Ultimate General: Gettysburg – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Intuitive, fast-paced action. Easy to learn. Dynamic campaign. Pretty terrain.
Failed Basic: Clunky interface. Poor communication of new events. Battles devolve into melees.
Ultimate General: Gettysburg attempts to model the Civil War’s most dramatic and complex battle. It is a spiritual successor to the classic Sid Meier’s Gettysburg. It updates Gettysburg with a 3D engine and modern graphics, but doesn’t fill the original’s brogans.
Sid Meier’s Gettysburg is a classic of the strategy and wargaming genre. It brought real-time strategy and an intuitive interface to a battle that had previously only been the subject of stodgy, turn-based hex wargames. With its dynamic campaign and random battle modes, it was endlessly playable—no other Civil War game has come close, with the possible exception of Scourge of War: Gettysburg.
Ultimate General: Gettysburg is essentially Sid Meier’s Gettysburg in 3D. It follows the same dynamic campaign and uses very similar mechanics. The primary difference, besides graphics, is that your units can only be controlled down to the brigade level instead of individual regiments as they were in SM Gettysburg.
UG’s interface is intuitive but unsophisticated—just click and drag to set movement paths; arrows appear along the path as you drag. In a step back from the decades old SM Gettysburg, you cannot control units by division or set formations; you must either set individual brigade paths or be content with having a whole bunch of your brigades move together maintaining the same spacing. Likewise, there’s no way to force a brigade from line into column and vice versa. They seem to automatically change formation when within a certain distance from the enemy.
The biggest irritation with Ultimate General is the lack of player feedback and alerts. Your brigades will break and run with no warning, unless you’ve been periodically clicking on them to check their morale. Even worse, sometimes a unit will break and run and you won’t even notice until you move over to that side of the map. A little audio alert or popup announcing, “Gordon’s brigade is routing!” or “The Iron Brigade is about to retreat!” would be very handy. Likewise, when the game does give you an alert for newly arriving reinforcements, the reinforcements aren’t actually there yet. You can click on the alert to take you to where they will enter the map, but you have to actually wait around before they actually appear on the map. It’s just sloppy.
Finally, there’s little in the way of subtlety in battles. Because coordinating your forces is so difficult, your attacks will mostly be blobs of brigades charging into battle. To put salt in the wound, with your brigades in close proximity the interface makes it very hard to see which one is which as they all get muddled together.
The good news, such as it is, is that UG maintains several of the features that made Sid Meier’s Gettysburg so groundbreaking—the customizable AI and the dynamic campaign. Instead of a simple linear progression from hard to easy, you can customize the AI’s aggression and skill level. You can face anything from a cautious, Ambrose Burnside–like bumbler to an AI that is as aggressively opportunistic as U.S. Grant. The dynamic campaign means that you can reenact an alternate version of Gettysburg. Your actions in the early meeting engagements radically affect the sort of battles you face on the second and third days, as the Union and Confederacy lose and gain key hills and ridgelines. It’s just unfortunate that the only things the game does well have already been done—back in 1997.
It’s not that Ultimate General is a bad game; it’s fun for a while and probably the most accessible treatment of Civil War combat playable on a modern PC. It’s just disappointing and unpolished and doesn’t expand on the legacy of its classic ancestor. Ultimate General feels like an unfinished fan remake of a much better game. If you really need your Civil War fix, give Scourge of War a look.
Armchair General Rating: 78%
About the Author
Matt Richardson is a freelance social media consultant and copy writer in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a degree in History from Davidson College, with a special interest in military history and the Civil War. He has rotted his mind with video games since childhood. You can follow Matt at @MT_Richardson and read his blog at Ritalingamer.com.