While videogames have never been shy about recreating history in their titles, which is prevalent in the numerous WWII shooters on the market, there is one war that has never seen the light of day in the FPS genre. This probably stems from the fact that the key design mechanic of any good shooter is the weaponry, and we all know that the Civil War wasn’t known for firearms that could obliterate a dozen soldiers from one clip. Regardless Activision has brought us the first ever Civil War FPS for the Xbox 360 and even with the History Channel moniker stamped on the front of the box there is still something missing from making this game a must own for shooter fans.
First off I want to come clean about something; when I first heard about this title I can honestly say that I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. The thought of standing on the battlefield playing a proverbial chess game of who can reload their one bullet faster motif simply did not excite me. But after spending countless hours with the game I can honestly say that it isn’t nearly as bad as I, or everyone else on the planet expected it to be, in fact it has some truly great qualities that set it apart and make it a great threshold for future titles.
Probably the most impressive aspect of Civil War is the authenticity that the History Channel license brings to the game. Throughout the game you will tackle twelve separate battles, six for the Union and six for the Confederacy, that are all based off of factual events and locales. Before each mission you are given a rundown of the encounter and what took place on the battlefield. Each of these segments are well integrated into the game and could easily be mistaken for an intro or segue way that you would find on the aforementioned channel itself.
This is also something that ends up harming the game. Any fan of shooters will tell you that one of the biggest keys to success in the genre is good weaponry. We love the chain gun, we admire the rocket launcher, and everyone has fits of joy over the boomstick, also known as the shotgun. This is where Civil War fails as the guns were simply not made with FPS games in mind. Many of the rifles require a reload after every shot which drains some of the tension out of the game during large firefights. There is nothing more frustrating than being pinned down by five or six enemies only to have to reload your gun after every single shot, and God forbid you miss once or twice.
While all of this could have easily been overlooked had the game not demonstrated a certain need to make you feel like the T1000 on the battlefield. Seriously it is incredible how much damage your soldier can take before the lights go dim. Some levels I found myself blazing through with just a knife slashing enemies down because frankly I felt invincible. The AI is also sub-par as most enemies will simply stand in one place and let you empty rounds into them without searching for cover or even so much as flinching when a lug catches them square in the face.
The single-player trek is short but sweet with a total play time of roughly 6-8 hours depending on how fast you blaze through the objectives. Sadly there really isn’t much reason to come back to any level as there are very few hidden items or incentive to go back through. The only thing you may want to play multiple times for are the Achievements which will grant you gamer points for completing the game on the hardest difficulty and perhaps aiming for the accuracy ones that each level possesses.
The biggest drawback though is the lack of any kind of multi-player whatsoever. While most 360 gamers are accustomed to being able to frag online in just about every shooter ever conceived on the console Civil War is sans even a split screen option. Hell I would have been tickled with joy with a simple addition of a co-op function, but sadly the game a solo fest with little reason to return to the frontlines after one play through.
Visually the game isn’t going to impress on a next-gen level, but it does manage a few special features that keep it from being considered last-gen material. Smoke and particle effects are gorgeous at times and the environments are stunning even if they are as linear as a PSOne platformer. The problems come from the mysterious bodies disappearing seconds after someone is killed and for a war that was known to have thousands of casualties the game resembles a barren wasteland at times. The animations are rough and the death scenes are disappointing, but the game does run smooth with little hiccup even with tons of things going on at the same time.
The sounds and music are standard fare with the explosions once again being the highlight. You will hear chatter from your comrades, but for the most part it is feels forced and extremely repetitive. The music is lifted mostly from the shows on the History Channel, but it does set the mood quite nicely, the rest of the fare is passable at best.
While Civil War isn’t going to win over most FPS fans the game does show a huge amount of potential. Perhaps with a sequel they can iron out the small nuances that keep this game from being a classic. With a lack of any kind of multi-player mode the game simply delivers an average experience that most other shooters have already surpasses a million times before it. If you are a history buff though you will no doubt enjoy the authenticity of the game as well as being able to recreate some of the battles of this long forgotten war. This isn’t the best shooter you are going to play this year, but I guarantee it will be the most surprising for those that decide to give it a chance.