Take Command: 2nd Manassas

Take Command: 2nd Manassas

Take Command: 2nd Manassas

Blue plus grey equals red, lots of red.

Going on the evidence of recent RTS hits like Age of Empires III and Battle for Middle-Earth II, to get a job as an AI general in a modern strategy game, all you need to do is demonstrate that you know how to recruit a few different types of troops from your barracks, have them wait around until a decent-sized mob forms, then send them off in the general direction of the enemy. Subtle tactics like flanking, feints, and encirclements? Forget it - developers seem far more interested in balancing their forces for multiplay or crafting lavish stories for their campaigns than they do in creating cunning artificial opponents.

Awash, as we are, with these bland, obvious AIs, Take Command: 2nd Manassas really stands-out. A real-time wargame based around three American Civil War battles that took place in the late summer of 1862 in North Virginia, it comes with some of the smartest and most believable computer-controlled adversaries ever to grace a digital battlefield. Not only are the included commanders well-versed in historical tactics like flanking and skirmishing, they also come with the temperaments and skill-sets of their real-life inspirations. On an average TC2M battlefield you'll encounter hotheads that will hurl their troops at you at the slightest provocation, cautious souls that will sit tight or withdraw if they don't like the odds, beloved figureheads that inspire improbable courage amongst their men, West Point drop-outs that might as well have stayed at home... basically every type of leader you could imagine.

This mix of command styles makes for unpredictable foes. Interestingly, it also makes for unpredictable friends. The units you control in a TC2M battle are unusual in that they have minds and agendas of their own. Let's say you are playing as a Major General with half a dozen infantry brigades at your beck-and-call. You might send one of these brigades onto a nearby hilltop to rout an enemy cannon battery, and turn round later to find it hopelessly cut-off miles behind enemy lines, the reckless Colonel in command having taken-it upon himself to push-on in spite of orders. At first, disobedience like this can be very annoying and it's tempting to micromanage everything with the help of the 'Take Command' button (a feature that ensures units don't freelance) Eventually - if you are anything like this reviewer - you learn to accept the character-linked wilfulness of subordinates, realising that period figures like Lee and Sherman had to cope with exactly these kind of issues.

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