Gettysburg: Armored Warfare [Review] – The horrors of war

12 Apr 2012  by   Tim McDonald
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I’d better come right out and state that I haven’t played Gettysburg: Armored Warfare as much as I’d have liked (well, as much as I’d like to in order to write a review, anyway) but in my defence, that isn’t actually my fault. We’ll get to that.

Gettysburg: Armored Warfare has an interesting premise. Players take control of either the Confederate or Union forces during the American Civil War, and battle it out in a sort of third-person shooter/RTS hybrid. Oh, and the forces have been bolstered by materiel from the future, so you’ve also got tanks, assault rifles, RPGs, and steampunk-esque zeppelins.

Sounds like fun, eh? You give orders to your troops, then take direct control of one when a firefight kicks off. Capture locations on the map, Battlefield-style, to whittle down your opponents’ points. Secure victory for the Union/Confederacy! Better yet, it even supports up to 64 players in a deathmatch mode which disables all the RTS gubbins, letting 32 people on each side take direct control of units and battle it out. And all this for £8! What could be better?

Just about everything, actually, but something that works would be a start.

Both of the two modes (the aforementioned Deathmatch, and the RTS-hybrid Army Skirmish) can be played in either single-player or multiplayer, but there’s no point in playing single-player. The AI is brain-dead, and while the single-player is clearly meant as a way of getting used to the controls and interface before you take on the world (hell, it’s called Offline Practice), you’re likely to be so bored by the lack of any actual opposition that you’ll flick over to multiplayer within 5 minutes.

But in that time, you might’ve noticed a few things. Like, ooh: command points take ages to capture, presumably because – with this many units on the field – you’re not supposed to capture them by yourself. Fair enough. Problematic, though, because in Deathmatch you can’t give any orders to the AI and thus it’s pure luck as to whether or not they’ll join you at a point (and, indeed, whether they’ll attack any enemies they see), and in Army Skirmish the pathfinding means they’ll probably turn up half an hour late after having taken a scenic drive through the countryside, waving at their fellow soldiers who are blissfully ignoring the enemy. But that’s fine, because the enemy’s ignoring them too.
Sadly, the multiplayer isn’t much better. As an example, I haven’t managed to play Army Skirmish in multiplayer yet, at all, which is a bit of a problem since it seems to be the game’s flagship mode. Allow me to explain.
Around launch, Army Skirmish simply crashed the multiplayer servers. While this was fixed quickly, I held off until the first proper patch was released because I’m one of those old-fashioned types who likes to see skyboxes spawn, and prefers it when all the units in a base don’t suddenly burst into flames. The game was patched last week. As of the time of writing, six days later, only two of the six official servers have been patched. Both are running Deathmatch. All six servers are only running the Gettysburg map. There is no way to create your own server.

In other words: for the past week, anyone wanting to play anything but Deathmatch on anything but Gettysburg has been shit out of luck.

But even putting this aside, Gettysburg is just a mess. Unit balance is way off, with tanks currently capable of killing everything, while other units are far more situational – particularly infantry, which can only carry a single weapon – and frequently suffer from low accuracy or damage. It’s also rife with bugs; on one server, post-patch, no-one on the Confederate team was able to take control of ground vehicles because they would slowly slide to the right until they were about a quarter of a mile out of the spawn point. When I finally wrestled one under control, its hit box was about fifty times too large: I was constantly running over trees, walls, and soldiers that were nowhere near me. Which was, admittedly, hilarious.

And there’s a startling lack of polish. Walls and trees simply vanish when you hit them. The fence-climbing animation for soldiers has them clip through in an alarming way. Zeppelins, when destroyed, slowly sink through the ground.

There’s a scoreboard showing off kills and deaths, but that seems a little arbitrary for a game in which you can drop control of units when they’re about to die. All the units for the Union side, on the Gettysburg map at least, are facing the wrong way. Animations are rough, aiming is a mess, and with the current player population (at time of writing: four) you’re still absurdly reliant on the atrocious AI. The RTS controls are lacklustre, with no ability to – for example – give orders via the minimap. And so on.

Even when you get into a game with a reasonable amount of players, Gettysburg plays out more like a chaotic sandbox than a competitive game. It’s impossible to care whether you win or lose; there’s a degree of entertainment to be had in hopping into a unit and getting a few kills, but everything feels so arbitrary and unbalanced that victory and defeat are meaningless. Once you get tired of ramming a tank into walls or raining down cannon fire in a zeppelin – which won’t take long – there’s really nothing to keep you playing.

Bluntly put, Gettysburg feels like an early beta. It should never have been released in this state, and charging £8 for a game in this state is frankly offensive. The idea’s a fine one but the execution is utterly inexcusable. I don’t know whether publisher Paradox forced the game out in this state, or if one-man development team Radioactive Games thought it was acceptable, and I don’t really care. This should not have happened.

When the planets align and everything works as intended then you can see, through the mire of bugs, glimpses of the game this could be – spotting units on the ground so that zeppelins and boats can provide suppressing fire, for instance, is a really nice idea – but all the good intentions and all the best ideas don’t mean a thing when the game doesn’t actually work. And Gettysburg doesn’t work. It’s buggy, unpolished, poorly balanced, and in dire need of serious work. It might get patched up to be the game it clearly wants to be over the next year, and I’d love to see that happen, but I’d be very surprised if the player population holds out that long.
Gettysburg: Armored Warfare is a broken, bleeding mess. Do not buy this. Not even to laugh at it.

*This is what it’s like to play Gettysburg: Armored Warfare:

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