I finally got a chance to play Ultimate General: Gettysburg over the weekend. It was a lot more important than I thought it was going to be.
If you want to read up on the background - and why people are quietly excited about this game despite it coming from seemingly nowhere - here's an interview I did with its creator a few months back. The tl;dr version is: the world's best Total War modder is taking all he learned and is making an all-new game, and on paper it sounded fantastic.
What I played was...fantastic.
I'll get this out of the way now: I played a very Early Access build of the game. So much of the UI is rough, the campaign's unfinished and there are little things like briefings either missing or busted. So this isn't a formal review.
Instead, here are the three things I took away from a weekend spent re-fighting the battle of Gettysburg over and over and over again:
1) Watch this gif closely. See the mouse cursor? See how I'm just drawing those manoeuvres on the screen? That's how you move units in UG:G. It's liberating. When you don't have to do things like set waypoints, and can instead issue things like flanking moves directly onto the map, you stop feeling like a dork behind a keyboard and start feeling like a General standing over a map sweeping things around. It's badass.
I know, some games have tried this before (especially on iPad), but I've never seen it work so well as it does here.
2) This is how you choose the "difficulty" of your AI opponent. There's no single slider of objectively based toughness. Instead, you're constructing an enemy out of the basics of human nature (well, human nature when commanding 19th century armies) mixing and matching various tendencies to come up with different opponents.
It seems to work, too. I messed around with a few, and each time got noticeably different results, with the AI switching up stuff like flanking moves, artillery bombardment, charges of the line, etc depending on what I'd picked.
3) The art looks lovely at first, but soon becomes a slight hindrance. Conditions like elevation and cover play a huge part in engagements, but while hills and rivers look pretty, it's tough seeing whether your unit is actually on a hill, or how high it is, etc, because the way 3D depth has been hand-drawn on a 2D battlefield is inconsistent. If only one thing is fixed between now and a final release, this has got to be it.
Even after only a few days spent with this game, and an early version of that, it's already tough going back to other strategy titles that don't have either of UG:G's two big features. The direct-draw moves, in particular, is the kind of thing I want to see everywhere in a few year's time.
You can try it out for yourself here.