There was a time when sims weren’t made by specialists, they were made by jack-of-all-genres like Warren Spector and Sid Meier. They might not have had encyclopedic knowledge or a vast respect for realism, but the imagination, flair and sense of fun they brought to their aerial creations was priceless.
What’s that got to do with Shattered Union? Well, wargaming development has followed a similar trajectory to simulations. Today, outfits that make games with turns and grids tend to make nothing-but. This narrowness often manifests itself in fossilized graphics, awful interfaces and pointless complexity. SU is a turn-based wargame without any of these shortcomings. It’s probably not a coincidence that it was made by a mainstream strategy/management studio, not a gang of dolts.
If you’re familiar with stuff like Panzer General wargames or the GBA classic Advance Wars, you’ll have some idea of what to expect from this likeable little outsider. Absurdly accessible yet tactically lush, SU recreates a near-future US civil war involving seven different factions, including an EU peacekeeping force.
North America is diced into 25 regional maps, each with appropriate terrain and cities. Between scraps you buy and repair units with region-related income. During them you scramble to seize preset victory locations using deployed forces in a straightforward IGOUGO fashion.
With the exception of morale modeling and logistics, almost every key wargaming concept reports for duty. Terrain plays a vital role, recon is important, combined arms tactics are rewarded. There's fog-of-war, destructible bridges, sizable minefields, opportunity fire, plausible unit strengths... all the things that make wargames great, together with a bit of whimsy in the shape of crowd-pleasing "special powers."
In a novel touch, the amount of collateral damage you cause during the campaign is tracked. This affects an alignment-style 'reputation' stat which in turn determines which of your faction's special strengths (stuff like Cyborg squaddies, dirty bombs and napalm deluges) you can access during battles.
SU would make an 8 effortlessly if it didn’t stumble in the barbed-wire known as AI. Artificial adversaries are generally worthy of respect (especially if you stack the odds in their favor in skirmish mode) but you’ll encounter some questionable tactics, including halfhearted assaults and poorly arranged defenses.