|Dev: The Creative Assembly|
|Release: March 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
Story-wise, the game is pretty simple: It's a bit after the first Shogun game -- still the Sengoku period in Japan -- but the ruling class has lost its grip on the country, and the people are once again dividing themselves into mutually antagonistic clans. Your goal, as the leader of one such clan, is to become the next shogun, a feat that requires conquering a given number of other provinces, in addition to the capital, Kyoto.
Shogun 2 also features a rather involved multiplayer experience, one that rivals the single-player game in complexity. After designing a character, you set out to gain experience points, which allow you to develop more types of units and conquer more land. You can play standard head-to-head matches, or opt for cooperative play (in which one player leads on the Civilization-style map, while the others lead troops during the real-time battles). As your units gain experience, they become more expensive to use, which helps to balance fights between unevenly matched opponents (the matchmaking system also does a good job by itself). You even have a set of skill trees in multiplayer, meaning that your decisions in one multiplayer match can have long-lasting consequences.
The graphics here are some of the best the strategy genre has to offer. We experienced some screen tearing during cutscenes, but aside from that, this is a visually impressive title. The cutscenes are detailed and action-packed, and during the game, the landscapes, city structures, and water all look realistic. The units in particular are a treat to look at -- pay close attention, and you'll notice that each individual member of the unit looks a little different. Even the menus are designed to fit the game's location and period.
The sound is of a similarly high quality. Foreign accents in games often sound unconvincing, or even borderline racist, but the Japanese-inflected English you hear in Shogun 2 is respectful and well-acted. The music and sound effects are visceral and period-appropriate.
Of course, as with any strategy game, it will take a few months for players to exploit all of Shogun 2's vulnerabilities and see how bad they are. But in its early hours, at least, this is a solidly constructed, brilliantly conceptualized strategy game that forces you to make meaningful decisions almost constantly. If you've been wondering when Total War would finally return to its roots and fix many of its longtime problems, your wait is over. Shogun 2 does both.
CCC Freelance Writer