In 1815, having come back for one last bite of the cherry, Waterloo was Napoleon's, well, Waterloo. Could Creative Assembly be risking the same fate returning to the age of muskets and bright uniforms so soon after Empire: Total War?
Napoleon: Total War takes Empire: Total War and applies a new coat of paint to its user-interface and units, placing you in command of Corsica's most famous son as you recreate his most famous campaigns: Italy, Egypt and his battles against the Austrians, Russians and the British.
It's a game that trades intimacy for scope and global domination for European domination, so the big question here is, has Creative Assembly's tinkering been worth it? Or does St Helena beckon once again for France's greatest general?
Land-Lubber – I didn't like the way naval units, particularly naval trade routes, were implemented in Empire. It was tedious, and it was distracting. Because Napoleon features smaller maps, and the ability to move between theatres has been removed, naval units become much less important. Lovers of the high seas will no doubt bemoan this, but I wasn't one of them, so I'm thankful I can get back to the business of managing taxes and sending men and horses trudging across grassy fields to die.
Battle AI – The game's single player AI looks improved over Empire's, with your opponents less likely to commit idiotic charges at your cannons or advance piece-meal into your muskets. There are still a few issues, like the AI using its own command units as shock cavalry, but on the whole, the restraint and unity the computer shows now makes for more compelling single player battles.
Co-op campaigns – For multiplayer fans, Napoleon's biggest draw is the promise of co-operative campaigns. While I couldn't extensively test this, due to time constraints on both mine and my "partner's" part, when I could get together for a run, it was great. How often people can find time to spend the hours and hours required to complete one is anyone's guess, but if you can, it's great fun.
Real Men – As a history buff, I appreciated the extra levels of realism present in a few areas of the game, a by-product of its increased focus on such a small period of time. Your units now have more precise details to read up on, and your generals and admirals are often the real generals and admirals of the Napoleonic wars.
Expansion Pack – Why, exactly, is this an all-new game rather than an expansion like Creative Assembly have normally released for their Total War games? It has, Egypt aside, mostly the same map, only this time it's Europe-only, and even then, it's a lot smaller. It has the same user interface. It has many of the same pieces of voice acting, battles control the same, and aside from new textures your land units behave exactly as those in Empire do. Aside from some cutscenes at the beginning and end of each of Napoleon's campaigns, there's rarely a time you feel like you're playing an entirely new game. Even though you just paid for one.
History vs Myth – The game's intro sequence tells of the potential to carve your own way. Defeat the British navy, invade London, conquer Russia. Yet outside of the third French campaign, the game is rarely allows you to indulge in this kind of revisionist history. Take the coalition campaigns, which task you with taking control of Napoleon's enemies and defeating France. You're dropped into a campaign map, given all of Europe and its nations to toy with… then have to defeat Napoleon the way it actually happened in the history books, not in a manner of your own choosing. Britain's campaign, for example, must mirror the tactics employed by Wellington and Nelson, rather than allowing you to take your own approach.
Siege AI – Empire: Total War's single player mode was plagued with AI issues. The most notable of those, an almost entirely broken means of capturing and defending forts, remains. It's so broken, in fact, that the option to manually attack or defend a fortification shouldn't be in the game at all.
Total Extreme Hyper Fighting Edition – Being a game about Napoleon, when receiving it I wanted to blow off my Total War cobwebs by playing a battle. Specifically, Waterloo. Nope. The majority of standalone, single player battles are locked when you first buy the game, and must be unlocked by extended play. That's annoying enough in a fighting game, but especially so here, when the unlock conditions sometimes require tens of hours of play.
When Empire suddenly expired at the year 1800, you knew something was up. That Creative Assembly was holding something back. When Napoleon: Total War was inevitably announced, then, I thought we'd be seeing not only a game dedicated to one of military history's greatest stories, but one that could repair some of Empire's many niggling issues.
It's such a great shame, then, that Napoleon's step forward brings with it a few steps back. Few of the things from Empire that needed fixing were fixed (naval combat is still a bore, enemy campaign AI still a mess), and many other areas, like the game's non-French campaigns, are more limited and less enjoyable than those found in a product released a year ago.
Don't let the number of "hated" aspects above make you think this is a disaster of a game. It's far from it. It's still a load of fun, a great time-sink, and fans of the series will no doubt find it a blast. It's just, the best parts of Napoleon - the graphics and strategic command - are the same as those found in Empire, which I've reviewed already. You can read them there. Compared to that game, this feels like an expansion pack, one that could have done much more with both the man and his wars than the cramped campaigns on offer here.
Napoleon Total War was developed by Creative Assembly, and published by Sega for the PC. Released on February 23, retails for $US50/$AU69.95. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Completed all French campaigns and a British campaign, tested both co-op and regular multiplayer.
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