For Liberty! or: How I Ousted The British
Review - posted by Shagnak on Tue 19 September 2006, 11:56:34
Since 1997, BattleFront.com has been involved in the business of publishing of games that are firmly entrenched in the strategy and war-gaming genres. In their own words they are “committed to producing first-class military minded software without becoming obsessed with 'glitz over substance', like the other 99% of the game industry”. In short, their mission is to keep grognard dreams alive, and with their latest release, Hussar Games' For Liberty!, they are continuing that mission.
Like Hussar Games' last production, 1848, the emphasis is on a historically accurate model of an 'independence war' period. The predecessor focussed on the Hungarian Independence War of 1848-49. The latest instalment gives you two independence wars for the price of one - the American Revolutionary War and the War of Spanish Succession in Hungary.
I must admit that I do not have a particular penchant for either theatre (someone make me a game set during the New Zealand Maori Land Wars!), but credit should be given to Hussar Games for catering to both the US and Euro-centric markets. Spreading the appeal even wider, if throwing the British Empire out on its ear offends your imperialistic sensibilities, you have the option of being the British and subjugating the rebelling settler scum. Likewise in the European theatre, you can play as the Austrian side rather than 'Rakoczi's poorly equipped rebels'.
You're probably asking yourself why someone with so little appreciation for the history of both theatres is reviewing this game. A better question would be: can someone with little historical appreciation enjoy this game at all? Will the gameplay overcome any prejudices that Joe-Average strategy-game-player (aka Shagnak) might have? Let us see...
Liberty means not having to shade our pixels.
'Substance over glitz' does not mean that a game has to look ugly, and luckily for us Hussar Games have managed to make an interface that, though not as slick or commercial-looking as Paradox Games' efforts, still has a clean, clear, appealing design. You won't find an ounce of 3D here; 2D is king, and hexes are sexy.
For Liberty! uses what is essentially an upgraded version of the 1848 engine. The interface has been tidied up since then; the panels seem better organised and those that obscure the map can be easily hidden. Any confusion about what each button does (confession: I had trouble finding the 'menu' button when I first played – it was late, okay?) should be dispelled by handy pop-up tips when you mouse-over on a control.
Units are nicely designed and easily distinguishable. Hussar Games have eschewed the boardgame-piece style of games like Strategic Command or The Operational Art of War in favour of fully animated unit representations. These look great against the nicely illustrated hex-based map.
Two resolutions are supported – 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024. The latter was particularly welcome after playing the likes of Paradox's Hearts of Iron 2 : Doomsday and finding it only supported 1024x768, which looks particularly crap on my 19” LCD. Kudos to Hussar Games for catering to the modern monitor era.
All your hexes are belong to us.
Four scenarios can be played from each theatre, each detailing a historically accurate portion of the respective periods. Your global resource-levels and success are indicated by scores such as Zeal, which reflects your “global force morale”, Influence Points, and more mundane scores such as Gold and Weapons. The status of individual armies is represented by statistics such as Morale, Experience, and Supply.
Most of the strategic part of the game is spent on the strategic map level. The whole map is divided into three sections, each of which has its own weather (this can have an effect on proceedings).
The strategic map - you'll spend a lot
of time looking at this.
Each game turn represents a week of time, in which you can do actions such as (and not limited to) recruit troops from towns, plunder both enemy and allied towns for resources, fortify, or move troops around or into combat.
Once per week you can select a political event if you desire. This uses up Influence points, but can give you the edge if used wisely. For example, choosing “Cannons aid” will give you +6 cannons due to foreign aid (!), or selecting “Spread bad news” can lower you opponents' Zeal. Saying nasty things about your enemy really hurt people's feelings back then.
Recruitment will become one of the most critical activities when you play the game. The different units will cost a varying amount of resources. For example, a unit of Dragoons (cavalry trained to fight both mounted with sword, and unmounted with musket) will cost the same number of Recruits as Infantry, but take considerably more from your Horses (obviously) and Weapons reserves.
Also of importance is the Leader that you choose for each army, each of which has a selection of special abilities that he can bring to the fray. For example, Brigadier John Glover has the ability “Bridge Builder”, which reduces the movement penalty for troops under his command travelling on rough terrain. General Benjamin Lincoln supplies “Melee Specialist” (+30% melee strength) and Fort Specialist (+30% in defense in forts or earthworks). Selecting the right Leader for the right job will have a major impact on combat...
|Recruitment - know your troops!|
“Lincoln gains the initiative!”
