With the (relatively) recent release of Civilisation V, Sid Meier and Firaxis games have gone and done it once again, the "it" being the complete and utter domination of the civilisation/empire-based real-time strategy genre. This aptitude for releasing games of incredible stature isn't just a recent thing however: Sid Meier and various supporting developers have been at this for nearly twenty years, and their CVs are graced with various iterations of the hugely popular Civilisation as well as various other strategy-based battle games that are nothing less than worthy of at least 90% review scores. Going back in time today with Sid Meier's Gettysburg is therefore nothing but a pleasure because even way back in the mid-late 90s, Sid Meier & Co. were producing games that every PC gamer wanted to play, and Gettysburg is no exception. The very first official release from Firaxis Games, Gettysburg is a tactical strategy masterpiece focusing on the American Civil War, but don't let how old it is affect your judgement of it because games like this don't lose their brilliance over time.
It's best to get stuck right in with the gameplay of Gettysburg, since this was also an aim shared by Meier and other developers of this game when they developed the easy-to-navigate interface controlled almost exclusively with the mouse and with almost no reliance on hotkeys whatsoever. You are in charge of commanding either the Union or the Confederacy sides and placing units with the mouse. Each unit will attack automatically when an enemy comes into range so you must try and place units tactically with heavy emphasis on careful positioning. Attempting to flank the enemy is one of the more successful tactics that you can employ on the battlefield but Gettysburg permits you to take various factors into consideration: the surrounding terrain, exploiting of weaknesses in the enemies' formation, and even the morale of the men in the battle are all pivotal factors that can swing a battle one way or the other.
Though I've mentioned it above, it cannot be emphasised just how accessible this game is for newcomers to the genre. Aside from everything being controlled through mouse-guided menus, there are also clean divisions between relatively few unit types, making for a less confusing time than you would have in some of Meier's more recent titles such as Civilization V,.
The commands you can give are split between artillery, regiment, and brigade. Artillery commands are obviously for the long-range attacks and include orders such as unlimber/limber, specific targeting of either enemy infantry or artillery, retreat, and halt. Artillery can also be captured by the opposition if you're not careful. Regiment commands are responsible for the movements/orders for the majority of your men and include formations such as line, skirmish, and column as well as other commands such as advancing, charge, falling back, and retreating. Brigade commands are responsible for the coordination between multiple regiments on the battlefield. As you can see, the variety afforded to you in terms of tactical play and ways you can out-fight the enemy is quite generous. Gameplay is also not strictly turn-based like other modern-day empire games such as Medieval Total War; commands must be given quickly and things unfold just a little bit faster than many may be expecting when entering into this game expecting a steady-paced real-time strategy game.
End Thoughts: Of the Time
The only thing that the game can truly be criticised for (at least through modern-day perspectives) is its graphics, which were simply a product of the hardware limitations of the time. Remember that the game was released in 1997, a whopping 17 years ago when we simply didn't have the hardware or knowledge available to produce slick 3D graphics of today. Even today however, Sid Meyer's Gettysburg really isn't looking all that shabby. Though the battlefield graphics are comparatively simplistic, they are still impressively detailed with great battle animations. Players will also appreciate the dramatic cut-scenes that provide a great deal of atmosphere before battles and also give a bit of context to the action.
Simply Put, Sid Meier's Gettysburg is a sublime example of war-based strategy gaming that existed way before most of today's less tactics-based titles like Forge of Empires. The complexity of the action is enough that you can become thoroughly engrossed in the gameplay but its presentation and design is simple enough for anyone to get stuck into the action immediately, making this a serious blast from the past.