Napoleon: Total War lives up to its title, giving you three different views of battle. You can plan and plot your campaign against an entire continent, recruiting soldiers, fortifying cities, and enhancing trade routes, moving whole armies about like chess pieces. You can take command of your navy, fighting the wind to fire broadsides into enemy ships, and perhaps capturing them. And you can get your hands dirty in the battlefield, meticulously arranging individual units, then improvising wildly once the chaos of war sets in.
In the turn-based world map, you’re presented with a simplified view of units, cities, and politics. Here, you can recruit units, make political deals, and make improvements to your cities to give you more revenue and upgraded units. Armies, whether made up of a single unit or massive mixed forces, are represented by a single soldier, marching across the land (likewise, navies are single ships). When you face another army or attempt to capture a city, the game will show you the relative strength of the two forces. If your force vastly overwhelms the enemy, you can autoresolve the battle with a single click, letting the computer determine the outcome and casualties, or even demand the peaceful surrender of a city.
Eventually, though, you’re going to run into a battle where victory isn’t assured, and what kind of general would you be if you couldn’t win a battle on your own? The real-time strategy is the meat of the game; balancing the strengths and weaknesses of each unit as battlefield conditions change quickly. Fortunately Total War makes the process of managing an entire army simple; click on a unit icon in the command bar, and you’re instantly whisked to wherever that unit is on the field. Right click to tell it where to go or what formation to take, and a simple set of clearly labeled buttons let you issue commands such as switching to melee combat, running to a location, or defending a location from attack. Armies commanded by a general also have another trick up their sleeve; these commanders have the ability to rally forces, increasing their confidence or their fighting ability for a short period of time.
Naval battles are even more hectic if only because all the units are constantly moving and at the mercy of the wind and after racing across the ocean to meet your foe, you have to turn sideways to face your guns at the enemy. Ships have three kinds of ammunition: round shot is standard cannonball that’s good for general combat, chain shot can tear up sails and immobilize your enemy, and grape shot is good for killing sailors at close-range. After weakening an enemy vessel, you can attempt to board and capture it, which will add it to your navy after the battle is over. Keep in mind though, that the battle is still going on during this, and other enemies can attack.
When a battle is over, you’re kicked back into the overworld. Once you’ve captured the capital of a region, you add the area to your friendly territory. You gain the tax revenue of the area, along with smaller towns that have special buildings like colleges, which allow you to research new policies and units to grow your empire even larger.
Napoleon: Total War does a fantastic job of making an epic, continent-spanning war seem, well, manageable. The campaign portion contains the major elements I want in a strategy game—making sure you have enough money, keeping your alliances intact, managing research, building armies—without making me fiddle with the day-to-day management of each city (like, say, you can if you enjoy micro-managing Civilization).
But the battles! Real-time strategy combat often makes me anxious, because while I can handle one or two units on my side, the computer can handle all of them at once. Total War seems to recognize this unfair advantage, and has structured its command screen to give the player a clean, clear interface that can put you anywhere on the battlefield at any moment. A mini-radar map lets you see where all the units are, so if cavalry is about to flank your canons, you can find your light infantry to launch a defense.
The historical campaigns combine with a well-polished interface to create a war game that’s fun to play even if you don’t have a lot of experience with real-time strategy games. Napoleon: Total War has a great sense of history, but an even better sense of fun.
Category: Real-Time and Turn-Based Strategy
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Mac Publisher: Feral Interactive
System Requirements: 2 GHz processor, OS X 10.7.5, 4 GB RAM, 256 MB Graphics Processor
Review Computer: 2.2GHz 13″ Macbook Pro, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM
Network Feature: Yes
Processor Compatibility: Intel
Availability: Out now