The Civil War was a time of turmoil and death in which hundreds of thousands of American soldiers gave their lives for their beliefs and ideals. The country itself was struggling to stay alive as war ravaged the land for years. Today, to a far less degree, that is exactly what playing History Channel: Civil War feels like, a struggle. With so many technical problems, remaining alive becomes the greatest challenge of all.
This game at first resembles Call of Duty 2 (Activision helped with the publishing duties and both games use the same engine). The similarities soon end, as History Channel: Civil War feels nothing at all like its WW II counterpart. It feels entirely like a budget title, which makes it totally lack any sense of battlefield authenticity, let alone that of the Civil War.
The time period itself is a cause for concern for any developer, since recreating weapons, clothing and locations from that era is tricky and time-consuming. However, History Channel: Civil War does a good job of pulling off that particular task. The weapons all look exactly to scale and are modeled after actual Civil War weapons. But like all Civil War weaponry, the guns you will use in the game lack a key feature of today's firearms. Because most rifles from the 1800s lacked a central chamber, which holds ammunition, reloading took a huge amount of time and was a constant struggle. On average, a Civil War soldier could only reload his one-shot musket three times a minute, a pithy to the rounds-per-minute counts of weapons used today. While this delay in reload time may seem like fun in the game the first three or four times, the action later literally comes down to who can reload their weapon faster and get off a shot. While Activision sped up the reload times, it still takes an incredibly long time before you can fire any weapon, which is terrible in any shooter.
Reloading isn't the game's only problem. If you do manage to reload before the enemy, expect to land a few rounds in him before he actually falls. The hit detection in this game is terrible, forcing you to fire several shots at your enemy before it registers that you struck your target. Even melee attacks don't register half the time, which causes your character to swing wildly at the air in hopes he will eventually land a punch.
Also, don't expect any help from your fellow soldiers along the way either, as they simply run off into separate directions or disappear from the battle altogether. This lack of support requires you to spend every mission going it alone against dozens of soldiers who have precision aiming. While aiming is already a demanding task for the player, Civil War's enemies never seem to have problems, as they shoot at you constantly without ever reloading. To make things even more difficult, the heads-up-display (HUD) lacks any form of navigation, making advancing to the next objective difficult. The only thing that appears on the game's compass is a tiny dot that shows the "basic location" of the objective. Sometimes the dot appears behind you on the map, and the only way to advance through the level is to backtrack. This seems like a cruel developer's trick to make you run around the levels for longer periods of time, making the missions seem bigger. But it does nothing more than make you more infuriated.
As if things could not get any worse, the HUD also fails to acknowledge when enemies are present. Since both allies and enemies wear what appears to be almost exactly the same color uniform, dark blue or gray, it is incredibly hard to tell who is on your side. The only way to figure that out is to get shot and see where a red arrow points to. Expect to die a lot because of these technical follies. To add insult to injury, the game lacks a checkpoint system, meaning you have to pause the game and save in the menu to advance your progress. If you forget to save and later die in battle, you have to restart the entire mission over again.
The missions themselves play out exactly the same, with your character heading to a certain area, most likely to destroy some sort of structure, and finding your commanding afterwards ends the mission. As if it wasn't bad enough already, Civil War is horrible when it comes to providing "variety" to break up the monotony. There are "stealth" mission, but they're failures in execution since you're told to stay hidden along a road with no cover in broad daylight. All of the game's missions end abruptly, with no message, no rewarding sense of victory. Instead, once you reach the last objective of the level, the screen simply fades to black and you are taken back to the main menu. A cruel prank, especially with all the other hassles to begin with.
Gameplay aside, this game looks and feels like a budget title too. Characters are blocky and lack facial expressions, moving and dying with the same animated movements. All character models look the same, which makes picking out friend from foe a guessing game. The sound is some of the worst I have ever encountered in a war-based shooter, with cannons that sound like muskets and enemies that scream after they are dead. All characters have the same annoying voice too, all screaming in a Southern accent despite most soldiers from that time period coming from New England.
Even with all of the bad, there are some things you might enjoy about History Channel: Civil War. Since History Channel lent their name to the game, there are some impressive cutscenes before each level that tell you what is going on before each battle and what is going to eventually happen once you get there. While there are some actual photographs from the Civil War era that are used for the game's backstory, the rest of the narrative is told through a "PowerPoints" where colored shapes show the movement of armies. These look very corny and out of place, especially compared to the rest of the game. However history buffs may enjoy these historical references, I feel they would be better served watching the actual History Channel for more professional, quality depictions.
Overall, History Channel:Civil War feels too much like a budget title to recommend. The game's $50 price seems insulting, as it has too many problems to even consider worth a play-through, much less a purchase. The game's achievements might be enough to convince some to buy it, but if you don't care about adding points to your gamerscore, stay as far away from this game as you possibly can.