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Posted on Apr 6, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Take Command: 2nd Battle of Manassas – Recon (PC)

By Bryce T. Valentine

One of the great mysteries of marriage is that over time, spouses can develop a sense of observation about their significant other that borders on the paranormal. For example, over time, my wife can wordlessly detect when I am pleased with a very cool game. Maybe it’s the maps strewn across the room. Maybe it’s the thousand yard stare from hours of nocturnal play. Maybe the war atlas and maps stacked at the computer. Who knows? Thanks to Mad Minutes’ Take Command: 2nd Battle of Manassas, my long suffering wife has had to experience all of this and more. This game, a sequel to the first installment of the series Civil War: Bull Run, does much more than simply continue the line- it has made many refinements to the game play system that has transformed a very good game into something very special indeed.

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With all due apologies to William Shakespeare, when it comes to PC gaming, the game play is the thing. In Mad Minutes’ Take Command: 2nd Battle of Manassas, the command and control structure for units is superb. Far too many games seem to have been made by folks who may have never learned drill from the military. The choices presented to the gamer are often limited to over-simplified directions given via point and click methodology. This game allows the shrewd commander many alternatives for transferring and placing troops, so that the amount of firepower delivered on target may vary depending on the facing of the troops. The game is flexible enough to permit great accuracy in this regard but beware of negligence with this system- you may easily find yourself shooting innocent air if you lose track of your unit during the battle. However, should you desire, the game features the ability to have a genuine first person view from the battlefield perspective of any unit. Also, the inclusion of a superb Artificial Intelligence system allows for extremely credible orders given to any of your fellow units while you are concerned with the command of other units.

The views offered by the game designers are outstanding. From an all-encompassing birds-eye view to the ability to stand in the ranks with any unit and see the battle from their vantage point, this game offers the full spectrum of possibilities for viewing and tracking the battle. This ability, coupled with the extremely accurate topography and historical placement of units, allows the player an unparalleled chance to follow the battle from the actual perspective of any unit on the battlefield that day. For example, while researching this game I was drawn to the Virginia Military Institute archives online, as many of the alumni were on the field of battle that day. When I found the private papers of Confederate Andrew C. L. Gatewood, it was extraordinarily easy to follow his particular unit, The 11th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, throughout the game and see history unfold on that distant day from his perspective. This ability to replay this critical and momentous battle from the perspective of any participant, from lowly private to the commanding generals, should afford any gamer many diverse options for compelling play. In fact, all of the historical scenarios available for the game are fascinating and factual, all the while offering the player many chances to re-write history as well.

"Okay, here’s the plan: You stand in a line here shoulder to shoulder. We’ll stand in a line here shoulder to shoulder. Then we shoot at each other." "Brilliant!" These guys are likely to learn that concealment is not the same as cover…

One of the great strengths of this game is the developer’s choice of this battle. While I would have been delighted to see a modern computer game cover either Stonewall’s Valley Campaign or, perhaps, cover the Seven Day’s Campaign, few can argue that this battle certainly offers a rare opportunity to study Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia while it was at the peak of its potency. Indeed this battle, along with the Battle of Chancellorsville, are considered to be Major General Lee’s greatest tactical masterpieces. Also, given that this battle captures the Army of Northern Virginia immediately prior to its costly encounter with Major General McClellan at Antietam, this game captures the Army of Northern Virginia at the zenith of its power.

Confronting the Southern Armies’ was the Northern Army of the Potomac with its newly installed commander, Major General John Pope. Bombastic and boastful Maj. Gen. Pope had newly been selected to replace the popular, yet ineffective, Major General George B. McClellan as commander of the enormously powerful Army of the Potomac. Major General Pope had been the victorious commander of Federal forces at the western Union victories of New Madrid, Mo. and at Island Number 10 on the upper Mississippi River. This led the frustrated President of the Union, Mr. Abraham Lincoln, to name the energetic general to head the Union Armies. At his new command, he promptly gained notoriety by caustically disparaging the generalship of both General Lee and the previous Union Army commanders by declaring that his soldiers should “dismiss from your minds certain phrases which I am sorry to find so much in vogue among you. I hear constantly of ‘taking strong positions and holding them’, of ‘lines of retreat’, and of ‘bases of supplies’. Let us discard such ideas…Let us look before and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance.” These sentiments were coupled with the issuance of his infamous orders that all people in his territory that were found to be corresponding with Southern soldiers, even parents and relatives of the soldiers, were to be prosecuted as spies and summarily executed.

This attempted application of total warfare was met with outrage in the North and in the South, and caused Maj. Gen. Lee to label Pope “the miscreant.” General Lee then famously ordered his chief subordinate Maj. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, to “suppress” General Pope immediately. As Maj. Gen. Pope invaded Virginia to sever the rail lines running to Richmond from the city of Gordonsville, Maj. Gen. Jackson and Maj. Gen. James Longstreet closed in to confront the Union Army. All three subsequent clashes-at Cedar Mountain, at Laurel Junction, and at Morgan Hill- are all covered in the game. Of course, the two-day major battle on the fields of Manassas is covered in extreme detail.

This is a campaign game that works at both the strategic and tactical level. Can you do what eluded Major General Pope and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, or will you and your powerful Army be, again, “suppressed”? The opportunity for either outcome will be yours when you “Take Command.”

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