It's become passe to gripe about the glut of WWII shooters out there today, but after playing Activision's latest military-based FPS, we immediately quit our bitching. It turns out that Nazi-era guns, tanks, and steel are a welcome relief when compared to slugging it out 19th century-style. Who knew?
We're willing to give props to the folks willing to make a Civil War-era shooter (originality always counts for something), but A Nation Divided doesn't completely satisfy. History buffs will no doubt appreciate the historical scenarios and choice locations of the twelve battles, with locales like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Bull Run getting their juices flowing as assuredly as a weekend re-enactment. Unfortunately, you'll find that your Johnny Reb or Billy Yank will repeatedly get picked off by foes with amazingly accurate firepower, even when you're using cover. We had no idea that muskets could penetrate six-inch-thick wood from 100 feet away, but evidently they could and did.
Your arsenal is full of realistic period-piece muskets, pistols, swords, and (occasionally functional) grenades that definitely feel accurate for the era. Unfortunately that realism does not translate into "fun," since it takes you about half an hour to reload your weapon. An added bonus is that the chambers hold just a handful of bullets (or, in the case of your long-range rifle, only one), so replenishment is a constant necessity. This leads to frustratingly comical interludes with you going through your reloading paces while your see the enemy doing the same, patiently waiting for another chance to murder each other. Man, war was friggin' boring in the old days.
More often than not, close melee combat becomes the key to success, since the butt end of a rifle is a more effective way to prevent getting your face smashed in than slowly pouring gunpowder into your rifle. Thankfully, every once in awhile you'll stumble onto some cool Gatling guns and cannons, which can be fired for your explosive pleasure.
Just like the accuracy of your antique weapons, the game's audio and visual stylings are hit and miss. The battlegrounds look decent enough, but the ridiculous death animations of stricken soldiers and repetitive orders from your commanders and fellow soldiers will wear on you quickly.
Strangely enough, there's a complete lack of any multiplayer component. At $50, it could be considered a "budget" next-generation title (although in our minds fifty ducats ain't budget for any game). Too bad - we would have loved to see if we could've had fun capturing Rebel flags or defending Union forts from a Confederate assault. A functional online aspect would've helped tremendously, considering there's only about 6 hours of mission content in the campaign.
At best, Civil War is a weekend rental for shooter fans, history buffs, or Achievement miners who aren't knee deep in this fall's blockbuster military games. Be prepared to learn a little and reload a lot - while the buckshot flies all around you.