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Shogun: Total War Review
developer: Creative Assembly
P233, 32MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jun 13, 00 (released)
|» All About Shogun: Total War on ActionTrip|
"Act after having made assessments. The one who first knows the measure of far and near wins - this is the rule of armed struggle" - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Leave it to British to create a game set in Sengoku period of Japanese history, include thousands of units and make a flat-out gorgeous 3D RTS/Turn-based strategy.
You know, here at actiontrip.com offices we have about 50 or so games to go through monthly, and as much as we're trying too keep that atmosphere of "we're just a bunch of gamers having fun", every now and then we realize we spend most of our time busting our balls, typing away at our PCs. What a freakin' refreshment it was then, just to sit around one PC and play Shogun the whole damn day! On the computer next to me our editor Dex was playing Dark Reign2, but nobody peeked over his shoulder. It was all about Shogun: Total War baby!
The Basics, Management...
There's been a lot of talk about Shogun on the net; we've even had a demo released that gave us an incite into some of the game's features. All the time though, I was thinking of Braveheart, and how the much ballyhooed EIDOS game got annihilated for failing to deliver on their promise of epic battles and grandiose death scenes. While Braveheart went for that high levels of management combined with RTS mix, Creative Assembly decided to take a slightly different rout with Shogun. They've introduced a unique, yet natural combination of two strategy sub-genres: Shogun implements the turn-based practice of Risk (you know, the popular board game, later had its PC version done), spiced up with some of the best 3D scenes of medieval fighting I have ever had the pleasure of gazing upon. Add just a touch of management and you have the project's basic recipe all figured out...
The player takes a role of a medieval Japanese ruler on a mission to gain land, and in the process, make the conquered territories hail his mighty rule through good management. Shogun combines the Risk feature in such a way that it provides 3D, real-time battles in place of dices and cards, but it also adds the elements common to RTS games like, resources management and units development. Our readers should realize that the mix of different elements represents an unequal balance, since the gameplay accent lays mostly on turns and battles...
Management is the week link in the chain, sort to speak since it gets tedious after a while of playing. Sure, new units are offered, along with new structures to build. The concept has been worked over more than a horny bitch in a dog pound though, and it just isn't innovative enough to keep the same level of enthusiasm throughout the gameplay. This is probably the biggest flaw to Shogun that I could come up with. That and a couple of more issues which I tend to cover in the battles section. The management comes down to a few random harvest season reports, and a whole lot of structure building. Having more Koku (equivalent to greens) than the next clansmen is essential for gaining overall supremacy. Management phase lacks the fine balancing - it's all crude and elementary; after a while I got the feeling that even Creative Assembly forgot about it half way through development. That's exactly how I felt after spending some time on the game. I took the resource management aspect for granted, and from then on it became a drag.
The Turn-Based Element
Ah, the turn-based element... I'm not much of a turn-based fan myself. I'm definitely keener to high-paced action games. Having to wait a whole freaking turn to move a unit just seems to conflict my gaming beliefs. You can imagine then, how reluctant I was to indulge in this risk-style aspect of Shogun. Boy, was I wrong... I hated the turn-based concept simply because all the games before Shogun revolved their entire warfare strategies around tactical placement of the troops. It's a whole different matter when you know that your troop placement actually has great impact on the outcome, and the way you lead your troops real-time in the battle. For the first time, turn-based strategy element had some actual spunk to it, and it meant something to an action-oriented guy like me. Shogun's risk-style gameplay doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas, all except this one useful thing --- how 'bout a nice little port on the territory, that allows for some long distance, one-turn movement? The thing acts like an instant portal between two territories with ports in it. Controlling the ports in the game is a great tactical feature which allows for some elaborate planning and tentative decision-making. Plus, you have to take care of your butt from more than a few angles, or some stupid wannabe Japanese ruler might decide to jump you from behind. Besides being able to move units, spy on other people's territories with emissaries, and assassinate generals with ninjas, players can merge two or more units that have less than the maximum number of troops into one larger unit. This will not succeed though if the two (or more) units combine to exceed the maximum unit size. An excellent add-on to the turn-based order of things. In this way I was able to calculate the strength of my impact and decide for the best combination of units suitable for the terrain.
It's true I still don't feel like playing turn-based games beats having sex with three lesbians hot to modify their sexual affinities on your behalf, but Shogun made it all seamless during gameplay, mostly because of the 3D, real-time fighting. It all felt like the right mix of tactics and carnage, and it made me get into the game. Get hooked...