Let's face it, military games are not much cop if the combat is not very satisfying. Strategy games generally straddle the two extremes of representation : Civilization-style, where the combat is end-result driven (i.e. automatically resolved with minimal detail and maybe a couple of cute animations); or games where the combat is played out blow by bloody blow.
For Liberty! offers combat at two different levels of detail.
Auto-resolution is definitely the less satisfying of the two, and presented as a scrolling window of text displaying the combat details while the sound of battle is played over it. On the default setting the text scrolls by so quickly that you cannot easily read what is happening. My first instinct was to choose a slower setting in the next battle, only to find that (a) the results weren't that interesting, and (b) most combats took a very long time. The second time I made this mistake I went and made a coffee to soak up some time. My recommendation? Put it on Very Fast. If you really are that curious then you can scroll back through the text after the end result is shown.
Or, better still, use the other option – Tactical Battle.
|Auto resolution - unexciting?|
Tactical Battles can take a while, so luckily you can configure which armies will use this option and which armies will use the aforementioned auto-resolution. Combat is resolved on a hex-based battlefield, with randomly placed terrain that is appropriate for the hex that is being fought on at the strategic map level.
As is common in these sorts of games, action points are utilised to determine movement and action. Make a unit walk too far in their turn and they will not have enough action points to charge in and apply their pointy things to the enemy. Leaders' special abilities will apply effects to allied units within their sphere of influence. They can also use a “rally the troops” ability to raise the morale of troops within their sphere – this is handy in turning around any routed units.
The way combat plays out is simple but still entertaining. In some respects a little more detail would have benefited. For example, you can select from 3 different formations, each with varying movement and combat effectiveness, but you cannot choose unit stances such as “Brace for a charge”. Curiously, at the strategic map level you can choose various stances, or even tactics such as “Bold” or “Cautious”.
The condition in which your troops arrive on the battlefield will have a huge effect on your success. In my first big battle I had little appreciation for this, churning out some rather large armies without taking into account my ability to provision them. This is represented by your army's Supply score – a low Supply reduces Morale and Readiness, and having a low amount of the latter reduces movement points and lowers combat effectiveness. Combine this with not remembering to train my troops...needless to say they arrived into combat with all the gusto of a drunk tortoise. Movement was slow and they never seemed to have enough movement points to charge into battle, making me rely on musket-fire. Unfortunately, ammunition is limited and my mighty battalions soon became useless.
Blood on the snow - exciting
Overall, combat in For Liberty! is hard and unmerciful. It will take many attempts and forethought to start getting it right, but when you do, satisfaction is high. One improvement would be the option of an even simpler auto-resolve option, where (a la Civilization) a result summary would pop up after a very brief unit animation. I found that the detail in the current auto-resolve added little; when I was that interested in detail I would always choose the tactical battle option.
Procuring the goods.
For Liberty! can be downloaded and purchased from BattleFront.com. Installation is a breeze. There is no nefarious Starforce-like copy protection, but like a lot of games purchased on-line it does require on-line activation. This involves connecting to the internet to download a licence to your hard drive. The licence is limited to two separate machines at a time; which means that you can also put it on your laptop for when you are travelling, or chuck it on your wife's machine for some LAN-action.
Speaking of which, For Liberty! supports several modes of multi-play: hot-seat on the one computer, LAN multi-play, or Play-By-Email. The last option was not tried, but I would be interested in finding out about its practicality.
The price tag is US $35 for both the download and mailed versions. This is a reasonably good price-point for what is essentially a specialist market, and around $10 less than similar games (like Prussia's Glory).
If you are a hardcore grognard, then I have a hunch you'll want this game. If, like me, you count yourself as more of a Joe-Average turn-based strategy game player, then chances are still very high you'll enjoy it; I sure did. If you have any doubts there is a demo to try out (warning: it does not have the patching goodness that the good lads at Hussar Games have since supplied) or you can try out its predecessor, 1848, which has been made totally free to promote the release of For Liberty!.
If you are a pixel-shader-sucking 3D-graphics whore, don't bother. In fact, why are you even reading this?
Note: For Liberty! has since moved to Matrix Games. Prussia's Glory (and the rest of the Horse & Musket series) will do the same in the near future.