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Total War: Shogun 2 PC DVD

Published by SEGA
Developed by The Creative Assembly

It's been over a decade since we first experienced the sublime mix of turn-based and real time strategy gameplay from The Creative Assembly. The Total War series has taken us through the Medieval, Roman and Napoleonic eras but none have epitomised what the series was about more than the game that started it all: Shogun: Total War. Over the last decade The Creative Assembly have refined the Total War experience and at long last have returned to give us a sequel to the game that started it all.

Once again we find ourselves in 16th century Japan during the Sengoku period, a true age of total war. The single-player game allows you to either take part in a collection of real-time battles or take part in a rather compelling single-player campaign (which features turn-based play on the campaign map along with real-battles when conflict occurs) in which you take control of one of nine clans, all of which have their own bonuses. Taking control of either the Chosokabe, Shimazu, Date, Hojo, Mori, Oda, Takeda, Tokugawa or Uesugi clan, the basic idea is to become the shogun whilst defending yourself against an ever increasing number of enemies. Of course it's not all about warfare as you can engage in trade and diplomatic relations with rival clans but in the end it all comes down to who wins on the battlefield.

You have a choice of playing a short, long or domination campaign (with each one requiring a different number of provinces to be captured). All clans must capture Kyoto by a specified year (1575 for the short campaign and 1600 for the others) in addition to a handful of key provinces in order to win the game. Each turn on the campaign map moves time forward one season and this is something you have to consider when engaging in battle as waging war in winter is definitely much more difficult than in spring or summer in certain parts of Japan, particularly as the battles in Shogun 2 take not only elevation and line of sight into account but also the weather. Of course, unlike in the original Shogun, there are also navel battles in Shogun 2, which are very impressive, in addition to hero units (that can inspire your troops) and much improved siege warfare. It also helps that the enemy AI seems better in Shogun 2 than in any previous Total War game.

There are other aspects which help to make Shogun 2 much more satisfying than the original game. You have two branches of research to choose from in what is known as the Mastery of the Arts. Bushido allows you to research abilities in the field of military arts whilst the Way of Chi allows you to attain wisdom that will help your clan from an economic and governmental perspective. Your special units such as generals, ninjas and monks etc., will gain experience from their successes and will eventually level-up. On levelling-up, these units will gain skill points that can be used to acquire special skills or to improve skills they already possess. Generals can acquire retainers (either followers or items) that can further shape their personality and abilities. You can also award the generals with one of various commissioner positions in an attempt to ensure their loyalty. All of this really helps you to create unique units that become much more valuable to you as the game progresses as well as making each campaign you play feel like a very different experience.

In Shogun: Total War your multiplayer options were simply limited to battles and nothing more. Thankfully, the multiplayer options in Shogun 2 are much more robust. You can opt to play a multiplayer campaign either online or over a LAN in either a co-operative or head to head fashion or you can choose to play the Avatar Conquest mode. This latter mode requires that you initially create an avatar, choose a mon (essentially the Japanese emblem that is an equivalent of a coat of arms) and a starting province (each province offers a specific bonus). Essentially the idea is to take over Japan region by region, gaining the region bonuses in the process, by battling against human opposition. The Avatar Conquest map looks very different, with your general unit looking like a wargame miniature rather than being a fully animated character. Both the Avatar Conquest mode and the multiplayer campaign ensure that the game is as compelling a multiplayer experience as it is a single-player experience and that is no mean feat.

Graphically Shogun 2 looks very good although you could argue the 3D visuals aren't really an improvement from those found in Napoleon Total War, although the game certainly performs better on a lower specification PC than Napoleon or Empire Total War. Whilst the 3D visuals aren't much of an improvement (and you could argue they suffer slightly from the inability, at present, to enable anti-aliasing) the 2D artwork used in the game is absolutely stunning and is some of the finest I've ever seen.

Shogun 2 is subtitled, although the subtitles are not enabled by default. With them enabled however you'll find that all of the movies in the game, and there are many of them, are subtitled which is great to see. All tutorial messages are subtitled. All missions are subtitled so you'll always be aware of what your immediate objectives are. During battles you'll find that comments made by your units when you give orders to them are not subtitled (these comments are in Japanese) and there are some comments warning you that your general is in danger and so forth and these are also not subtitled (although a quick look at unit tabs at the bottom of the screen should alert you to any dangers). On the whole, none of the omissions are important and Shogun 2 is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.

Total War: Shogun 2 manages to capture everything that has been great about the Total War series and boil it down to its purest form. The game feels more focused than every game in the series since the original Shogun and there's no extraneous content here to bog the experience down. As a result it's the most gripping and addictive Total War game to date. Some will bemoan the inability to enable anti-aliasing (at the time of writing) but in all honesty that's being picky and it certainly doesn't detract from the game in any way. In short this is an excellent sequel which surpasses the original game in just about every respect and that is no mean achievement. This is the Total War experience at its most satisfying.

In our opinion this game is a: Benchmark
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