The Bluecoats: North vs South
Developer: Anuman Interactive
Platforms: PC (reviewed), iOS, Mac
Release Date: 10 May, 2012
Price: $9.99 (PC) $3.99 (iOS available here)
The Bluecoats: North vs South might ring bells on a couple of levels. On the more obscure, French level, Bluecoats was an incredibly popular comic strip. Secondly, it was one of the first turn based strategy games, released in 1989 on the Commodore 64, NES and several other platforms.
It takes the American Civil War as its backdrop, dropping players onto a map of the United States where they must takeover territories and conquer forts to win the day. This version – released on iOS and PC and Mac with an Android release in the pipeline – has obviously been tweaked from its 23 year old original form. The graphics have been improved and gameplay changes made to offer a more accessible experience.
Dumped on a map of the not so United States, players must capture individual territories and wipe out enemy forces. Different states have various strategic advantages and disadvantages, including forts, railways and ports. Holding two forts linked by rail will generate gold for your revolutionary coffers and a port will drop off reinforcements every now and again. Alongside these map features are several randomised game changers that can be turned on or off as you see fit, allowing for a bit of variety to the game’s singular mode. Both sides can be hindered by attacks from Indians or Mexicans on border states, or units can be held up by a passing storm. These little mechanics add a drop of chaos to a game that is otherwise mostly about who can buy the most troops from the shop fastest.
States held by the enemy can be taken without a hitch if there is no opposition on the square, but any fort or enemy unit will kick off one of the three mini games found within Bluecoats. Attacking or being attacked by a unit will bring up a fast paced battlefield, where you can order cavalry, cannon and infantry to attack. There are a small number of terrain features to take note of here and also the ability to surrender – both highly useful things to be aware of if you’re in a tight spot. The right unit pairings are fairly easy to come across and when you’ve got that nailed confrontations are usually pretty straightforward.
Taking or defending a fort kicks off a third person shooter section where your one trooper must fend off thirteen enemy soldiers. Although a bit tricky at first, once you get used to the rhythm of the enemies popping in and out of cover it is fairly easy to win. A nonsensical limit to the amount of time you can crouch feels like an incredibly forced way to add tension to what is otherwise a static fight, but it’s certainly a more efficient way to defend your territory than the sometimes unpredictable battlefield mini game. I eventually stopped defending my forts with a unit and just let attacks go straight to the shooter mini game.
The third and final mini game, in stark contrast to the other two, hardly ever appears. Either defending or attacking a train, this one remains fresher by virtue of its relative rarity. The three mini games form much of the games playtime, and as soon as you get the slightest of upper hands being so well practiced at them makes much of the challenge disappear.
Luckily you can change the start date of the game, giving either the Confederates or the Yankess more power and territory to match up with the historical events of the war. Sadly that’s pretty much all the influence the conflict has on the game, and other than the visuals you would be hard pressed to realise that there’s any sort of comic strip influence here.
There are no other modes to the game, so other than tweaking the difficulty and experimenting with the random elements and limited strategy, there isn’t much to do if you’re after something for long gaming sessions. The lack of any multiplayer at all is also incredibly strange – the game would benefit enormously from it. That said the enemy AI is very good – it’ll certainly take a few tries to get the best of it. Winning however is a bit of a let down, much of the tension having gone by the time you’re wiping out the last of the enemy units, and the complete lack of stats or rewards at the end doesn’t help matters – Bluecoats is certainly a very simplistic experience.
This is also something of a strength for the game however, which undoubtedly makes it more suited to portable platforms, especially the larger screen of the iPad. The game is overpriced for the PC platform for sure, but as an armchair distraction or commute filler Bluecoats would fare much better. The gameplay does provoke some strategic thinking and the mini games fare well enough over one off play sessions.
Audio & Visual
Graphically Bluecoats has been given a nice bright lick of paint, with cartoon strip style characters offering a little bit of charm. The music adds to the cheerful tone of the game, and is all Civil War marches and trumpet calls. Sure it’s appropriate to the theme, but your highly likely to switch to your own music after a short time – things get repetitive fast! The sound effects haven’t had the same attention as the animation either, so there’s not much to be lost by hitting the mute button. As a package Bluecoats is bright, cheery and ultimately inoffensive – it’s just a shame it doesn’t have a bit more character to it to take away from the fairly limited gameplay.
A cheerful distraction that will appeal to fans of strategy, Bluecoats is simply limited by its age. It’s crying out for a multiplayer mode and a bit more content – but for small sessions it does a solid job of making you think on your feet. The iOS version makes far more sense to buy than the PC, and iPad owners will probably get the best out of it. The mini games certainly make for an unusually mixed strategy experience, just make sure not to get too good at the shooting and turn the difficulty up!