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Gameplay

Sound
  Graphics

Value
Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.7


Empire: Total War Gold Edition
February 25, 2013 | Steven Marx
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It's A Little Complicated
And thatís not all. Remember I mentioned naval battles? Well thatís one of the big new things in E:TW. In addition to building your armies youíll be needing to build up strong naval fleets to protect your empire and, if youíre in the mood, raid enemy trade routes. Just as youíll need to do the appropriate research and build the right buildings to get the best army, youíll need to research naval abilities and build better ports to be able to recruit the best ships for you navy. And theyíll get in fights just like your armies do, with some obvious differences.

When itís time for a naval battle you are again generally given the option to fight or flee, but be careful. If youíre navy is in a spot on the game board where itís cornered and you try and withdraw, itís likely to simply be sunk. Otherwise, you are taken to a battle screen similar to the army battles, but on water instead. You of course have fewer options for deployment because you will have fewer ships. You will again not be sure of where the enemy is, will have a limited deployment area, and will need to pay attention to wind direction. Naval battles tend to give you more time once the battle starts before you have actual contact with the enemy, and this is where it can be useful having the fast forward button. And while naval battles can be fun, cool and exhilarating, they are also problematic. In fact, this area of the game received a fair amount of criticism when released for the difficulty in getting your ships to behave and follow your orders, and I definitely found this to be true. Whether through poor game mechanics or my own incompetence, the larger the battle, the more difficult it was to keep ships in formation and behaving in a logical fashion. Nonetheless, this is a major addition to the game and essential for the realism of the time period, and future versions of the game will hopefully improve on naval battle mechanics as they have in land battles.

If this all sounds like it could be a little daunting, youíre right. You can spend quite a bit of time each turn checking on your different territories, deciding military strategy, debating what to research, and figuring out the best uses of your limited source of funds. Battles can literally take an hour or more and remember, you donít just fight when you want to, your enemies will initiate battles as well. To help you deal with all this complexity, E:TW offers to provide help. In either section of the game you have options to let the computer automatically control certain aspects for you to reduce complexity. If you prefer the strategy component to battles, you can let the computer fight for you, which makes sense when you have an overwhelming advantage in forces, but I found when the forces are closely matched or youíre at a disadvantage, youíre much better off fighting your own battles; although as discussed above, this is a bit less true with naval battles, where the computer might do a better job. In the turn-based component, you can automate the setting of tax rates, research, and building both on the overall level and on the regional level. These options are all easily accessible and makes it easy to fine tune the gameís complexity to your tastes.

Graphics

The graphics in E:TW must be looked at on two separate levels, just as the game is divided. In the turn-based part of the game, the focus of graphics has more to do with usability than realism. Icons for your armies, cities, buildings and other features are large to make them more easily identifiable. Holding the mouse pointer over one provides more information, as does clicking. These additional info windows generally provide information in an easy to read and understand format. The layout of screens also tends to be quite clear and easy to navigate. It is possible to get a little lost if you keep opening additional info windows, as opening one does not necessarily close the one youíre currently in. So you might have a negotiation, regional and nation screen all open. The nice thing about this is they donít get in each othersí way. You close one, the last one you had open appears again, and so on.

The one difficulty I had with the graphics in the turn-based section had more to do with navigation than graphics. In the battle screens you have a full complement of navigation options: up/down, pan, zoom & rotate. In the turn-based section, you only have up/down and pan. This sometimes became an issue when trying to click on or view more closely something that was hidden by an oversized army or spy figure. It would also be easier at times to get a sense of place if you could rotate the view. But alas, in turn-based view, you are stuck with a 3D isometric view of the map. This complaint is relatively minor, but happened enough, and I found myself trying to rotate the map enough, that it bears mentioning (and with luck, updating in later Total War games).

