As creative as the developers got, all these descriptions have little effect on your gameplay and that is good, once you realize how to play the game. The second major weakness of Shattered Union is its tutorials and documentation. The manual is best used as toilet paper for all the good it does in explaining how to play the game and the interface, in spite of being quite spartan doesn’t help much either. Worse, the game’s non-interactive video tutorials will serve only to annoy you.
They are two huge hurdles that many gamers will have to get over to get to an experience that otherwise is quite enjoyable. Gameplay encompasses two elements – a large strategic map that shows the entirety of the United States broken down into different areas that represent faction territories, and a smaller map that shows the details of each of those 25 different zones.
The larger strategic map allows you to repair your vehicles, purchase new ones, and see the stats of other areas you plan on conquering, but contains nothing so deep as the strategic aspects of Rome: Total War. The real fun comes from the battlefield map where you get to manually place your units (there is a choice for automatic setup as well) and pit them against your unseen adversary.
Your adversary is unseen not just because you are playing him/her over the internet, but because each map has a very constrictive fog of war. If the nuclear inauguration disruption occurs in 2013, as stated in the game, why aren’t the units using satellite technologies to determine what is going on around them? It’s a design decision that’s made even more inexplicable by the presence of a power-up that allows you to jam an enemy vehicle’s sensors and communications capabilities for a number of turns.
Then again, in a military strategy game that does use such things as power-ups, perhaps you don’t need to question such things. The power-ups usually provide bonuses to a unit’s offensive or defensive capabilities, but sometimes arrive with more exciting benefits. For instance, you may find yourself in control of an EMP bomb, or even with nuclear weapons. Obviously some are more interesting than others, but your conduct on the battlefield will determine which ones you have the use of.
Pop Top added an interesting element to the game called “political reputation”. Essentially it is a measure of your popularity among the people of the world. If they view you as a tyrant because you wantonly destroy cities on every map you conquer, then that will determine what special powers and local support you will get to use on the next tactical map. For those of you that don’t care about collateral damage, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get any cool special powers, you just get those that are more inline with the type of leader you are playing as. To simplify it, those battling without respect for the civilian populace will get toys like nukes, while those who do give props to the peeps, end up with EMP bombs and help from local units called partisans. Partisans are basically civilian vehicles that have been converted for combat. Sometimes called “technicals” in the military, Pop Top chose to add a little character to them by having them look different depending on where you are fighting. So in the Southwest by Los Angeles, the technicals look like converted low riders and in the areas of the plains states they look like red neck trucks. Is that some sort of a statement again, Pop Top?