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Shogun: Total War

by Tristinian

Ok, let me be honest with you all for a second (this review more or less comes from a personal experience perspective-prepare yourself). When i first heard that this game was coming out and i saw the initial screenshots, i went into a frenzy. I HAD to have it. No questions asked. I thought to myself, 'hey, this is so awesome, a 3D Real Time Strategy game based in Feudal Japan! It HAS to rock! It'll be like a Feudal Japanese version of Age of Empires set in a 3D engine! yay!'. So, let me say now, if you also thought it was going to be something like that, put those hopes back in the box they came out of. The game i thought this was going to be is not the game that Shogun: Total War really is. With that said, let me move on...

So after bringing the game home and installing it and being pleased by the initial mini-cut scene of the Japanese swordsman practicing his skills, i soon came to find that what i thought would be an action-filled strategy game was actually a turn-based, thinking man's game with a smidgen of 3D engine warfare. Disappointed? Well, yes i was. What i thought was supposed to be 'Shogun: Total War', now almost appeared to me as 'Shogun: Total #hit'. Not that the idea of a thinking man's turn based strategy was a bad thing-it was just not what i had geared up for when i thought of the potential of this particular title.

This is mostly what you'll see through the entire game. It could actually be ALL you see if you opt to simulate the battles.

So i played the game...starting with the tutorials of course and then going through hours of army building, diplomacy and all that other good stuff that comes with a game just begging to be accompanied by the philosophical stroking of one's beard (well...if you have a beard). Thus, what Shogun is, is more like a game of Risk. The majority of the game is played on a map (which constitutes your playing board and reflects your moves) and your armies are represented by chess-like pieces that embody all the different types of troops within each group that can range from archers to spearmen to cavalry. Your goal: to conquer all the other clans on the map and become true Shogun! Be excited if you must.

Now, moving through the game requires that you manage some resources, troop movement, troop creation, diplomatic meetings, assassinations and other essentials. Most of these things either happens via a subscreen informing you of the results of a battle or a harvest for that turn (this kind of reminded me of Star Wars: Rebellion and thus made me shudder at first), or via a mini-cut scene that appears on part of the screen that shows things like the success or failure of an assassination attempt. There is also the throne room, where you may agree to meet emissaries from the other clans who wish to speak with you about things like treaties. So the 'meat' of the game lies on the playing map. As a matter of fact, one never even needs to engage in 3D battle if one simply chooses to have the battles simulated-and often that will be the choice one will want to make to quicken the pace of the game and to carry out plans before they can be forgotten or muddled.

But let us move on to what the real visual attraction of the game was intended to be-the 3D engine and mass unit battles. The battles in Shogun's 3D playing fields truly can be epic in terms of numbers, but unfortunately, there is no way that these battles feel anywhere near epic when they are being fought. On the one hand, the engine really does a nice job of the environments...they are clean and pretty and are basically perfect enough for what they are there for. The skies are attractive, the trees aren't half bad, hell, you can even see the sky's reflection in water surfaces. But one of the biggest problem with Shogun's 3D engine is the 3D camera control. Sometimes it seemed that Force Commander's camera was just as easy to use as this one. Force Commander never stopped me from backing a camera up and going over the hill behind me unlike Shogun, where if you back into a hill you are stopped and then have to worry more about getting the perspective you originally wanted than maneuvering your troops. A little nitpicky? Perhaps. But, the other controls for the camera also aren't great-you can't even get a sky-view of the battle action if you wanted to.

The camera is not that user friendly in many instances, but details like the sky reflecting in the water make the graphics worth the lack of control-sometimes.

But, back to the 'epic' nature of the battles...the reason the number of troops is epic in this game is because each character is pixel-like and stiff moving. There is little or no realism in their movement or fighting or anything else. Screenshots make them look pretty good though-have to give them credit for that. And once again, the environmental graphics are quite pleasing. One could often just stare at some of the landscapes (instead of the less visually pleasing battles) while playing this game. Well, that is when you can't see the clipping and seams that occur in the landscapes.

However, if there is one thing that this games does well, it is depth and it is options. There are lots and lots of things one must manage to ultimately become Shogun (both in and out of battle) and the options are wonderful-tutorials galore and even historical battles that can be fought right out of the blue. The music also sets the scene well in this game and I can't think of one cut-scene that didn't make me smile for some reason because of its high quality. Not to mention, the little sessions in the throne room with folks like emissaries paying visits was kind of entertaining as well-makes you kind of FEEL like you are at the helm of all your clan's activities.

But let it be said one final time-those who expect a traditional 3D RTS, beware. This is NOT a 3D RTS, but a 2D turn based strategy game with an option to solve battles on a 3D playing field if they are not simulated instead-which for me always tends to be the more intuitive option.

Battles can be MASSIVE, with thousands of men on the field at once, but in all honesty, when you see the pixel-like men up-close, you realize how they fit em all on the field at once.

I hate to bring up the Star Wars: Rebellion comparison again, but the two are much the same. Rebellion wasn't turn based, but it worked on the same principle as this game does and battles in Rebellion could either be solved via simulation or by hand in 3D space (or a poor excuse for 3D space anyway). Interesting thing is, Shogun (regardless of its shortcomings) works-Rebellion didn't. And the reason it works is based on the specific audience it should be played by. As you probably see from my initial reaction, I felt the game was advertised during its creation as more of a 3D oriented game with real-time strategy being the key and center point to the game if not the ONLY point to the game. This is not the case, but the audience for whom this game is really intended-the turn based strategy players, the chess brainiacs, the fans of games like Risk-will all appreciate what this game has to offer and as a result, will enjoy a game that succeeds where a game like Rebellion tended to fail. But in my opinion, the 3D aspect should have been tossed or modified so that this game could be graded on what it was intended to be-not what was supposed to 'snazz' it up and instead pulled it down. Therefore, i apply my mark with that warning. (I was tempted to give it a '69', but besides the innuendoes that the number carries, i avoided giving it that grade since the graphic nature of the 3D environments appeased my eyes and brought back memories of the high hopes i had for this game before it came out.)


3D engine is quirky and kind of unnecessary

historical battles were a great idea-if the 3D engine was less quirky to use

if you are a fan of chess or Risk, etc., you'll love it