The battle screens, of course, require a different type of graphic. Land battles often have literally thousands of soldiers on the screen at one time. Each soldier within your units is represented on the screen, and some units such as line soldiers have 120 men in them at full strength. This isnít a first person shooter, so donít expect that level of graphic realism, nor is it necessary. I will say that for me the animations and actions were good enough to make zooming in on the battles fun, when you think you have the time to spare to enjoy a little eye candy. Cannons fire, muskets shoot, swords clash (oops, that belongs in sound, below), soldiers run if you tell them to, walk if you allow them, dead soldiers stay on the battlefield, giving you a sobering look at the effects of battle, and terrain is deformed. The same holds true for naval battles, although there is less sound involved. You get nice water noises, cannon firing, and if boarding other ships is involved, the appropriate battle noises. It is all very satisfying and keeps you involved in the action.

Sound

The sound in the game is top notch. One of things I give them credit for is that your characters speak in your language and/or with the appropriate accent. In other words, not everyone has a British accent! Although all your advisors do. I didnít have a chance to check every single nationality to see if this holds throughout the game, but when playing as the Dutch, I heard satisfying Dutch words and accents when they spoke in English so I knew what they were saying.

Sound in other areas is more than adequate to suit the purpose of the game. In turn-based mode there is less need, although you do get appropriate sounds for you activities: armies marching, fleets sailing, characters responding to your commands, battle sound warnings when somethingís about to start. In battle mode, as mentioned above, the sounds are appropriate to the battle and fit what youíre seeing. The game does a nice job of isolating sounds as you zoom in on parts of the battle, which can be useful at times to know whatís going on. As you zoom out, youíll get a more general mix of noises with only the loudest cannon blasts standing out from the rest. The makers of the game seem to realize, as the best film makers do, that the sound can be just as important as the visuals to the ability of a game to grab you, and in E:TW, it helps do just that.

Value

As you can probably tell by now, I like the game. But value is a different prospect. While I get free review copies of the game, I always go back and check the prices when writing this section. And I have and do buy games, so I know what I consider a good value. By any measure E:TW has to be considered a good value. This is an A list title, and it shows. And from what I could see the bugs and crashes that apparently can plague the Windows version are absent on the Mac. The game ran flawlessly at the highest settings on my three year old iMac, although some MacBook owners have complained of problems playing even though their machines should meet minimum specs. Of course, in the past no one would think of playing a game like this on a laptop, a testament to how far laptop technology has come.

Beyond how well it ran, the sheer plethora of options makes this a game you could play over and over without getting bored. If you like the battles, you can create your own with numerous options. The Grand Campaigns also give you a huge number of options, from the eleven different nations you can play as, to the different victory options; and then you have the Road to Independence and Warpath campaigns, opening up more options. Needless to say, you could play this game as long as itís playable on your machine and never get the same game twice.

Another way I tend to look at value is whether the game will stay on my computer when Iím done with my review. For me, this may be the best value proposition. I review a lot of games and donít have much time to play outside of reviewing (yes, sadly I do have a life outside of game reviews). There have been A list titles that get deleted and casual titles that are still there. I can say with complete confidence that E:TW will be staying, and I will be finding time to keep playing the campaigns I have going. And thatís the best value proposition I can give you.

Conclusion

Iíve been playing games on the Mac for a long time. From the early/mid 1990s when many classics came to the Mac first to the dark days of the late 1990s/early 2000s when they generally never made an appearance. Itís been nice to see the comeback on games on our favorite platform. Even if most A list titles come late, more and more do make it. And Feral seems to be the company bringing most of them here. Empire: Total War represents a welcome return of a franchise that made a brief appearance several years ago. This is an A list title given an grade A conversion, ready to provide untold hours of challenge to a variety of different types of gamers. The variety of gameplay, customization options and scenario and campaign choices should suit you if you have any interest in turn-based strategy or real time battles. And if you do have such an interest, the even better news is that Empire: Napoleon has also been announced to be Mac-bound!

Pros

ē Return of a A list series to the Mac
ē High production values
ē Huge number of gameplay choices & customization options
ē Multiplayer

Cons

ē Navies can be difficult to control during battle
ē Some MacBook players having trouble playing it, even with high enough specs



Empire: Total War Gold Edition
Mac Version: Feral Interactive
Buy Empire: Total War Gold Edition now at MacGameStore.com


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