Are You Feeling Civilized?
As with any economic/civilization sim, balance is the key. You have to keep the boat afloat, but once you achieve a degree of success, the next step is to overwhelm and overpower your enemy. This is accomplished by becoming unbalanced, empowering yourself in specific areas in relation to your enemy’s weaknesses.
If you can gain the advantage, the spoils will be yours and you can once again balance things out, increasing your overall status. The rich get richer, and the powerful get more powerful. Of course, you may play the game differently than I do, and I may play the game differently from time to time as well. Such is the beauty of a good sim, and Commander: Conquest of the Americas is a good game.
Conquest of the Americas is a somewhat misleading title, since you don’t actually invade inland to any great extent. It seems like the first part of a series, meaning it’s a little short and leaves you wanting more. It lacks a multiplayer component so it’s not long on replay value.
Logically, you invade from the coast, since travel by sea was the only mode of transportation for such undertakings. In a nutshell, you land in a region filled with resources and establish a port to exploit these treasures. Where you land, what you choose to exploit, and how you export it is up to you. So let the adventure begin.
As with any complex game, there is a learning curve. Commander: Conquest of the Americas is not without its frustrations so you’ll have to be patient, something I’m not particularly good at. I’m also not a big fan of trial and error, but it does work in this case. You can jump right in and learn from your mistakes instantly. There are some in-game tutorials to get you started, just don’t expect to kick butt until you get some experience under your swashbuckle. A series of advisers will assist you at the beginning of the game, giving you various challenges and hints on how to best achieve your goals. Progress will ensure the advisers’ challenges become more difficult and complex. Each adviser will oversee a specific discipline such as religion, law, military, and economics. Keep the advisers happy and you’ll do well in the game. If your performance begins to suffer, and it will for a while, the advisers will lose confidence in your abilities, ultimately ending the game on you. Get used to it. One of the biggest problems is that there never seems to be enough money to do what you have to do.
The gameplay is patterned, especially in the main campaign mode, so the more you play it, the more you’ll feel comfortable with it. But this is ultimately to the game’s detriment since the lack of any multiplayer also limits the replay value. The free mode is not as structured, but that lack of structure makes this mode less challenging and perfect for experimenting.
Some elements of the game can be automatically simplified, but most of these are actually fun to play in real-time. You do have the ability to give orders and fast-forward to the results if you’re impatient. But things such as combat are best played in real-time where you have control over the kinds of ammo you will deploy and where to aim your weapons. You don’t want to shoot a cannon ball at the sail, you want the cannon ball to destroy the hull. Chain shot will shred the sails rendering the ship immobile, but will have little impact on the hull or the crew. It’s choices like these, in every aspect of the game, that makes it a fun, deep, and personal experience.
You’ll have 150 years to expand your empire. Colonization is crucial to your expansion but, like everything else, it’s all dependent on commerce. Regions you can conquer reach from northern Canada to the Caribbean. While most of your exports will be sold in your homeland, it’s not necessarily advantageous to stick as close to home as possible. The more rare the goods, the more money it will generate, and that’s the most important commodity of all.
Each nation – and there are seven to choose from – have different attributes ranging from large, fast fleets to slow, powerful, and virtually indestructible ships. Once you’ve staked your territory, it’s time to make some decisions. Ultimately, you want to make a killing. You do this by harvesting and/or manufacturing goods for sale or trade. As I mentioned, there are some battles, but this game is primarily focused on conquering the Americas through diplomatic means such as trade. Buy low, sell high, and make sure you have good distribution, which means having a secure and lucrative trade route. This route will also be used to bring in supplies and colonists. You can populate your territory and expand your operation, but of course, you’ve got to keep your people happy, which, in turn, makes them more productive. You’ll need to satisfy their needs for food, shelter, religion, and entertainment. There’s much to consider, and you can have the game assist you with hints or do it yourself. The developers did a nice job of making the micromanagement feel natural.
Resources are plentiful in the New World. There is fur, tobacco, chocolate, coffee, cotton, iron, gold, and pirated Led Zeppelin albums. These resources are worth a fortune to the right buyer. You can increase your revenue by manufacturing items from these resources. You can make weapons, tools, jewelry, and clothing. This will increase the value of your resources but at the expense of building manufacturing facilities and having the workforce necessary to churn the goods out. You can import colonists from Europe or train the natives. Regardless of what you do, it’s important not to over-extend yourself financially. This can happen quite easily. Establishing a lucrative trade route is extremely important, but you’ll also have to defend it from rival factions. They tend to get jealous if they see you’re doing well.
From a wide view, the game looks amazing, not to say it doesn’t look great up close, but from a distance it takes on a majestic quality, inspiring you to acquire more of everything. The interface is large, taking up most of the screen, but making selections is easy and intuitive. A few clicks and moves of the sliders, and you’re on your way. The battle graphics display fire, smoke, and damage in real-time. It’s almost a shame to have to destroy such nicely detailed ships. Even the water looks good as it’s rendered in various states from calm to turbulent and at different times of day. Not to be outdone, the music is equally majestic and epic, definitely movie-quality. As you would expect, there isn’t a lot of dialogue or sound effects but such is the nature of the gameplay. At the very least, everything is where it should be.
Commander: Conquest of the Americas is not your typical, long, drawn-out sim. The advisers are there to keep a fire lit under your butt so there’s no time to rest on your laurels. The structured pace is a refreshing change. Let’s hope the sequel has multi-player.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
This is a great looking game, very regal and authentic with nice attention to detail. 4.5 Control
The interface is large and easy to navigate. There is a learning curve here. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is movie quality. Not a lot of sound effects and voice acting. 3.8 Play Value
The game is a little short and void of replay value. The structure may not appeal to hardcore sim enthusiasts. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.