by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Blood is just red sweat
Whilst many of my colleagues here at Hooked Gamers were waiting with bated breath for the release of Dragon Age II (ok, I was more than mildly anticipating it too), there was another game on the horizon that I had been waiting patiently to get my slightly RSI-infected gamer hands on. Of course, if you are reading this, you will have realised that the game is Total War: Shogun 2 (henceforth referred to as simply Shogun 2, the latest in the long-standing Total War series. I say latest, but really, the game is cause for some nostalgia about Creative Assembly’s first foray into the Total War series, as the setting has returned to feudal Japan.
And the team at Creative Assembly have definitely attempted to make Shogun 2 look and feel just right. Right from the initial opening cinematic, the game sets about putting the gamer into the shoes of a prospective Shogun. The visuals are just stunning, with wide open landscapes which can be decimated with stricken corpses during a long and arduous battle, beautiful cherry blossom trees scattered throughout a snowy terrain. Even the loading screens are superbly painted and indeed could have come straight out of a Japanese art gallery.
So detailed, you can taste the Sake
Locations vary too, which always makes the game more playable, with lush vegetation in some locations whilst other areas have snow covered mountainous terrains that look imposing. The time of day that battles take place also varies, and can change the way battles are fought. Seasons too, are noticeably different, with the bright sun shining over the horizon, blinding your view of what lies ahead on some occasions, whilst night time confrontations can make it easier for troops to sneak up on opposing forces. The campaign map has a Civilization V look to it and is quite detailed in itself, although the transitions between campaign map and battlefield seem less varied than in previous Total War incarnations.
Zoom in on individual units and you can further see the depth that has been put into the visual side of things. Minute details of units in their traditional Japanese garb, complete with authentic looking battle masks enable gamers to appreciate their troops. There are times when the battlefield action is fast and furious, and it is at these moments that you will appreciate the detail, as you will easily recognise which troops are under your control and those of the oncoming army.
It is not just the splendidly Japanese-themed visuals that set the scene brilliantly, but the oriental instrumental music in the background just oozes feudal Japan and the voice-over work of your battle advisor (or the tutorial instructor in the tutorial) sounds authentic despite the fact that it is in English. The sound of clanging katanas and the stampeding horse hooves of a cavalry charge further entrench the notion that Creative Assembly have not spared any detail in trying to get Shogun 2 as realistic as possible.
A game of chess
As has been the case since the first Oriental themed Total War game, the game is broken into two phases – the turn based strategy phase and the real-time strategy phase. Both need to be done well if you want to gain an advantage in Shogun 2. Building up a huge army could all be for nought, if you don’t handle them well in the heat of the real-time battle. It is really important, also, to get the balance right between diplomacy and outright warmongering. The same goes for your tech tree. Concentrating simply on growing a larger, more powerful military won’t be any good if you can’t support them through the cold winter months. And if the AI thinks you are becoming too powerful, they will tend to join forces against you.
Visuals and audio are stunning. Superb AI.
Somewhat steep learning curve for beginners.