Napoleon: Total War
You might know him as the tactical genius that turned France into 19th Century Europe’s dominant military power. You might know him as the ruthless tyrant, fixated upon absolute victory even though it meant the unnecessary death of thousands of his people. You might recognise him as the subject of Stanley Kubrick’s dream project, never realised despite decades of studious preparation. Or he could just be the little fat guy in Bill & Ted who makes a tit out of himself at the water-park. Whatever your relationship to Napoleon Bonaparte, The Creative Assembly’s latest effort will let you occupy his amusingly small shoes.
Now, it’s only reasonable to be suspicious when a studio releases an expansive real-time strategy game less than a year after its last one. The Creative Assembly is the leading expert in the genre, and Empire: Total War is brilliant in exactly seven different ways, but these things take time and the release date suggests that Napoleon didn’t. However, there are persuasive reasons for the speed of development: first, the game takes you from Bonaparte’s first Italian campaign through to the Battle of Waterloo, which means it pretty much picks up where Empire left off; second, it’s actually built on a super-charged version of the Empire engine.
Indeed, on a technical level the game is more impressive than we’d anticipated. In the heat of the biggest battles, it will be possible to have 10,000 different soldiers on screen at one time, with 64 different face-types and innumerable combinations of legs, arms, height and build. Every single one of the 322 units is entirely unique to Napoleon, and they will be governed by improved AI and path-finding. Tweaked particle effects make the smoke smokier and the grime grimier, and their effect will be more than just cosmetic – dust kicked up by marching soldiers will obscure the vision of enemy units, for example, and fighting in the rain will impact on the efficiency of gunpowder weapons.
As with all RTS games, we could probably fill two entire pages with just the tweaks and fiddling. However, the most interesting facet of Napoleon is the way it builds on Empire’s rich sense of place and character. There are three campaigns – Italy, the Middle East and Africa, and Europe – and you will be able to play general in all of them, but as Napoleon you will be treated to act out his entire life story, complete with lavish, fully voiced cut-scenes.
Alexander The Great, Attila The Hun, Robert E Lee; the personal narrative at the heart of Napoleon: Total War could be applied to any general in any era, and is a fascinating change in direction for the best strategy series out there.