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March 23, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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Empire: Total War

My goodness, what attention games are getting these days, eh? Developers of Empire have been dribbling us little trickles of information via pod casts and sneak preview videos. And I’m amazed at how much PR is churned out. This is so entirely different to the boop-there-it-is of my youth. Back in my day games received nary a sideways glance from mainstream media. As a whippersnapper, the time honoured tradition of borrowing/stealing games from school chums was about the only way I could afford to play earlier tittles. “What’s this Command and Conquer? It certainly has a strange name,” I would say. “It’s the tops, here give it a blast,” others would reply, in a friendly manner that was characteristic of younger and more optimistic days. Wow! I’d install it via DOS and grin over the full motion-videos and play till the wee hours of the morn, when my parents would come and bring in the harsh reality of “four-fucking-am”. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, perhaps it is the constant chasing of kids off my porch or the death of communism, but without a doubt the nature of gaming has changed. These days all the franchises are pawing their grubby little capitalist hands over beloved titles, and only on occasion does a developer step outside the box in favour of innovations that move forward or create genres. More often than not we find out that behind all the graphical touch ups and special edition packaging, a beloved franchise has become nothing more than a tired, ravage sex-worker, sold once too often. So like many others I’ve coughed up my fee on Sega’s bedside table to take a peek under the latest costume slapped on the Total War series.

Now, a quick disclaimer: I do not hate Empire: Total War. Let me just put that out there before I’m accused of being a jilted fan-boy. In fact, were I a hardcore fan-boy, perhaps this review would be more positive. All the tried and true features of previous Total War games are here. All those lovely little nuggets of goodness that have made it a very popular series. The game is still split between epic, bloody real-time battles and a broad turn-based strategic overview. There’s also an impressive amount of history, realism and flavour crammed into all the different factions you can play, and when it comes down to it, you’re filled with that warm, fuzzy megalomaniacal feeling, the type you can only get from conquering Christendom and beyond. All these trademarks make for entertaining gaming. However nothing is new. Yes, there is all the beauty and splendour of the colonial age and yes, there is ship combat (insanely fun), but all of these changes fail to address underlying faults with the series. Although this game is set in the revolutionary period, revolution is something Creative Assembly has avoided.
empire-of-war1

Firstly, the AI is a mixed basket; generally it is more direct in pitched battles—less chasing down of individual cavalry units=good. However the hateful AI will declare war on you at the drop of a hat, and I have yet to see a peace offer accepted. Factions seem unable to rationally calculate their own odds of survival, which leave you little option but to stamp on every tedious faction that will take an insane and personal dislike towards you. While we’re on the subject of needed overhauls, I’ll mention the strategic interface. Okay, so you’ve marshalled troops after your sixth paranoid schizophrenic neighbour declared war on you the turn before. After selecting your troops you order them to move on the enemy’s capital. Then you wait. And then you wait some more. You wait as your soldiers in all their livery and 18th Century splendour march at the pace of a snail out of its brain on peyote. Creative Assembly in its infinite wisdom saw it fit to exclude a button to fast-forward this heavy drag process that is at the very core of the gameplay. We can skip watching the movement of rivals’, so why oh why can’t we skip watching our own? I labour this point because I care about you dear reader. If you play this game you will be moving troops often. And each and every time you do so, it will be slow and tedious. There, I’ll desist now, my hands are clean. Oh, one more thing—bring a book if you decided to wait for those battle loading screens. For a game that revolves around battles, it’s sad that I was avoiding much of the delightful combat—as my Ritalin was out, 90% of the time I found myself selecting the ‘automate battle’ button (the computer calculates an outcome for you). I am a man of great patience, but even with graphics set at the low end, I found wait times unbearable.

One final element, that almost makes up for the flaws, is the historical fun that can be had within the game. If you can stand the slow pacing, there are rewarding experiences to be had. Personal highlights include: conquering London with the might of India and subsequently teaching all the inhabitants Hindu virtues; and claiming the wealth of the New World as France and seizing Europe for the Austrian Empire. If you are in love with the colonial period (highlights = red coats, revolution, regicide, HMSs and sodomy at sea), buy this game, but make sure you have the patience, and for the love of Vishnu upgrade your graphics card to the max.
empire-total-war

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  1. Stew says:

    re: snail paced units… yeah, I agree. Having said that the fix is to learn the keyboard shortcuts: press spacebar once during any movement to speed it up. Unfortunately the next time you start the game it’ll revert to slow moving units but hey.

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