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Napoleon: Total War Review

Napoleon: Total War pack shot
Developer:The Creative Assembly
Publisher:SEGA
Genre:Strategy
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.totalwar.com/napoleon/?t=EnglishUK
Release Date:February 23rd, 2010 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
 

What was your Total War? Was it Shogun? Rome? Empire? Mine was Mediaeval Total War 2. The amount of time I spent battling my way across Europe with a battalion of armoured knights was bordering on addiction, and I can't deny I took great pleasure in using battle tactics and strategic thinking to take on other gamers online.

But my armchair general-ship can't hold a candle to one of the greatest generals of all time: Napoleon Bonaparte, statesman, general, legend. As you can guess from the name, this iteration of Creative Assembly's Total War series centres on the life and times of the famous Frenchman, taking you from his humble beginnings on Corsica through his many campaigns in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The game itself is very similar to Empire: Total War, with a lot of polish and some vastly improved game mechanics. The three single player campaigns on offer focus mainly on Napoleon's conquest of Europe and are very story driven, unlike the previous TW title's open-ended nature.

While having a story-driven campaign is pretty cool, the games themselves are often restricted to only a certain area of Europe, and can often play out without much variety each time you play them, as they mostly consist of 'battle your way through Europe and capture this city by the year 1813.'

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There are also a selection of other campaigns available under the title of 'Campaigns of the Coalition', as the forces of Britain, Austria and their allies attempt to stop the French upstart in his tracks. While these offer a little more variety, they're also restricted on the area of Europe you can move through, and some of the objectives often have you being forced to fight a trusted ally, which upsets the balance of the game somewhat.

The campaign mode continues to use the overhead strategic map for expanding your empire and conquering regions, with the added ability to manage supply lines as you move your armies forward. The weather also plays a large part in the campaign, as moving your army forward through a snow-filled valley will cause you to lose troops through attrition, as Napoleon himself discovered in his harsh winter campaigns.

The game map also features a larger emphasis on structures outside of your region's cities- universities, farms and ports are all upgraded individually, rather than built inside a city, and enemies can capture these areas to deny you the boons offered by them.

You can also park your warships on trade routes to try your hand at a little piracy (think the privateer Acheron in Master and Commander). There is also a strong tech-tree system to exploit, and though waiting for a weapon upgrade can be excruciating when enemies are closing in on you, it's absolutely necessary to stay on top.

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Once you decide your moves and enter combat the game returns to the tactical screen, and some of the best RTS combat I've ever seen in a game. As with previous TW titles, both armies deploy, then the two forces have to use tactics to rout or eradicate the enemy.

This time round the battle is all about musket-armed line infantry, artillery and speedy horse-mounted hussars, and feels very different to previous TW titles. The nature of ranged combat in the 1700s & early 1800s means closing to attack range can be a terrifying prospect as the cannons thunder all around you, and a clever general has to be ready to change tack at any moment, especially when facing the AI, which is quick to exploit holes in your battle line for a quick strike at your artillery.

The battles themselves are an exciting, nerve-wracking affair, as two or more forces meet in open battle, muskets flaring and horses charging. Digging in may be one option if you're on the defence, or you could hide behind overturned dir mounds for cover, but watching the enemy movements at all times is paramount, as encirclement will mean death in very short order.

The tactical battles also extend to naval engagements, and I found the sea-ward battles to be some of the best aspects of the game, as 50-gun galleons face off with nimble sloops and flagships prepare for boarding. If I do have one criticism of the sea battles though, it's the pacing, which, given the nature of wind-power, is glacially slow and time consuming.

Outside of the singleplayer the game also features a strong multiplayer aspect. While there is a fully coded head-to-head empire building challenge, the game doesn't allow you to save the game in progress very well, and as some of these games can take up to five hours, this is a major oversight.

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There is also a selection of multiplayer battles ready to go right out of the box, and these are great fun, especially as they aren't too long, and playing against a human opponent really shows you just how much different playing thinking humans can be.

By far the more interesting aspect of the game's multiplayer is the 'drop in' battles option, which allows the game to find you a human opponent to play as your enemy when you're playing a singleplayer campaign. This means that after you've finished deploying your units on the battle map, rather than taking on an AI a human player opposes you, just for that battle, and this can really make the whole experience more of a challenge (unless you only allow human player to join when they're massively outnumbered, not that I did...)

Graphically the game is stunning to look at and runs smoothly on my gaming rig, though less powerful computers may struggle with the water effects in the sea battles. The tactical battles are simply beautiful, with each unit, tree, building and artillery blast rendered perfectly, so much so that I would recommend watching your cavalry charge from close up, just for a moment, to appreciate the effort that went into the game.

The same is reflected in the sea battles, which are also brilliantly rendered, and again be sure to zoom in on each individual ship - each crewman is doing something different, whether battling with cutlasses, loading cannons or jumping from a sinking hulk, it's just phenomenal.

The sound is a bit of a mixed bag however. While the battle noise is brilliant, with each broadside and screaming death matching the visuals perfectly, the voice acting is pretty poor, the advisors are patronising and the troops in the field keep repeating "yes sir" ten times over on occasion, spoiling the experience somewhat, but, that said, it's only a minor flaw.

Summary

All in all Napoleon: Total War is another excellent addition to the TW franchise, building upon the flawed Empire and adding a much more story-driven campaign to the proceedings. While the sea battles can take an age, the drop-in multiplayer battles and the brilliant graphics are sure to keep you hooked for days, it's just a shame that the scale of the campaign map has been reduced so much.

The bottom line
8.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Brilliant gameplay
  • Stunning graphics
  • Fantastic attention to detail

Not so good stuff

  • Really long naval battles
  • Restricted maps for campaign


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