Phew, what a package! Five manuals and 12 disks covering all the various UMS releases: the original and frankly rather dated Universal Military Similator itself, plus sequel and upgrades UMS II: Nations at War, UMS II: Planet Editor and the UMS II Civil War Scenarios.
The first thing that strikes you about the package is that it is all rather disorganised. If the developers had bothered to re-write the manuals and repackage the softeare life would have been a lot easier.
An example. There are no instructions on installing the first UMS to hard disk. To install UMS II, there are Shell commands for you to type in (which are wrong, incidentally; the command path udisk: should have a dd after it) and to install UMS II: Planet Editor you must use icons. Consistency would be good.
It is also rather wearing to plough through five manuals, covering over 600 pages, and five installation procedures when one of each would have done. However, you do get a lot for your money at around half the price you would have to pay for the complete set. Shame it is all slapped together rather than lovingly crafted.
What is it good for? Well, quite a lot actually. The package breaks down into two definite sections - UMS and UMS II. Both offer a lot of possibilities. The surprisingly aged UMS itself is still a damn good skirmish controller. Over a small playing field you can recreate any two-sided conflict, although it can be frustratingly slow at times. Once you get into the heat of battle, despite some rather cheesy samples emanating from your speaker, you do get involved.
The options are excellent, letting you view the battle from any angle and zoom in and out as you wish. You can even switch sides half-way through a battle if you do not like the way it is going. You can play against the computer, letting it choose its own tactics, or you can force it to attack you through the middle, try to out-flank you, defend and so on.
UMS II is a different thing altogether. You have an entire world as your playing area, with multiple opponents and allies, all of whom have artificial intelligence (of a sort) that you can manipulate. There are very powerful display options which let you zoom from viewing the globe into an area of a few hundred square miles and colour graphics!
Like UMS, UMS II can be very slow at times. If you play the Desert Storm scenario it takes several minutes for all the computer-controlled nations to make their moves, and that is on an A1200. On the plus side, the moves that are finally made are rational and within the parameters set by the Artificial Intelligence option. Rome was not built in a day, nor did it fall in one.
One of the highlights of UMS II is the Planet Editor. You can create all kinds of terrain features, place cities and towns, designate nations and alliances and then, of course, force them all to kill each other. It is all very healthy and natural, even spiritually rejuvenating. God must be laughing.
UMS suffers from a greatness that is also its fundamental flaw: its versatility. With UMS you can recreate any conflict from any age. Indeed, there are several scenarios provided with the game ranging from Alexander the Great, through the Napoleonic wars to Desert Storm.
As well as the provided scenarios, you can create your own. With the editing facilities you can roughly recreate any type of military unit from a dragon to an anti-grav sled-mounted thermonuclear Gauss Cannon. The problem is that you might well end up giving these two vastly different entities pretty much the same statistical values, with the only difference being their name.
UMS is likely to lose out on atmosphere in the long run, for this very reason - there is little difference in the feel of the game whatever epoch you are playing. A Roman road looks much the same as a 12-lane highway.
A game like Campaign, which is much richer in atmosphere, cannot compete with the long term appeal of UMS. It does, however, make use of the Amiga's tremendous graphics potential in a way that makes UMS look like it is not trying. The UMS control system is cumbersome too, relying almost entirely on pull-down menus instead of point-and-click.
In all, UMS is a must for the serious war gamer. If spending Saturday afternoons in a draughty village halls shuffling thousands of tiny little men around a big polystyrene-and-rubber playing field is your idea of a good time then UMS was made for you. But it is serious stuff, and therefore not recommended to more frivolous gamers after a quick thrill.