Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review:Total War Shogun 2-Fall of the Samurai

Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of The Samurai (FOTS) marks the dawn of a new era. It’s a story of old versus new, traditional values versus modern impetus, spears and swords versus cannons and warships! Think Tom Cruise’s 2003 movie, The Last Samurai, and you get the idea.

FOTS is the latest historical masterpiece from Creative Assembly and SEGA, a standalone expansion pack to the hugely popular Shogun 2. But this isn't like any other expansion pack, oh no. This baby will provide over 100 hours of gameplay, with access to various factions, new weaponry and technologies - all in a wonderfully accurate world.

It takes place in the midst of the nineteenth century - the 1860s, to be precise - at the start of the Boshin War. It's been a troubling few years in Japan, years that have seen the country improve relations with the West to the detriment of the local people. Things soon take a turn for the worse. Cue a lot of infighting between the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate and rival factions – with you at the centre of things.

There are six playable clans on offer: Aizu, Nagaoka and Jozai for the Shogunate, while Choshu, Satsuma and Tosa represent the Imperial clans.

It's slow to start and pretty daunting for the uninitiated. There are so many buttons, menus, options and skill trees hidden about the screen that you may be initially tempted to hover the mouse over the Quit button and wave the white flag. But you'd be a fool. This is not only a war simulation, but an accurate rendition of feudal Japan. This is not a game you can dip your toes into, rather you need to fully immerse yourself in the world of the Shogunate.

For those familar with the Total War series, you'll quickly feel at home. The aim is to dominate the map, taking control of the various provinces through diplomacy or war, by making alliances or attacking rivals. It’s up to you to determine who comes out on top and potentially change history.

As ever, the real time battles – blessed with fantastic AI – are a joy. Pit your units against a rival and you're given the option to fight or let the computer determine the outcome automatically. Choose the former and it's quite a spectacle. There's something quite superb about lining your armies up on the battlefield, positioning them for optimal impact and then watching as they slug it out. You really feel like you're in control and wince as your soldiers fall because of your inadequacies and incompetence. The battles are truly epic and require quick reactions and smart thinking. One minute you'll think you've got your tactics sussed only for some sneaky cavalry to trample through your front line.

The new map is vast and now incorporates the island of Ezo to the north. With a powerful PC and everything ramped up on Ultra settings it looks absolutely fantastic. So much so, in fact, that I'd wager you won't mind your forces being cut to ribbons during a skirmish too much as you'll be busy admiring the rustling trees or the way the grass looks. Besides those battles, there's plenty more to focus on too; there are the cities and ports set against some beautiful landscapes, as well as new units and infrastructure such as the railways.

Ah, yes, the railways. These wonderful creations that allow provinces to be linked together, making movement around the huge map much more bearable. Nevertheless, they don’t make much of an appearance in the early stages of the game but are an exciting addition nonetheless.

Ships also play a key role in the proceedings. The naval battles are not only visually impressive but some well-timed bombardment on the battlefield from a warship off the coast can prove devastating to your enemies. They can also take out vital supply hubs and ports, adding an extra strategic element. The new dawn of powerful vessels brings with it torpedoes too!

There are 40 new units on offer, with the tech trees allowing you to evolve from the basic weapons of old to more effective, long range rifles and pistols. The huge number of soliders onscreen really adds to the feel of the game, as does the inclusion of a third person view when operating artillery or naval cannons.

New agents are available too, each with their own attributes and skills. The Imperial activist and the Shogunate investigator are joined by the Foreign Veteran, Shinobi Ninja and the Geisha.

There's plenty to see and do and to fully appreciate FOTS you really need to invest the hours - there's a mammoth multiplayer mode as well with 22 maps. If you've time at your disposal, you'll find yourself completely taken in by the world of the Shogun and it's well worth a purchase. It's another victory for Creative Assembly!

Reviewed on PC