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    Shogun - Total War
    Reviewed by Vinh 'Zero' Jones


    Developed by:
    Creative Assembly
    Published by:
    Electronic Arts
    Distributed by:
    Electronic Arts
    Released on:
    14th June 2000



    PII 233
    32 MB
    CD-ROM speed:
    Video Mode:
    PCI with 4MB of video memory
    Hard Drive Space: 500 MB
    Operating System:
    Windows 95, 98


    A land in chaos. Their leader annihilated. Their people fragmented. The nation is strife with battle and hatred. And among the seven clans, only one leader will succeed. Who will rise above the others and prove himself the supreme ruler of Japan?

    Shogun - Total Warfare does it's take on history and has created 'samurai warfare on an epic scale,' as the PR stated. As one of the Daimyo of Japan, you shall try your hand at conquering the nation.

    Here's some of the features of the game, taken from the box description. [paraphrased]:

    • Command thousands of troops across majestic 3D landscapes.
    • Master the art of war. Use your skills to master diplomacy, economics, strategic warfare, subterfuge, and battle tactics.
    • Engage in online warfare against warlords over the Internet to test your abilities.
    • Have total control over your empire in a unique turn-based gameplay. Assassinate rivals; deploy spies and troops, and research new units, all while defending your homeland.
    • Battle vicious warlords possessing AI based off of Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
    • Experience 16th Century Japan in exacting details. Everything from Samurai tactics to deadly Geishas adds to the realism.

    It is an impressive undertaking to say the least. Coordinating thousands of troops against another general is an exhilarating experience in its own way. But does Total War succeed in what it says? In a way, it passes with flying colors.

    Watching a few thousand troops move on your monitor at once without slow down is poetry in motion. Granted, the troops are in groups of sixty, but nonetheless amazing. Your calvary charges the archers while the spearmen desperately try to catch up. Each person is moving, thinking on it's on terms.

    The environment is nicely done, with bare patches of trees and sloping hills. The castles are accurately depicted, with your army waiting inside the gates while an oncoming army is coming to destroy them.

    Click to enlarge ImageStrategic warfare runs very deep in this game. The formations used in the game are simple and effective. Being born from the Blizzard school of RTS, I tried to attack the enemy with a huge mass of men while they were fragmented. Needless to say, I was soundly trounced. The PR said that the AI is influenced by Sun Tzu's The Art of War. While I haven't read a lot of The Art of War, the AI still seems very intelligent. It resists my feints and jukes just like any other human would. There was no sign that it 'adapted' to my tactics, but perhaps my untrained eye cannot see it. In short, the AI is a very handy piece of work and I could have been fooled into thinking I was playing a human at times.

    Unfortunately, the turn-based portion of the game doesn't live up to strategic warfare aspect. The land is a simple map of Japan on the Daimyo's table with pawns representing units. Graphically, the turn-based map is classy and adequate.

    Click to enlarge ImageBut the whole unique turn-based aspect is in actuality a glorified game of Risk. Just replace the world map with Japan, control the battles instead of rolling dice, and you got Shogun! The economics is simply taking over a piece of land that is worth a certain amount of money and holding it for a year. You can construct buildings on the land to produce more units or spies. However, when you take over another province, your men usually go on a reckless rampage and destroy a good amount of the facilities, rendering them useless.

    The whole diplomacy issue leaves a lot to be desired as well. It seems that I only can ally with my enemies just to make sure they won't attack me, only so I can betray them later. There aren't any other options. Occasionally I'll be in the same province as my ally and we both attack a common enemy [At least I believe this to be so, I put it on auto-battle when the whole incident occurred].

    Click to enlarge ImageNinja assassinations are underplayed in this game. You simply move the ninja over the general you want to kill and you watch a cut-scene to see whether he failed or not. While suspenseful, I would have liked a little more interactions. The Shinobi unit can be used as a counter-spy or leave him in one of the enemy provinces to lower loyalty or incite revolts.

    Cut-scenes are very fluid and the models move with surprising grace. While not as detailed as Square or even Blizzard's CG, the movements look natural. And even when you watch the samurai practice his technique, you can't help but feel in awe. It adds a nice sense of atmosphere to the game.

    The whole feudal Japan motif works very well in Total War. It draws you in and snatches you up. Shogun is more of an experience than a computer game. The sound is superb, with each crisp sound and the yell of your men. You can even make the narrator speak in Japanese, further adding to the whole atmosphere. Atmosphere had me continue to play even when I was a little bored with the campaign.

    Click to enlarge ImageTotal War has a clunky interface and isn't as intuitive as other games. The shortcut keys were hard for me to remember, and it was hard to control my men in general. At the beginning, it wasn't that hard to control a few hundred, but when you have thousands of men moving at once, and your enemy is countering your tactics, you're in micro hell.

    Sadly, playing online is isolated to battles. You cannot play the campaign mode while you're online. I was particularly looking forward to it because actually having real allies would have been fun. But once you're playing with other people, it won't matter much, because everything is a whole barrel of fun. Especially when you have some good friends with you. My main gripe with multiplayer is not the game itself, but once again, the interface as it is presented. You're dropped into a giant chatroom, and when you join a game, there is no private chatroom. So during rush hour, you see a whole bunch of scrolling text going on.

    Click to enlarge ImageOne last thing: The game is a little unstable right now. I have talked to other players and they have had various crashes, and I received a crash upon startup. One more was in battle and a final one when I was trying to save. Frustration set in when I found out that an hour of playing went down the tube.

    Shogun - Total War is an exciting game in its own right. While it doesn't inspire the adrenaline an 'arcade' RTS such as StarCraft does, it forces you to use that gray matter of yours. And granted, the interface and campaign leaves a little to be desired, but the game is great fun nonetheless. And isn't that all that matters?

    What they're saying -

    "The sheer sense of mass and chaos is fantastic and rendered better here than in any other game I've ever seen. Your armies will literally crash into each other and you'll begin to see the bodies start piling up."

    - IGN

    "The interface takes some getting used to, even after wading through all of the in-game tutorials. For instance, the computer never addressed the subject of how to reface combat formations, and never broached the topic of selecting or deselecting groups of similar units."

    - GameCenter

    "After some coaxing, though, a veteran wargamer with some RTS skills should thoroughly enjoy the mixture of the two styles. With the levels of difficulty, seven different clans to choose from and historical battles ready to be fought, not to mention the multiplayer (3D combat only), there is a lot of replayability."

    - Daily Radar

    "One problem with the annual tax collection is that the tax report indicates yearly unit and building costs but provides no detailed breakdown of this cost. For instance, it would be helpful to know the yearly upkeep cost of a common spearman compared with that of a more costly samurai, or the upkeep cost of a particular building."

    - GameSpot

    "One of the world's foremost scholars on Japanese history helped advise the development team, so there's a good deal of authenticity in the game and how these battles are set up. Once you've conquered all those missions, a configurable mission builder lets you start up quickie battles of your own design."

    - Firingsquad

    << Rating: 88 >>
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