History Channel Civil War: Secret Missions Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PS2
History Channel Civil War: Secret Missions box art
System: PS2, X360, PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Cauldron Games 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Activision 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov. 4, 2008 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
A Nation Divided
by Tony Capri

Though many game makers today seem fixated on World War II – proliferating series such as Brothers in Arms, Call of Duty, and Medal of Honor – Activision has decided to reach even further back into America’s past, partnering with the History Channel and Cauldron Games to bring us an FPS reenactment of the Civil War.

History Channel Civil War: Secret Missions screenshot

Secret Missions is a fairly straight-forward shooter, and if you’ve played either of the Medal of Honor: Heroes games, you’ll know what to expect. The game is broken up into various missions that are meant to faithfully tell the tale of a handful of historic Civil War events. When you first set out, a Confederate/Union (depending upon the mission you’re playing) leader will clue you in on your current objective(s). You’ll then move from checkpoint to checkpoint, engage in a number of shootouts, and then simply repeat the process.

Though Secret Missions might cover a completely different time and place in American history, it follows some seriously weather-worn FPS conventions. You’ll run the gamut of scripted firefights, helming heavy artillery and detonating explosives in order to take out enemy ammunition; grenade tossing, on-rails shooting, sniper missions – it’s all here. However, the formula isn’t necessarily a bad one, and if you’re a Civil War buff, chances are the progression of gameplay elements could still prove entertaining for you.

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The game plays as a stripped-down FPS – no bounding box, no ability to tweak the controls other than to adjust the X and Y-axis movement – but it works within the context of the game’s theme. You’ll man a variety of weapons, including short-range rifles, sniper rifles, antique shotguns, and a revolver, among other things. When you first start out, hit detection is terrible. You can zoom in a bit using the L2 button, but you lose your crosshairs in the process. In the early stages of the game, it’s almost impossible to hit anything without first seeing the crosshairs light up red upon targeting an enemy. That said, as you progress through the game, you move up in rank, and your ability to hit targets from long distances seems to improve. You’ll also gain skill points, which you can use to increase one of four abilities: health, regeneration, damage, and ammo capacity. Shooting is never great, though, as it’s difficult to achieve precision aiming on the fly.

History Channel Civil War: Secret Missions screenshot

However, you’ll need not rely on shooting too much during missions, as grenade tossing is quite effective. There are ample ammo pick-ups along the way, and routing out enemies with multiple grenade tosses becomes the easy and most practical approach to successfully completing your tasks. But this ultimately makes for somewhat boring gameplay, and unless you’re a fan of this era, there’s just not much here to keep players going.

Additionally, the A.I. has myriad issues and then some. One mission (played as the Confederates) tasked us with capturing a Gatling gun, and when the fort appeared to be overrun, we waited for our next objective to pop up onscreen. However, nothing happened, and the mission just seemed to be stuck. It was only after scouring the area that we found a lone Union solider standing idly by outside the fort, waiting for us to simply gun him down. Capping him, of course, moved the mission onward, but there were several such occurrences throughout the game. Other examples include enemy A.I. shooting from behind allied battle lines, as well as allies who’d have their backs turned, firing in the opposite direction of enemies. To the credit of the A.I., however, allies do occasionally help out by defeating enemy soldiers, and their mere presence adds at least a small element of immersion to the experience.

History Channel Civil War: Secret Missions screenshot

Secret Missions puts you on both sides of the struggle and offers an objective peek at certain operations during the Civil War. Before each mission, you’re presented with a short History Channel, documentary snippet that lends insight into the mission you’re about to undertake. It’s a fitting presentation, considering the audience who will likely be attracted to this game. However, the in-game cutscenes often get lopped off mid-dialogue.

Screenshots / Images

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