I love real-time strategy (RTS) games and have been Command and Conquer's own personal b*tch over the past four years, playing one of the game series at least once a week. Being a fan of RTS games I know one thing that is a fact, and that is real-time strategy games don't work well on consoles. Playing them on consoles brings up all sorts of problems, but the main one that annoys me is that most of the time they are just way too hard to control using the control pad. Recently, Full Spectrum Warrior changed this by developing a RTS game that was different to most of its PC counterparts, building it from the ground up so that a pad would be suitable for the game. What they ended up with was a RTS game unlike what most people had seen before - in fact, it was a very un-RTS game, but was still classed as part of the genre. The game was a hit, was great fun to play, and now along comes Shattered Union. I can honestly say that I didn't follow the development of this title and knew little of what to expect as the disc ventured into the innards of my Xbox. Will my theory be proved wrong; could a “real” RTS game, one that is best suited to PC play, work on a console? Let’s find out!
First things first - Shattered Union uses a turn-based form of RTS which, more or less, eliminates any form of bad control I worry about. This is the first plus point of many that I noticed the game had. There is no doubt SU does a lot of things right, but it just so happens that it does some things wrong as well. Once you jump onto the battlefield the game puts you in charge of tanks, soldiers, airplanes and helicopters, all of which are situated on a large board divided into grids. You can then move your pieces all over this grid, a set number of spaces at a time (if you've ever played any of the Advance Wars games you should feel right at home after a few turns). The game then challenges you to propel your troops forward, taking control of any towns along the way. The towns, however, are filled with enemy troops, so this take won't be easy and it will only get harder the further you advance in the game.
Where SU differs from Advance Wars is in the quantity of things it throws at you at any one time. Also, much more stuff can happen, maps are bigger and the game has a much more grown up feel to it - but ultimately that does not make the game better. It, in fact, it makes the game overly complicated, and in the end it is a lot less fun to play than Intelligent System’s classic, featured on both the DS and GBA. There are, however, loads of ways that the game improves on Advance Wars. One such improvement is the political reputation meter, which follows how you choose to play the game; the meter going up or down depending on what you do. If you use loads of explosive weapons and blow up landmarks in cities then your meter will go down, but if you are pickier about what you destroy the meter will go up.
Looking at the screenshots dotted around this review you may think that the game looks good, but upon closer inspection the graphics are sub par. First off, the textures, or lack thereof, are very noticeable. Most of the units feel flat as they roll though the barren environments and blocky cites. The camera is also a bit off; it never feels like it is positioned correctly and is almost always zoomed out too far from the action. Finally, the game loads a lot whilst you are on the battlefield, which totally kills any atmosphere the game has, and this is unforgivable. More work needed to be done here, that’s for sure!
One of the features which has a huge detrimental effect on Shattered Union is undoubtedly the terrible job the team has done with the sound. It is indisputably terrible, and tries its best to ruin the rest of the game for whoever is playing it. First off, there is little or no music used in the game, and the small number of melodies used are plain terrible. Moving on to the sound effects and voice acting (again, which there is little of). From the small amount on offer it appears to be well done, but a whole lot more could have been included, especially in the voice department where all the units and character could, so easily, have been given more of a history and personality.
Shattered Union does manage to cram a lot of stuff into the package, but the main problem is that you won't want to play most of it as the game is not really that interesting. In terms of multiplayer, it offers play over Xbox Live. The amount of units available to use is rather large, which I guess is a nice touch, but unfortunately the game is far too flawed, so no matter how many extras are stuffed in, you won't be playing Shattered Union for very long after your purchase.
Even though the game tries some new stuff in an attempt to invigorate the genre, it really doesn't offer anything new or exciting that we haven't already played numerous times before. It pales in comparison to the likes of Advance Wars and Command & Conquer, and for me to decide that this is a great game in the genre it should really be surpassing or (at least) equaling those two games. There is some fun to be had and is still definately worth a look, especially seeing as how barren the RTS genre is on the home consoles.