US Marines are a tough bunch. In the service of America's interests for nearly 200 years they have been kicking butt all over the globe, from Asia to the Caribbean to the Gulf. All this scrapping has earned the "Leathernecks" a reputation for grim efficiency and a fighting spirit second to none. It has also inspired a rather good strategy game from SSG.
Taking its title from an important battle in the American-Mexican War, The Halls Of Montezuma recreates seven episodes from the Corp's past. Starting with that conflict, it encompasses campaigns in WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
You have the option of playing either the Marine commander, or, if you don't feel like fighting for mom, dad and apple pie, their adversary. A small booklet included with the game gives a potted history of each, and there is a useful colour poster with simple maps of the battlefield.
In chronological order then, the first scenario is the assault on Mexico City. You take on the role of either the fancifully named Major General Winfield Scott - the Marine's leader, or the even more fanciful Santa Anna - the Mexican head honcho.
Santa may have been his real name, but he certainly wasn't the sort to dress up in a silly white beard and give out presents to kids in department stores. No, this guy planned to give the Americans a good hiding when they came knocking at the city gates. Entering rather late into the First World War, the Marines still played their part in it. Never was this more the case than at Belleau Woods, another scenario, where they lost a large percentage of their strength due to some cunningly placed spandaus.
Even with these heavy losses they pressed forward, taking the woods, saving Paris from the squareheads and halting German's last desperate fling for victory. Gasp! I guess this made up for them being a few years late!
Perhaps the most memorable of all the Marine's actions were in the next World War - the storming of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Here they faced their most vicious opponents yet, fanatical Japanese dug in so deeply they could only be dislodged with constant bombardment from Danni Minogue records - sorry, high-explosive and falme-throwers (the Marines may have been tough, but they weren't barbaric!). Can you take Turkey Knob - a Japanese stronghold - before Bernard Matthews turns it into a stud farm?
The last three scenarios deal with Pusan and Inchon in Korea and Hue in Vietnam, commie-bashing exercises beloved of the Americans. Of course, if you don't like the smell of napalm in the morning, you can always can take charge of those pinko subversives and give the Yankees a taste of their overseas diplomacy, heaven forbid!
So that is the military history lesson out of the way, what about the gameplay? Well, it's a fairly traditional hexagon-based wargame, controlled with the mouse. Icons depicting various movement options etc, can be selected and orders sent.
Unit status is called up by clicking on the unit, and this will give important information as to its combat-readiness. Use of this system is pretty straightforward and smooth and can be picked up reasonably quickly by non-strategists. If you are not sure as to what you should be doing, the objective display will help.
As well as the historically accurate scenarios, there is the opportunity to change some of the parameters of the engagements. This allows you to play out "what if...?" scenarios, and adds to the game's appeal. Some ideas are given in the manual. For instance: what if the NVA at Hue had three Shredded Wheat for breakfast?
There is also an "enhanced" setting to give either side a bit of an advantage over the other. This is particularly useful for novices like me! Great stuff.