his second inaugeration, someone detonates a low-grade nuclear device over Washington D.C., killing the president and most of Congress, throwing the line of succession completely open. The United States shatters into six distinct nation-states with the European Union stepping into the peacekeeper role. The goal, of course, is to reunited the United States under one flag.
This game is one that I was keenly interested in due to the storyline as well as the fact that it’s turn-based strategy. Shattered Union has a tough act to follow, however, with Civilization IV also coming out this year. Throwing that aside, however, is the game fun to play? That’s one of the major questions that I set out to answer in this review.
When someone thinks about turn-based strategy, they generally think about top-down maps, flat textures and images and that’s about it. Graphics usually aren’t considered an important part of the game, being left more for real-time strategy and first-person shooters.
Shattered Union does a good job at breaking this trend, using the fact that it’s also an Xbox title as an excuse to jazz up the graphics. The units and game-maps are all in 3D and beautifully rendered. One of the nice things is that instead of a flat map you’ve got a large map that you can zoom in and out of and even look at the ground in almost a 2/3 view where the terrain is really shown off. Each unit is detailed seperately and shows distinct levels of damage, with smoke and fire pouring out of mechanized units and infantry troops looking progressively more ragged.
The cutscenes are nice also, although the people don’t look very realistic. All and all though, that’s a minor complaint in the grand scale of things. Honestly speaking, the graphics are one of the best things in this game.
The actual voiceovers in the video clips are very good but aren’t stellar. Unfortunately, the voices are the brightest spot in the sound and music category. The music itself isn’t too bad, being suitably martial in nature. However, it gets somewhat repetitive after more than a few hours play and really doesn’t do anything as far as bringing the player further into the game.
Sound effects are average, each weapon and vehicle sounds different. Unfortunately, there’s no different sounds depending on the type of terrain that you’re going through, and what’s worse, there’s currently a bug in the game where if a troop moves after it has attacked, the attacking sound will sometimes continue to play over the movement sound. It’s very distracting if not downright annoying and drags the quality of the game down. Hopefully, however, this will be fixed in a future patch.
The controls in Shattered Union are pretty basic. Units are selected for movement, information and attack with the left mouse button while the right button deselects. Special attacks and airstrikes are also called by left-clicking on the appropriate icon. The only change lies with units with special attacks or when you’re wanting to attack the landscape itself, which is brought up with a press of the tab key.
This is one of the nice thing about doing a turn-based strategy game on a PC as opposed to a console, the controls tend to be very easy and intuitive. Shattered Union does nothing to mess with this formula, and it works here like it does everywhere else. Kudos for not fixing what wasn’t broken.
The basis for this game is a very good one. In 2008, a disputed election and tie vote places David Jefferson Adams into office, the most unpopular president in United States history. In 2010, increased unrest and even the creation of militias have caused an upsurge in domestic terrorism. In response to this, in 2011 the Homeland Security Act is created, which declares the west coast and certain other areas under martial law. In September of 2012, the Supreme Court disqualifies popular presidental candidates from several states. An ensuing sham election in November causes David Adams to be re-elected. On January 20, 2013, during President Adams’ inaguration, a low-yield nuclear weapon is detonated in Washington, D.C., killing the President and most of Congress. The nation soon fractures with California and Texas leading the charge. When the European Union steps in as peacekeepers, the second Civil War breaks out between the seven factions. Your goal in Shattered Union is to take one faction and lead them to ultimate victory, reuniting the United States in your own image.
There is campaign mode, skirmish mode and multiplayer. Campain mode is a standard turn-based strategy game with each turn lasting one game week. An interesting addition to the mix is the use of a Political Reputation slider. Every major action done in the game affects this. If you blow up a lot of scenery, especially landmarks, your reputation takes a dive. If you do what you can to protect and preserve, it rises. Your Political Reputation comes into play by unlocking various special abilities to use in the battles.
All of this sounds very good, unfortunately there’s an issue with the scale of things. There are only 24 territories on the map, representing the 48 contiguous states. Each territory can be won by only one battle in the area. This means that an area covering four or more states can change hands with only one battle. When you throw in the fact that many battles have less than 20 units on a side, it gets a bit silly.
The battles themselves are standard hex-based combat. A nice thing is seeing various towns and highways on the game map faithfully represented. The nearest ‘large’ town (100,000 people) to me is represented by two hexes, and an area about where I live (a town of 3,000 people) is represented by what appears to be a rest stop on the road. The highways are also true to life and it’s really nice to just look at the maps for a while.
As far as the gameplay itself, each week you have the option of repairing your units, buying more units which can be placed as needed, selling units, and attacking another territory. You can only attack one area per round, and when you deploy units to an area, they’re there for the duration. Things actually happen outside the map with the passing of weeks, including the Russian Federation annexing Alaska early-on in the game.
Another nice addition is the ability of units to gain experience and rank through battles, although having units survive battles can be highly difficult. Also, damage to terrain and cities is persistant and it can be interesting to look at a heavily populated area weeks into a game after fighting has gone all over it.
Skirmish mode allows you to play a tactical battle on any map with any options. You can change factions, starting money, powers, who attacks or defends, the opponent, map and attacking direction while setting this up. As far as multiplayer goes, there’s hot seat and LAN games as well as internet games. Unfortunately, at the time of writing there were no games available on Gamespy to play over a period of a week with multiple attempts at finding a game.
All in all, while the game has some interesting aspects and can be entertaining, the simple scale of battles in campaign mode, which should be considered the ‘meat’ of the game is a major drawback.
The good news is that the game is available for $30 out the door, which is definitely a nice price. Unfortunately, there are enough issues with the game design as well as minor bugs and a current lack of anyone to play multiplayer against to reccommend purchasing the game at this time.
Perhaps after a bug fix and enough people have had time to purchase the game, it might be worth playing for the multiplayer aspect. However, the timing also works against the game, with Civilization IV having come out just after Shattered Union. While the game isn’t bad at all, it simply isn’t good enough to justify purchasing with so many other games out there.
It almost might have been better if this game waited until after the New Year to ship, but then again, there’s still the Civilization IV factor.