2008 Reviews

The History Channel: Civil War - Secret Missions

  • Review Date: 2011-12
  • Release Date: 2008-11
  • Developer: Cauldron HQ
  • Rating: 4.0

Well you can't say Cauldron HQ wasn't given a chance. They sprung up with the excellent sci-fi shooter Chaser in 2003, thereby getting the chance to create the third Soldier of Fortune and a series of games for The History Channel. I skipped the first two History Channel games simply because they were obscure enough that I didn't know the existed. Their SOF: Payback was rubbish. Cauldron then released Secret Service in 2008, another existing I.P. which was also rubbish. And now with the third History Channel game, they've fumbled again. Proving once again that they're a very average game developer.

Seriously, someone from Cauldron should play Crysis and they may realise just how poor Secret Missions really is. It's almost a chore to play through it, because it's certainly not fun. And the linearity is laughable. Even the original Medal of Honor and Call of Duty from 2002/2003 weren't this linear. We're now living in an age where if you want to create an outdoor game, you can't have the player travel along narrow paths winding through thick bush where just two metres off the path you hit an invisible brush and flat wall of shrubery. It's simply poor game design. I don't even mind linearity - Legendary and Turning Point had it this bad and I didn't complain, but they were based in confined urban environments, not supposedly sprawling outdoor fields.

The art and graphics don't look too bad in Secret Missions. I can live with it, in fact at times it looks quite quaint and cute. Not really up to 2008 standards, but not far off. The levels remind me of Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, only without the modern Unreal 3.0 engine with all it's fancy effects, and nowhere near the size of the levels in that game.

I don't really understand why Secret Missions is always so bright and colourful. If you're making a game based on something that happened over 100 years ago, with all the GUI's, videos and imagery looking old fashioned, why not give the game that old fashioned look as well? Such as a desaturated, almost sepia style. It would surely give that feeling of 'old' a lot better.

Right so on to the god awful gameplay of Secret Missions. The combat consists of both sides ducking up and down from cover, very similar to Brothers In Arms, shooting one enemy at a time. The aim is awful. You have to be close to hit them and they take 2-3 shots to die. Sometimes enemies sit behind cover for quite a while, so you've just got to sit there with your scope aimed above the cover waiting for them to pop up. Once they're cleared (or as you're clearing them) another identical looking enemy will spawn and move to the exact same position. Sometimes you can just keep your mouse pointer in the same place and wait for the clone to appear.

Then you get the sniper mission where you sit through a mindless reloading animation after EVERY SINGLE BULLET fired. I've never experienced something so retarded in a game. I don't care that it's realistic - it's just not fun. Then there's the canon level where you can't even tell where you're aiming because the goddamn canon is in the way. There's no scope so it's trial and error until you've got the distance right with buildings you can barely see so you don't even know what to shoot out within the tight time limit.

As for this being part of a History Channel learning experience - I didn't really learn a damn thing. There's no story. It's more of a game demonstrating the different tactics during the civil war, rather than real life locations and scenarios. Things like the gatling gun mission, the sniper mission, the canon mission, the train mission. All of which last less than ten minutes, meaning the game is only 2-3 hours long at best.

It's quite a difference going from the huge open-'universe' and gameplay possibilities of The Precursors to this game... a small, linear, extremely basic shooter. I just hope it wasn't at a full game price. Even City Interactive's crappy Russian shooters of 2008 were more fun than Secret Missions. I'm pretty sure this will be 2008's worst first person shooter.