Still Got It
Though the two separate genres of real-time strategy and warfare go together with very little effort, it seems that Sid Meier has a knack for combining the two that goes beyond a simple marriage. Most of Meier's long list of games involves strategy in one form or another, and a majority, if not all of these are warfare themed. This perhaps overlooks the most important factor here, which is the fact that the Sid Meier saga (also supported developed by a team of talented individuals at Firaxis Games) never fails to deliver exhilarating titles that promise to immerse you straight into the action. Sid Meier's Antietam isn't the first of these Civil War-themed games (the first being Sid Meier's Gettysburg), but last certainly doesn't mean least for Antietam, a game whose 1999 release doesn't impinge upon its ability to still entertain like any modern game can.
A Micro Approach
If you happen to have played Sid Meier's Gettysburg before coming to this title, then you'll already be warmly familiar with the setup of the game as well as the look and feel of the action. Played largely with the mouse, Antietam is all about being accessible yet thoroughly enveloping at the same time. Moving troops is still performed by clicking and dragging them into position with the mouse, and other commands such as those that control the formation of the troops can be located on the easy-to-see buttons along the bottom of the screen. If you're not familiar, then it's pretty easy to grasp and very similar to other real-time strategy games, for example Rise of Nations only with an approach that is more micro than macro since we're dealing solely with the first battle of the American Civil War here.
By micro level, it is meant that the game is effectively a real-time (though often more fast-paced than this) simulation of regiment-based warfare. You're asked to take command of either the Union of Confederate side and play through various stages of one of the bloodiest battles in American history. History buffs will also be pleased to know that the attention to historical detail is paramount here, demonstrated partly by the fact that the terrain you fight on is as accurate as you could possibly hope for (with all of the pivotal terrain-based obstacles/nuances that had an effect on the real battle) and the individual regiments are also accurate to reality as well. Everything down to the individual troops' animations, uniforms, and classes is represented with astonishing detail, making this game immediately more enjoyable and able to carry more weight than most. Bear in mind that this was back in 1999 as well, making it all the more impressive.
The battling itself - which is what you will spend all of your time engaging in - is also remarkably accurate and includes factors such as the morale of your troops and the experience that they have, the latter in turn having an effect on the firepower of each regiment. The graphical depiction of the battle is a little less accurate, but this is only so you are able to see what is actually going on whilst being able to play the game without too many slow-downs. Even the way your units move and their formation is surprisingly loyal to real life, with the ability to change the formation at the click of a button to various arrangements such as line, column, and skirmish.
For the weaponry fanatics out there, Antietam has a nice selection of different cannons, with eight types available overall including sub-categories that come in both smooth-bore and rifled iterations. Each side also has advantages and disadvantages, such as the Union's line of sight being extended slightly to reflect their superior performance in the actual battle.
End Thoughts: Gift that Keeps on Giving
The game definitely has lots to offer in the long-run, including short-battle and long-battle variants where you can choose to get stuck in to short skirmishes or even the battle as a whole. You've also got an up-to-eight-person multiplayer to keep you entertained.
The main downside to the game is of course the fact that aside from the setting and subject, there really isn't that much that has changed between its predecessor and this title. It's the same graphics engine - which isn't exactly on par with that of modern-day battle games like Rome II Total War. The graphics are still admirable foe the time (it was 1999 after all, remember?) and the game is still one of the best of its type available at the time.