America, a real-time strategy game similar to Age of Empires or Settlers, is set during the 90 years following the United States' Civil War. Choose to direct Settlers, Indians, Mexicans, or Desperados, and manage units and resources to colonize the land under their rule. Each group offers distinctive abilities and appearances, with ten unique missions available for each of the competing factions across fifteen different game maps. As the game progresses, individual units develop different morale, life, and experience statistics according to their situations. Horses are a particularly vital resource and players may choose to breed, buy, or steal them to develop a strong cavalry. America's multiplayer options support up to eight players across a network.
The basic premise is simple: Playing as Native Americans, Mexicans, outlaws or U.S. settlers, the player must tame the elements and fight off opponents to be the last man standing. Gameplay is incredibly similar to Age of Empires II - almost to the point of being a rip-off instead of an homage.
How does this sound? The player has to cut wood and gather food (either by hunting or farming); these resources are taken back to a central point or specialized gathering points to be used in the production of other units or buildings. I just described both America and AoE2. America's distinction? You don't gather stone.
Okay, so that in itself isn't much of a crime. In fact, that part of both games is one I really like. What killed me from the outset is this: no single-player free-play.
Yep, the only single-player option is at the campaign level. And that campaign level is designed to be played in a specific order (Native American, then Mexican, then outlaws, then U.S.). Oh, sure, you can jump ahead and play, say, the outlaws first, but there's a big jump in proficiency required. And even then, you have to follow the campaign story. What if I just want to see how the U.S. could survive under my leadership?
In that case, I'm out of luck, unless I want to start a multiplayer game and find some poor schmo who'll let me explore the game without going straight for the throat.
Unfortunately, here comes one of those flashes of brilliance: The different factions really do have unique units and buildings with their own strengths and weaknesses. Oh, sure, most are similar to comparable units and buildings for opponents, but never once while exploring the campaigns did I get the feeling I was playing the same strategy with pieces that only looked different.
Graphics and sound are merely standard; they're nowhere near as lush as those in other recent real-time strategy games. Of course, America doesn't cost as much as the other stuff on the shelf.
Bottom line? This one is only for folks who like to jump into multiplayer, or are addicted to rigid campaigns. Me, I'd rather test the parameters of a game and see whether its makers can thrill me with complexity. But I guess that's not the America way.
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1701 A.D., Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Age of Empires III, American Conquest, Age of Empires, Age of Mythology, 8th Wonder of The World, Against Rome
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