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Napoleon's Campaigns (PC) artwork

Napoleon's Campaigns (PC) review

"There is a demographic that demands historically accurate war games, and Napoleonís Campaigns is aimed to those people so hard that to be more realistic it only needs to reach out and stab you in the gut."

There is a demographic that demands historically accurate war games, and Napoleonís Campaigns is aimed to those people so hard that to be more realistic it only needs to reach out and stab you in the gut. It has done away with a great deal of videogame conventions that decrease realism in some way or another: graphical recreations, dramatism, adventureÖ and for me, and I suspect for a majority of you, also entertainment.

For starters, the game has no visual representation ofÖ anything, really. It all takes place on the map of Europe, with the only addition being a set of chess-like pieces representing soldiers or ships. The avatars of individual commanders, lieutenants and the like look like actual historical portraits, just so you get an idea of the rigour here. It is one step removed from being a text-only game, but the fact that you canít see anything doesnít mean that you canít do anything. Just the opposite: you can recreate Napoleonís entire military career, and as the title implies, not from the point of view of a soldier, but as a general tasked with the deployment, battle tactics and strategies of a full army. Every single variable you can think of has been taken into account and will play a role both in battle and in the movement of troops: terrain, weather, distance between two points, morale, leadership, and even the supplies required for the good functioning of a squadron.

Because the focus here is on strategy and sheer management skills, you are never rushed to make a move. The game is turn based, so you have all the time you like to move units around (by dragging them as if they really were chess pieces), order attacks, get soldiers into ships or into cities, manage their supplies, etc., until you choose to end your turn. The enemy will then get their turn and you will be notified of any battles that may have taken place by a succint battle report containing statistics such as casualties and morale repercussions. There is no excitement, no tension, no investment, just a cold stream of data.

There is certainly variety, if not in the actual way the game plays, at least in the situations you have to manage. Some times your objective will be simply to give chase to fleeing enemies, while other missions might see you trying to invade England or defending an already conquered territory. When you get bored of this routine, you can always turn the tables and play as Napoleonís enemies from several different countries for new conflicts and different strategies.

I cannot finish this review without addressing the soundtrack, which challenges the reviewer to stand up and denounce its abuse. The entire soundtrack of the game is played by what sounds like a marching military band. That is neither a joke nor an exaggeration, just a description. Itís not that that is a bad idea per se, but itís shockingly inappropriate. For one thing, unless Napoleon designed his famous plans while a marching band paraded around his tent in circles, I doubt it has any historical value. There is also no pattern to the order of the songs that play in the background, so you could get a cheery marching tune followed immediately by an ominous war song. These pieces arenít triggered by in-game events, insofar as I can tell, either, so Iíve been sending troops to cross an empty forest to the rhythm of La Marseillaise but spent an entire turn full of battles in complete silence. The game might want to make me feel like a serene general, but its soundtrack makes me want to pick up a rifle and poke around madly with its bayonet.

If you turn off your speakers, then, and overcome a rather bad translation, you might enjoy Napoleonís Campaigns as long as you know exactly what to expect: military strategy stripped of all embellishments. I believe this is a barebones experience even for those players who really only want the battle planning and couldnít care less about 3D graphics; Napoleonís Spartan design does hurt gameplay, as what could have been an easy-to-navigate chart of available units is instead several pages of naked text. It is when you manage to put these overwhelming amounts of information in perspective that you can appreciate the flow of a campaign, and that is what Napoleonís Campaigns has to offer.

MartinG's avatar
Freelance review by Martin G (March 21, 2008)

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