Watch out! Look out! Medieval Japan was no land of whining sissies! You'll undoubtedly realize that the first time the game loads in the battle mode (I should just mention here, that you can automate your battles - turn-based style). Creative Assembly really pooled all the stops as far as the game's atmosphere. I would let these guys recreate Mel Gibson/Braveheart battle scenes any day. Everything from appealing terrain graphics, moody weather effects, to the dynamic, tempo-changing musical score sets the scene for a magnificent display of pointless destruction over some fat ruler's desire to conquer. Don't let it get you down though; you'll be the fat ruler, and you'll literally watch thousands of your soldiers run into their honorable deaths on your behalf. It's hard to accurately describe Shogun battles - players find themselves in control of thousands of soldiers, filling the landscape as far as the eye can see (massive battles are the key). The terrain plays an instrumental part during combat, and once the two armies finally clash in a hectic stampede of swords and blood... Well you just feel like the All-Mighty controlling mortals from heavens.
The players get to produce and exploit all kinds of Japanese units during the management/carnage phase --- Warrior Monks, Heavy Cavalry, No-Dachi Samurai, Musketeers, Ninjas, The Legendary Geisha, and many more... Of course, Daimyo (ruler) has to be careful how he stacks up the troops, as it wouldn't be the smartest tactics in the world to place a few archers near enemy's heavy cavalry. Over time, and through numerous battles, units gain experience, and become less prone to peeing in their pants when exposed to enemy cavalry charges; generals move in ranks, and learn new commands to yell at their troops... Funny but true, you can't assign formations (at least not the specific ones) if you don't have a general commanding the troops. The idea took me a few years back - ever played Caesar? But wait; remember when I mentioned one other downside to Shogun? Since the battles involve a hefty quantity of troops, the programmers should have paid extra attention to the command interface. Imagine how difficult it is to keep all those troops lined up in proper formations, and actually conduct an organized attack or defense. Unfortunately, I wasn't at all impressed with the way I was allowed to position my troops' directions/formations. Creative assembly did include all kinds of keyboard/mouse options, but they simply don't perform as planned, especially when issued on-fly. Most of the time I was frustrated with the lack of precision in the coordination of the attack. In all fairness, I would imagine that the generals in the battlefield were often facing the same problem themselves. Having a lack-luster interface does subtract a little from the fun of battle-waging, but it all gets more than compensated at the time your troops clash with the enemy in a melee fight. You'll feel the adrenaline pumping, and you'll have to make some quick decisions. What more can you want from a battle, besides jumping in for yourself and chopping a few heads?
A few tips from an "experienced Japanese general"... Beware of the hills, trees, and bridges. AI is programmed to use the little thingies to his advantage, and if you're not careful you'll get your ass annihilated by a group of well-placed long-range units. Your troops do get tired, so try not to charge when you don't have to, or climb a steep hill in pursuit of the enemy. Such actions can easily backfire, and the battles aren't over until the last unit surrenders. A lot of different factors including the "human factor" will decide the battle's outcome. That's a pile of tactics and a bunch of guts, all wrapped-up in a nice PC game that is Shogun: Total War.
Last, But Not the Least...
Shogun maps are exceptional. Grass textures, sky textures, weather effects are amazing - a thing of beauty... Units seem to be done in 2D rather than polygons (my impression), but because of the camera placement it doesn't affect the overall eye-candy appearance. Musical score closely follows the developments in the field and it perfectly complements the gritty scenes of non-stop head bashing. The shouts and cries of warriors mingle with the tunes of medieval Japan in a battlefield covered with blood, rain, and severed body parts. I told you, and you better listen when I say that Shogun is the most atmospheric RTS of the millennium (of the year you dummy). No small wonder Creative Assembly already started to work on their next project, no doubt spurred by the success of their Japanese war game.
Shogun's graphical design doesn't sore for flashiness, rather it's perfectly complementing the overall setting without torturing your hardware. Blended with excellent sound effects, and "not annoying" camera movement (a plus for 3D RTS games), it offers a real treat of tastefully done visuals. Amen to that...
What's left to say that hasn't been said already? Shogun has its faults, primarily clunky interface and crude management system. Those two issues aside, it features battles that will make you think twice before poking fun at "big man involved in silly wars over territory" idea. It's fun, addictive, and it will get you by another dull civilian day in peace...
8.4 Very Good
You gotta taste the battles;
Clunky interface, crude management phase.
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