The long-winded title of the original game in the series - The History Channel: Civil War: The Battle of Bull Run: Take Command: 1861 to be precise - should by no means put potential players of the game off experiencing it firsthand. The original was in fact, quite contrary to its sprawling title, a very succinct and hugely accessible foray into the world of Civil-War themed real-time strategy, giving you the power to command an entire army whilst taking on the responsibility of a person in that position; everything from tactics to manoeuvres and nuances in the terrain were taken into consideration. The rather more concisely-titled Take Command: Second Manassas offers up the same old familiar gameplay of the original whilst ensuring that improvements are made with armaments, commands, terrains and the aesthetics getting some welcome additions and improvements. Before continuing, please note that the Take Command series is around 10 years old at this point, and must be judged as a product of its time rather than by the ridiculously high standards of today's hardware/software a whole decade later.
Standard Strategy and Historically Loyal
Fans of the real-time strategy genre will pretty much know what to expect from this Civil War-themed title, though anyone that is unfamiliar should take my word that at its heart, Second Manassas' core gameplay is as textbook as they come. By this I mean that oversee the action on the battlefield that unfolds in so-called real time, commanding a variety of units such as infantry, cavalry, and artillery on the battlefield and paying attention to the various elements such as experience level (referred to as "quality") and the number of men you have (strength) has well as limitations like morale and fatigue that also affect your regiments. As well as relatively realistic battle considerations, you also have some historically significant figures appearing throughout as well and some familiar terrain that does justice to the reality of the battle known as Second Manassas.
The action truly begins once you have laid down your formation and the enemies are in range; only then will your troops begin to attack. The troops will follow your orders loyally, with none of the annoying descent into absolute madness that is usually experience in games like these. As this is a real-time strategy, time actually runs at a set pace, which can be accelerated, though only until you are fired upon/your troops fire, at which point the time moves at regular speed again. It can be a little bit irritating having to start and stop the acceleration process, but that's simply the way it is since you play through a variety of scenarios that take a set amount of time, after which they conclude, and this happens no matter what your performance has been like. As fans of Sid Meier may know, this is a little bit of an oversight compared to the relatively tight-knit and almost flawless nature of games such as Sid Meier's Gettysburg.
Realistic Pressures and Decent Graphics
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Take Command: Second Manassas is the fact that realism isn't sacrificed for enjoyment. Things like terrain, for example, have a huge effect on how your troops will perform, with areas like woodland slowing down your troops almost immeasurably and open areas leaving your units highly exposed and likely to receive fire from any artillery in range. Orders are even carried across the battlefield via couriers that can be taken down: this kind of realism makes everything much more immersive than many civil war games, and though it isn't quite at the level of realism displayed by fellow Civil War game Scourge of War, there is a gulf of a good few years dividing the two, and Second Manassas must be praised for what it achieved all those years ago.
It's best to discuss the graphics in context with the original, and it pains me to say that not much has really changed aside from a few aesthetic improvements such as high-resolution uniforms. The same can really be said about most other aspects of the game as well, with incremental improvements that don't truly justify the game's increased price tag at the time of release. Still, the animations and action feels a little more immersive because you're physically closer to the battle than in Sid Meier's Antietam.
Take Command: Second Manassas is definitely a great civil war game, but if you're looking at the best, your time may be better spent on perhaps the best Civil War game out there, Civil War Generals 2: Grant, Lee, Sherman.