An RTS that transports sci-fi weaponry back to the American Civil War, Gettysburg is ostensibly the work of one man. In those terms, the scale of its geographically credible battlefields must impress: the camera can zoom from cloud to ground in moments, and even drop the player inside individual units to give direct control over each shot. But even a week after launch, everything else that constitutes an RTS game is waiting to be patched in.
At release, it was impossible to order units to shoot enemies. This is not really an optional feature in a game about ordering units to shoot enemies. It has since been improved – now units sometimes shoot enemies – and no doubt many transformative patches are planned, but there's a long, long way to go before a semblance of workable tactics emerges. Partly this is because the game's bugs deny it: the AI is erratic at best – plotting waypoints in a hectare-spanning zigzag – and at worst inert.
Enemies plough happily into your guns or wander under your tank treads to pop in a shower of gore. Only once was I able to coax foot soldiers to get into a transport vehicle. Every other time they just clipped through it. Meanwhile, hit-detection is either completely crazy or unhitched from visual feedback: an enemy tank will put a hole through you while its gun points in an entirely different direction.
But even with a heroic effort of de-glitching, much of what might make this a functioning RTS isn't even on the drawing board. Units are simply unidentifiable from a distance – you need to use the hotkeys just to locate them – and there is no telemetry, no transparency regarding your force's behaviour. Meanwhile, the very concept is suspect: attacking futuristic tanks with sword-wielding cavalry units is just as unbalanced as that sounds. Nor does the realistic terrain offer any concession to the kind of game being played on it; the levels are tediously large and the landscape has no influence on the action. The many walls and fences aren't useful as cover, and pop out of existence when a vehicle chugs through them.
In the four-player RTS mode, commandeering an individual unit might mean your doltish forces elsewhere lose you the battle. Things are simpler in deathmatch mode, where command options are disabled. Instead, 64 players can jump into any of the game's units to do battle. Compared with its peers in third-person warfare, it's extremely crude, unbalanced to the point of being arbitrary and wrecked by glitches, but should the servers ever fill it still promises base amusement in the chaotic mash of armies.
For one coder and a couple of contractors to create such a grandiose conflict is a feat worth crediting. The developer has proved it can build something like a game; now it just needs to design one.
Tremendously ambitious but agonisingly incomplete. Its battlefield is buggy and crude, and its RTS credibility is MIA.