Commander: Conquest of the Americas Preview (PC)

Even though this is only a preview, I think it's safe to say that Commander: Conquest of the Americas will have some of the best looking water yet seen in a game. The campaign map shimmers a whole spectrum of blues, from the murky indigo of the mid-Atlantic to the crystalline colourings of the Caribbean.

Nothing quite like a romantic sunset to accompany a naval battle

I admit this is hardly the most important aspect of the spiritual successor to East India Company, but considering the game will revolve almost entirely around water, whether you're sailing through it, trading across it, or fighting on it, it's reassuring to know that Nitro Games have gone to the effort to make it look as realistic as possible.

Set between the year fifteen hundred and the mid eighteenth century just before the War of Independence, Commander is a complex trading game with a smattering of realistic naval battles thrown in for good measure. Players will be tasked with stamping their Imperial authority on the area spanning from the Hudson Bay to mid-South America through a mixture of creating successful colonies, constructing lucrative trade routes and crushing the competition, either with diplomacy or a full broadside of grapeshot.

The Grand Campaign will begin with the player choosing one of six European countries with Imperial aspiration, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of playing style. Feeling suitably patriotic I chose to play as Britain, who start with more available colonists than other countries, but these colonists have a lower overall morale.

Regardless of which country you pick, the initial step of each campaign will be to found your first colony. I decided upon Florida as a general starting area, as it is roughly in the centre of the Americas and therefore ideal for Imperial expansion both to the North and to the South. Founding a colony is a straightforward matter of filling your ships with wannabe colonists at your home port, clicking on an available colony spot and dispatching your human cargo onto the land.

However, choosing the right colony involves more than the location. Near every colony are rich deposits of raw materials which vary from place to place. These can be bought from the colony by your ship's captain before being taken back to your home port to sell at premium prices. My starting colony – named Bull Harbour – was rich in silver ore, which sold for roughly three times the asking price once it had been transported back to London.
No self-respecting colony is complete without a rum distillery

It's clear that the early stages of the campaign will involve a routine of depositing colonists at your starting colonies and then transporting raw materials back to your home port. At this point I did feel somewhat concerned by the pace of the game. With only a few available ships transporting colonists is a relatively slow process, and after founding two colonies you need one with a population of five thousand before you can found a third. You can of course build more ships, but they are expensive and will quickly empty your coffers if you are not careful.

Yet Nitro Games are ensuring that there is significantly more to the game than simply setting up a pan-Atlantic taxi service. To begin with, there is the ability to set up automatic trade-routes, which will allow the player to let the computer do the more mundane tasks while you get on with exploring the New World and expanding your already established colonies. Constructing new buildings such as Mission HQ's, Churches and better Warehouses will expand your individual colony's local influence and potentially enable access to more valuable resources. Additionally, it will also help you appease your advisers.

The advisers are intriguing aspect of Commander. Coming in Religious, Diplomatic, Trade and Military guises, they act as both an in-campaign tutorial – negating the need for tedious tutorial levels – and more importantly, mission dispensers. Your religious adviser, for example, might ask you to build more churches, whereas your military adviser might request more warships. Keeping in good standing with your advisers will play a key part in creating a successful trading empire, especially since upsetting one too much will result in game over.

Although it's likely that most of your time will be spent in the campaign map, it is inevitable that you will run afoul of one of your competitors. At this point, the game switches to a battle-map similar to that seen in Empire: Total War, where your ships will duke it out with those of the enemy. The comparison to Empire is apt, as these battles seem to play out in a similar fashion to the naval conflicts present in the Creative Assembly's game, down to the three types of shot that your cannons can fire (ball shot, chain shot and grape shot).

Having said that, Commander's battles appear to be more streamlined, with a few simple formations and modes of attack. Additionally, depending on the prowess of your Commander, you will have access to certain special abilities such as Kill Shot, which enables you to immediately unleash a devastating cannon barrage on your opponents. These special attacks give Commander's naval battles some individuality, and may be the solution to certain criticisms that East India Company's naval battles were boring.

In addition, battles can be played out in three different modes; Fast, normal and simulation, which should further alleviate those monotonous waits for your ships to catch up with a fleeing enemy vessel. Nitro Games clearly have confidence in their naval battles, as they can be played separately from the Grand Campaign in Quick Battle mode.
Not what you want to see coming at you first thing in the morning

Whether Commander: Conquest of the Americas will be individual enough to distance itself from Empire or East India Company is still up for question, especially since the preview code seemed relatively complete. But there are definitely unique touches present in the build, particularly the colony system. Commander is certainly looking to be a solid strategy game, but we'll have to wait for the release to see if it turns out to be spectacular.

Commander: Conquest of the Americas will be released on 30th July for PC.

Most Anticipated Feature: The colony system looks to have the perfect mix of simple set-up with substantial depth and complexity beneath.

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By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Jul 13, 2010
Wow, the game looks very interesting. I remember the Patrician III, I played it like crazy, but it is certainly out-dated. This is like the best looking water I've seen in a game, the guy who did the review was right. I can't wait to try this one!
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Aug 07, 2010
Damn i agree Bosnian, The Water and the sun together with that level of Quality will Surely look awesome on my PC ... too bad that i hate these kinds of games .
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 07, 2010
A classic strategic game. Looks more like a tower defense type of gameplay to me... Classic.