|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: The Creative Assembly||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SEGA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 23, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1 (2 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by J. Matthew Zoss
The Total War series appeals to a very hardcore set of strategy gamers who love its unique mix of real-time strategy and Risk-like turn-based gameplay. If you're one of those gamers, chances are that you've already purchased the latest game in the series, Napoleon: Total War. If you're new to the series, you may be wondering what sets the Total War franchise apart from other strategy games and if the latest entry is the right game to start off with. If you're not interested in strategy gaming, I suggest you turn back now; this game is probably not for you. But, if you love games that are more about tactics than twitch reflex, then Napoleon: Total War will consume your life in a way that few others can.
Like the previous Total War games, Napoleon: Total War is a turn-based strategy title with battles that are resolved in real time. In each of the several game types, you'll take turns spreading across the world map, claiming towns, building new structures, and researching new advances in technology - although research plays a much less significant role than in the previous entry, Empire: Total War. When you encounter a hostile populace, you can choose to resolve the conflict via diplomacy or military action. Once you enter into a battle, gameplay shifts to a real-time strategy conflict in which your tactics will often be the deciding factor in the outcome.
Like all the other games in the series, Napoleon's battle gameplay consists of massive clashes that require a keen mind rather than fast reflexes. Armies are controlled with a mix of traditional RTS mouse gestures and hands-on control. The basic "point and click" command method handles the basics of gameplay, while a host of keyboard shortcuts and action buttons on the HUD offer up more precise options. You can bind unit groups together with keyboard shortcuts, cycle unit formations with button clicks, steer the camera with the FPS genre's W,A,S, D key formation, and otherwise manage almost any aspect of combat you can think of.
Your units have both special powers and various unit formations that are all helpful in very specific instances. Being charged by a group of hostile soldiers waving swords? Use the "fire and advance" method to keep fresh gunmen cycling to the front line. Being flanked by a Calvary unit? Command your infantry into a square formation so it can fend off attacks from any side. Knowing how to properly command your units is key to success - having a huge numerical advantage over your foe is no guarantee of victory if you don't know how to use units wisely. That being said, enemy AI can sometimes make questionable decisions. In one battle, the enemy general immediately charged my frontlines and was mowed down, leaving behind a sloppy, leaderless enemy force that I quickly mopped up.
Regardless of whether or not your enemy is making silly tactical mistakes, Napoleon: Total War's real-time battles are thrilling, thanks to the crisp graphics and solid sound effects. The game's engine is capable of displaying a huge number of units at once, and the level of detail increases nicely as you zoom into the heart of the battle. With the camera zoomed out, you can take in the entirety of the battlefield and the see the positions of the various squads on the field. Up close, the individual soldiers sport incredible detail; from the uniforms to the weapons they carry the various factions look distinct enough that you can tell them apart even in frantic melee combat. Paired with earth-shaking cannon sound effects, cracking gunshots, and nicely acted unit voice work, Napoleon's battles feel every bit as urgent and dangerous as those in a first-person shooter.
While the heart of the Total War games has traditionally been the Grand Campaign mode, Napoleon goes a slightly different route, offering up modes called Napoleon's Campaigns, Campaigns of the Coalition, and Napoleon's Battles. Napoleon's Campaigns is a story-driven mode in which players relive some of the general's most famous military victories. Campaigns of the Coalition allows players to command Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, or the Austrian Empire in battles against the French. Finally, Napoleon's Battles forego the turn-based overworld and drop you straight into RTS combat scenarios based on real military conflicts.