NORTH & SOUTH said the manual. Aha, I thought. Redefined ladies with swirling dresses and cleavages that you could drive a steam engine down? Rakish young gentlemen and army officers attied with mud stained trenchcoats? Horse and traps racing through burning cities? Passionate embraces? Scandalous gossip?
Unfortunately, North & South is nothing like an American TV mini-series starring Jane Seymour (pity). Instead, it's based on a French comic book series called Les Tuniques Blues, but only vaguely. The influence of the books stops at using the characters to set the skill level for the arcade sequences.
When a mad bugler and a neighing horse gallop on screen issuing a wild discordant tune, you know that this isn't quite an SSI wargame that's coming up.
Moving around a very simple map of the USA - you can play against a friend, which is enormous fun, or the computer - you must direct your forces in an attempt to rid the country of the opposing army.
As a secondary objective it is necessary to capture land to bring in tax revenues, which can be used to buy new troops and secure territories through which the railroad runs.
If you lurk around until the opposing army's train is about to set off, you can intercept it by severing its route. This leads into one of the arcade sections - a frantic race along the roof of a moving train, reminiscent of Harrison Ford in The Last Crusade.
With enemy soldiers popping up and a timer rapidly decreasing, you must make it to the engine, stop the train and capture the gold. The scrolling is incredibly fast, your character very responsive and the animation distinctly dodgy. Still, it all fits in with the general pace of the game.
The second arcade section, where you try to capture a fort, is exactly the same but has you racing along the battlements towards the fort's flag.
War breaks out when the armies meet. The men line up on one of three types of battlefield, often punctuated by a river or chasm that necessitates trying to cross a narrow bridge while being shelled.
If you're playing the computer you'll notice that you are at a slight disadvantage here. You control each element of your army one at a time. The computer, of course, can have the cavalry charging with sabres slashing, the foot sloggers marching and firing, plus the artillery rolling around all at the same time, turning your side of the battlefield into the Somme.
True, you can set the cavalry off and then switch control to another unit, but you can't have two units firing and slashing at once. It makes playing the computer very difficult. The trick is to eliminate the other side's artillery first, which then gives you an almost unbeatable advantage. If this happens to you, start retreating. Fast.
Come to the end of the war, each side is rewarded with a well animated picture of the boys marching home in victory or a field full of corpses, one of which grins at you.
North & South is unlike any war