Napoleon: Total War Review
developer: Creative Assembly
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Feb 23, 10
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Shogun: Total War, Medieval: Total War, Rome: Total War, Medieval II: Total War and the recently released, Empire: Total War. Every one of the aforementioned titles was a must-have for strategy fans or indeed any gamer. Yes, they were that good. Creative Assembly, the developer behind the series, has an admirable knack for making an immersive, epic strategy experience, cramming it with enough content to lure even the most enthusiastic and determined players. For what it's worth, the development studio hurled their famous Total War franchise into a new era. This time they take us to the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
As always, there are many factions on offer, including: Austria, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom of the Netherlands (I think that's all of 'em... shoot me if I left something out). Naturally, the story mode casts you into the early military career of Napoleon and as you progress things get more and more exciting. "Mastery of Europe" represents the full French campaign, which works similarly to previous Total War games. The very first battle commenced. Blown away by the sheer amount of units on screen and a multitude of new-fangled visual effects that help create a true-to-life large-scale battle, I said to myself: "Yes, this is Total War alright. Good to be back."
Trying to find my way around the nuts and bolts of yet another Total War game, I quickly discovered I was right at home. Didn't take too long to get back into the saddle, as you might say. If you are familiar with the series, it should be the same for you. On the other hand, it takes a bit of time to learn how to command units and heroes effortlessly. The tutorial should help you out in that department.
Rain is all you need in a situation like this.
Snow is just the thing you need in a situation like this.
The main change a lot of Total War fans will surely notice is the more aggressive, sharper enemy AI in the campaign map. Okay, the generals and leaders of opposing armies won't dazzle you with flawless strategy and brilliant wisdom, but they do provide a solid challenge and will put your tactical abilities to the test, perhaps even more so than the previous releases in the series. Once you hit the battlefield, opposing armies march into the fray, as the AI utilizes battle tactics as best it can in real-time, taking advantage of the terrain and so on. However, the enemy can exhibit somewhat clumsy behavior from time to time and doesn't do an entirely good job of responding to the player's actions. Hm, maybe not so much as clumsy, as much, well, confused. This was particularly obvious during missions where the player protects fortified areas. Instead of executing a well-timed battle plan, the foe tends to stand around or simply engage in practice maneuvers, hoping you'd be foolish enough to leave the safety of the fortification. As time runs out, they'll eventually commence a pathetic, quite hasty assault on position, making them relatively easy prey.
There's another important addition here. The main campaign restricts gamers in terms of tactics and strategy as the story progresses. The symptom comes into view once you try to replay some of the campaign battles, only to discover there's little to no different way to completing the same scenario. The linearity plays its part when it comes to story-telling, but I'm afraid veteran strategy gamers might be disappointed with a somewhat limited approach they'll have during the missions. Fair enough, you can do a few things differently, but for the most part you'll find it boils down to a rather strict path.
Throughout the campaign we've come to appreciate what the development team has brought to the series in terms of visual perk ups. Beautifully animated individual units, realistic-looking explosions, meticulously crafted smoke effects, create a highly authentic war zone, worthy of anyone's attention. A rather nice touch is how the team depicted the traditional change of seasons as the years go by. Be warned though; to experience this game in all its visual might, you're going to need a pretty strong PC. The frame-rate in Napoleon: Total War slowed down quite a few times on some of the rigs we tested it on. Scaling down certain visual facets helps improve the frame-rate, although at that point you're pretty much going to miss out on a great atmosphere.
As epic and engaging as all preceding Total War games, noticeable visual improvements make for some of the most memorable battle scenes;
In terms of gameplay not quite the leap forward we've come to expect from the boys and girls at Creative Assembly, AI can falter at times despite apparent improvements, a bit of a hardware hog this one.