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Commander: Conquest Of The Americas Preview

29 Jun 2010  by   Paul Younger

After getting the chance to play Nitro Games’ Commander: Conquest of the Americas (henceforth known as C:CotA,) the comparison which quickly sets sail for the centre of the mind is Sid Meier’s Colonization. That’s accurate to an extent as many of the features found in that 1994 classic are also present in this title; but some are absent and others either added or massively expanded.

C:CotA takes the thematic premise of the old Imperial powers of Europe settling in the Americas and essentially divides it into two distinct game types: a strategic trading portion, and a tactical naval battle sim. The trading segment is where players are likely to spend the majority of their time, and this takes place on a grand campaign map which stretches from the Hudson Bay to around about the northern coast of Brazil. This main area doesn’t have a fixed camera, so players can choose to view it from overhead or rotate to more of an isometric 3D perspective.

Once a few colony locations have been scouted out and settlements established, it’s necessary to support and manage them. This is achieved by providing new colonists and goods by sea from your home port back in Europe (London for the British, Lisbon for the Portuguese and so on) and by using the profits of trade to build structures like churches and hospitals in order to expand colonies and make them self-sufficient. Colonies generate raw materials which can be converted to various fancier (and more profitable) items through relevant buildings, such as an ironworks. Buildings also contribute to the overall morale of a colony, helping to keep them happy and productive.

For those familiar with the title, this will all still be sounding rather like Colonization. However, C:CotA differs dramatically from that game by placing almost all of its emphasis on naval activities and hardly any (outside of direct colony management) on land-based shenanigans. Aside from some minor interaction with local Native American tribes (who may aid or hinder a nearby colony,) the land serves only as a gigantic patch of turf for your colonies to sit on. Everything else in C:CotA is about the sea.

Your trade routes are your life lines. Without solid trading, colonies will wither and die and the royal coffers will primarily be used for storing dust and bits of fluff. To help players become an economic powerhouse C:CotA includes a fairly powerful trade route organiser, enabling complex, multi-part routes to be set up and automated (though it’s still worth checking in on them from time to time.) This feature also gives access to local and global prices, providing a useful guide to the most profitable commodities.

A nation’s ships can be divided into small squadrons, affording fragile cargo boats some protection if they are matched with heavier vessels. When building new ships, it’s possible to choose (and pay for) several upgrades like larger cargo hold or more accurate cannons to give them the edge in battle. Captains and specialist crew members also have special ‘traits,’ providing bonuses to maneuverability and the like.

While C:CotA pretty much leaves players to get on with their own strategies, four advisors (military, trade, religion and royalty) periodically chip in with recommended missions. These missions are optional in the sense that failing them won’t result in an instant end to the game, but are often a good idea to pursue as they will keep the advisor in a fine mood and are likely to be beneficial in some way (such as improving colony morale, expanding the navy and so on.) Ignore all of the advisors for too long and they’ll get so miffed that they throw you in the ocean (or, at least, it really will be game over at that point.) Diplomacy with the other European nations is also possible, and although I was not able to explore the intricacies of this in depth, it clearly allows the formation of various pacts and alliances – as well as the ability to declare war. Whether this system would ultimately enable players to dock and trade with colonies of other nations is something, sadly, I was not able to glean during my time with the game.

What I was able to experience, however, were the terrific naval sea battles. These have been improved since Nitro’s East India Company and, while they control in a similar way, surpass the naval warfare found in Empire: Total War. Here, it’s crucial to take wind speed and direction into account, along with other tactical decisions like the type of cannon-shot to use against the oncoming enemy ships. On the surface it’s an RTS-style section, but the slower pace of naval confrontations give it a much more tactical feel. The user interface had not yet been finalised in the version I played, but while it looked a little rough around the edges it was perfectly usable. There are also some splendid inclusions such as land masses (so not all clashes take place in completely open seas) and differing weather conditions. It’s even possible to take direct control of a vessel in battle if, for example, you want to try to be Rambo but in the form of a boat.

As you can see from the screenshots dotted around this piece, the ships look absolutely great – and it’s possible to zoom in close to see little chaps scurrying around the rigging or engaging in boarding actions. Nitro appears to have done its historical homework too, as to my (inexpert) eye the variety of Sloops and Caravel on offer look quite accurate.

C:CotA is due for PC release on 30 July and is shaping up to be an interesting blend of trade route strategy, colony management and naval warfare. If you fancy getting in on a closed beta to try it out for yourself, head over to this post on the C:CotA forum.

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