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Total War Battles: Shogun
by Lee Weedall on Wednesday 25th Apr 2012

Pretty fellah, isn't he?


The Total War series of games have garnered plenty of respect on the PC. Developers The Creative Assembly have refined their craft over the years, and the franchise now stands as one of the shining examples of "War Games Done Right!" At their best, these are titles with massive scope, throwing pitched battles containing hundreds of combatants at the player. These spectacles sit alongside a smaller yet still robust city-building section. They are not games for the faint-hearted, but are extremely rewarding once mastered.

Such an ambitious game can't possibly fit in a phone, can it?

To be fair, whilst it may be possible, The Creative Assembly have not really attempted to cram their PC games into a handheld device. Rather, they have crafted something much more suited to the platform. Instead of a full-scale war, here we are charged with managing much smaller battles, often with only a handful of units visible on-screen. Sweeping landscapes have similarly made way for a hexagonal-tile based playing field, further streamlining the potentially laborious task of control. And in place of cities, the action takes place around a solitary base. All the old ingredients are still there, but they have been tweaked as the platform demands.

The game instantly benefits from this new approach. Sometimes, smaller is better. First off, it has the effect of bringing the action into a sharp focus. Everything you need to see is in front of you at all times. No important details are hidden away from your gaze, or are lost on the far side of a battlefield that is too big to take in. War-games can be off-puttingly complicated, a pitfall that Total War Battles: Shogun's quite neatly sidesteps. The campaign trail is clear and non-laborious, and the process of upgrading between battles is similarly simplified.

But the second benefit is that by dealing in smaller numbers, the game looks incredible. The detail and animation of your units is something to behold, having the effect of instantly making you care for your charges, far more so than if they were just rough groups of dudes on horses. Here, the loss of a single unit feels like a blow, because you see the difference it makes to your forces. In this respect, there is an attachment to the game that many of the other games have never managed to capture, excellent though they otherwise are.

Total War Battles: Shogun in action

The playfield itself is, in fact, the real key to how this is a new direction for the series. In many ways, it defines the play experience. It would not be unfair to classify the game as a Tower Defence title, or even a puzzler. Troops can only move in pre-defined directions, which means that sometimes careful planning is required to get them to where they need to be. Units utiilse a rock/paper/scissors mechanic, although sheer force of numbers plays its part as well. The inability to move backwards can be frustrating, but is rarely a game breaker. Plus, it ups the ante when planning where to place your units, as the knowledge that you will be unable to backtrack should you get it wrong forces additional care.

This minor drawback is simply the sole negative that I can find to saddle the game with. Obviously, being a strategy war-game means that it won't be to everyone's taste, but anyone who is not put off by the idea should really be rushing to get hold of it as it is a quite superb distillation of the principles of, let's not make any bones about this, a generally unapproachable genre. Newcomers can feel at ease, lowering themselves gently into the murky waters of Real-Time Strategy War-gaming. With a campaign that is broken up into comparatively bite-sized chunks, fears of time commitments can be thrown out of the window. (Although it may not be perfect for your bus journey!)

The title seems to suggest that this is potentially the first in a series, and it is to be hoped that the success it deserves is met, because this could prove to be a fertile ground for further Battles. I, for one, would love to see a Medieval follow-up. But, for now, I am more than content to ply my trade in feudal Japan.


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  • Sound: 6
  • Graphics: 10
  • Gameplay: 8
  • Longevity: 9



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