Thanks to games like Advance Wars on the GBA and Nintendo DS, turn based strategy titles are having a little resurgence. Now console gamers are as well equipped to play them as veteran PC players, publishers are taking less of a risk releasing such games. 2K Games is set to release Shattered Union for the PC and Xbox later this year, and we got an early look at the game to see how it's shaping up.
Set in a near future United States, the game uses the premise of a country divided after a controversial presidential election. Washington DC is taken out with a nuke and the rest of the country is left to fight for power. Six factions are created around the country, each looking to take control, and it's your task to take command of a faction and use force to reunite the country. It sounds hard and it is.
An overview of things can be seen on the strategic map. This shows the six factions and their territories, lets you buy and repair military units, gives you the option to invade opposition occupied territories, and indicates your cash and political reputation. It's essentially your control centre for all things that aren't the actual fighting. Key things to note here are your cash and reputation. Cash is earned by controlling more territories and is needed to buy units, and your reputation affects how partisan units fight in battle.
If you have a good reputation these civilian manned vehicles will fight with you, but if you've been up to no good nuking cites left right and centre, they'll fight alongside your enemy. The military units you have at your disposal are pretty much what you'd expect. Set in the near future, the game sticks to what you know, providing you with Apache Helicopters, strike fighters, tanks and more. That's not to say that there isn't room for super powered futuristic weapons. Each faction has its own special unit that can cause even more damage.
Before each battle you must choose which units you are going to deploy. It's important not to throw all your units into battle in case a rival attempts an attack on one of your territories, but you need to give yourself the best chance of winning the battle you started. You can let the computer choose the starting positions of your units or manually place them, but it's usually best to do it yourself as you can pick the best defensive locations, such as a dense forest or a city. Selecting a unit brings up a coloured grid that shows where the unit can be moved to. While units can cover a lot of ground in each turn (a turn being your complete set of moves) they can each only fire once, meaning it's vital you don't waste attacks.
Battles can be rather drawn out, but each has a time limit of usually about 14 game-days. If no one is the clear winner after this period the defending army win and retain the territory. It's up to the attacker to complete their objectives in an area in order to take control. While the defending team could sit back and wait for time to run out for the attackers, a good offence is often the best defence, and playing a negative game is rather risky.
Throughout battles you'll also have access to a number of special attacks and power-ups. Devastating nuclear weapons can be used to obliterate targets, but using them will have a detrimental effect on your political reputation, and therefore the side the partisan units fight for. Air dropping supplies and health power-ups have no such bad side effects.
Visually the game is looking pretty sharp considering its turn based roots. Unit and building modelling is pretty simplistic, but everything does its job. The camera can be zoomed right into the action, or zoomed out to see an overview of the entire playing area and moving the mouse to a side of the screen will pan the camera. We're yet to test the online play, but this should provide a respite from the intense single-player campaign and your struggle to bring order back to the country. The Xbox version will also be playable online via Xbox Live and the turn based gameplay should have no trouble translating to the console.
Shattered Union is currently set for an October release on PC and Xbox. We'll bring you a full review to coincide with its release.