Game Review - by James Allen
There have been many periods of human history depicted in war strategy games. The grand World Wars, the Napoleonic battles, the American Revolution, and in the future; almost all of recorded time has been replicated in game form. To fill in the gaps, we are presented with Shogun: Total War, which takes place in Japan during times of great conflict, in which many warring factions fought for control of the entire country. Featuring both realistic battles and strategic province control, Shogun: Total War promises to be the definitive war game covering this important time period in Japanese history. Will Shogun bring Japan under one unified ruler, or be cast away as another unsuccessful contender for monarch?
Shogun's features run the gamut that has been established as the standard for battle simulations. Included are the full-fledged campaign and short custom or historic battles. The interesting mix of turn-based strategy and real time battle makes the campaign mode pretty tasty, and is probably the most interesting feature in the game. As for the single battles, you can customize each event differently, changing the clan, location, and individual units for each confrontation. I always liked the skirmish mode in real time strategy games (and battle simulations, for that matter), and any game that lacks such a feature can go to the budget bin. You can have close encounters of the killing kind online with the multiplayer matching feature included with Shogun: Total War. It was fairly easy to meet with opponents, and you can even team up and have epic struggles for control of the landscape. Honestly, we could not ask for more than what comes with Shogun: Total War, as it covers all the bases with customizable features and replay ability through and through.
The sound is great in Shogun. Not only does the music fit the theme perfectly, and fits an atmosphere of Japanese wonder onto the game, but the game effects are equally as striking and memorable. I don't recall a game in recent memory in which the sound coming from the battlefield were so gruesomely accurate, that it actually made my stomach turn a bit. Now, I'll give you that the sounds are slightly repetitive when you are engaged in warfare, but the haunting sound of clashing armies, slashing swords, and death all around you makes for an unforgettable experience. There's 146 different troop sounds in Shogun (I counted all by myself), and all are effective. I was very impressed with the sound in Shogun: Total War.
The gameplay in Shogun comes in two flavors: the turn-based battalion movement in campaign mode, coupled with the real time clashes in battle mode. The campaign turn-based mode is viewed from a map of Japan, and you're left to move and assemble troops and construct buildings. Your castles (along with the appropriate add-ons) are the only locations were you can recruit new members for your fighting forces, which leads to the meat of the game. You can construct auxiliary buildings, such as castles for protection, palaces, dojos, tranquil gardens, temples, gun factories, and much more. Most of these buildings serve to create new troops or defend your territories from invasion. Much like a glorified Risk game, once two opposing armies are intertwined, you have to choice to fight or retreat (which surrenders the territory). Also, you can prefer to allow the computer to simulate the battle automatically, which almost always results in a loss for you. So, it's better to engage the enemy in battle mode.
Depending on the strength and number of your forces, you are given you troops, and left to destroy the opposing force. The grouping of units (which can hold up to 60 forces) makes moving forces that much easier, especially in monstrously large battles. The attacker gets the choose the weather conditions, but cannot reform its troops before battle begins. During the battles, you can choose different formations for your troops, either on unit level (like close or wedge formation) or army-wide group formations (like center offensive). Thus, you can arrange your troops in a myriad of different arrangements, to give you the upper hand. I have found that the AI is smart in most cases, and can challenge even the most veteran of Shogun masters. The key to winning (especially if you arrive with a smaller army) is using the landscape to you advantage. For example, you have a greater limit for your archers on hills, and forest provides natural shields against long ranged attacks. The correct combination of strategy in Shogun: Total War will lead your clan to total control of Japan. The gameplay is both challenging and extremely fun in Shogun, and the combination of the turn based and real time strategy components makes for a unique time.
The graphics create the ambiance of Japan perfectly (from what I can gather from National Geographic). Most of the battlefields are slightly hilly locations, and make ideal places to do war. The individual troops are detailed enough to differentiate between them, without resorting to other reference sources. The combat animations are somewhat hokey, however, as each side just seems to swipe randomly at the enemy in an endless loop of slashing nonsense. This corrupts what could have been a great graphical encounter. The graphics do a successful job of rendering the battlefield, but are not memorable or groundbreaking in any respect.
Shogun: Total War offered more than I expected. The potent combination of turn based strategy and real time battles makes for an event that is rarely matched in other games. More often, we are given one of the pieces of the puzzle, rather than an amalgamation of both. Since you can simulate the battles, all fans of turn-based and real time strategy should find something to like in Shogun: Total War.