Just another game based on the American Civil War? Not quite. It is an interpretation of the cult French comic Les Tuniques Blues, which is based on the US Civil War.
It is a simple one or two player wargame in which the ultimate aim is to destroy the opponent's armies. Both sides start with two armies (each made up of six infantry, three cavalry and one artillery unit) and more armies are gained by primarily occupying territories which form a rail link from one major city to another. This way trains can run between the cities and trade can occur which earns you money in the form of sacks of gold: once you have five sacks, you automatically gain another army.
The only other way of gaining an army is by owning the state of North Canada, because every five turns or so a ship will drop off into that state an army of whichever color happens to own it at the time. From a strategic point of view, one of the first things to do is try and stop the enemy from receiving more armies, either by occupying North Carolina or cutting his rail routes (or preferably even both).
Cut the rail route and you enter the first of the game's three arcade sequences where you control a soldier as he rides alongside the train. Jump onto the train and make it to the engine before the time limit expires, without being killed by falling off of the train or being hit by the enemy soldiers, and you cut the route and take the other player's gold.
The other arcade sequences include capturing an enemy fort - which is similar to taking the train - and battles. During a conflict, the player has direct control over one of three types of unit: control between the units is simply switched by hitting a key. You must try to wipe out the enemy, before they do the same to you.
All the arcade sequences can be turned off at the start of the game if you wish to play the strategy game, and the outcome of battles and the rest is decided on the size of the forces and the competence of the leader.
There are several difficulty levels in the game, to suit most players' abilities; for example, starting the game in the year 1864 as opposed to the default 1861 gives the south a distinct disadvantage. You could also have Indian and Mexican intruders who get upset when there is too much commotion coming from their neighboring territories and so occasionally join in the fray.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Both are great. The cartoon book feel of the game gives it immense appeal and everything is well drawn and animated. The high-quality sound effects do their bit to complement the action.
It is simple stuff, but very enjoyable. The computer opponent is not the world's smartest, so it is not too difficult to beat. Play against a human with the arcade sequences turned on and things becomes a lot more interesting.
The American Civil War started in April 1861 when the southern - or Confederate - states decided to withdraw from the union with the northern - or Yankee - states in protest over the abolition of slavery. Eight years of bloody battle followed. More recently, however, the TV miniseries North and South has gone down a bomb in France (as 'Les Blues et Les Gris') and I have a sneaking suspicion that Infogrames' game has been more than a little inspired by it.
North and South gives you the opportunity to relive in a wildly comical way the infamous interstate battles between the Union and the Confederates.
The main game is a map of the USA, divided up into two dozen large areas. Each of these areas can be one of four types: empty, Confederate owned, Union owned or occupied. Running through the map is a railway line with four stations. Dotted around the map at the start of the game are two Confederate armies and two Union armies. The idea of the game, like 'Risk' is to capture al the states on the map, or alternatively kill all the enemy soldiers on the map.
The game works in turns. At the start of a turn, all your occupied spaces flash. You can move all the troops in each occupied state, one space in any direction. If you try to move into occupied territory, you then have to do battle with the enemy.
As you move around occupying land, there are one or two things you must remember to do. Firstly, if you capture all the states between two stations on the railway line, the train will come along, carrying gold from station to station. With that gold you can buy new armies to replace all the old tired ones.
Also, there are one or two special locations op the map. When your opponent gets the train rolling, look where the train stops. That is his fortress. Raid it for lots of money. The state in the top left-hand corner is Indian country. Hang around there too long and those Injuns get annoyed and throw a hatchet in your direction. On the right-hand screen, about halfway up, is a boarding point. Every two turns, a boat rolls up the river and drops an army off at that point.
There is more than one way of playing North and South. On the surface you can play it as either a straight strategy game or an arcade game with strategy elements.
The strategy game is just a very simple game of Risk. All battles are decided by who has the largest army and all other events are determined by the computer. In the action game you are responsible for all battles, castle raids and train robberies. This is where the game comes into its own.
The battles are brilliant. You are shown a distant view of the battle and from this view you can control foot soldiers, mounted horsemen and artillery.
Both the fortress raid and the train robbery are played in the same way. Race at incredibly high speed along a scrolling play area leaping boxes and other obstacles, and punching, kicking or knifing guards away. All of these, including the battle, are done with the same degree of humor that really makes the game.
The graphics are of a very high standard, as is the soundtrack, and that is what makes the game an instant hit. However, I am sorry to say that the fun is a little short-lived. For some reason, the computer is very, very easy to beat. Rather than having any artificial intelligence, it seems to follow the same pattern of moves every game. Aren't strategy games the ones that are supposed to keep you going for years?
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