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Shogun Total War

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Shogun Total War reviewed at computer games

Shogun Total War combines two gameplay elements into a single game. These comprise a turn based strategy element where you build an empire and move armies over a strategic map of Japan together with a tactical real time 3D battlefield war game simulation.

Of these two elements without a doubt the real time 3D tactical war game is the heavyweight core part of Shogun Total War.
This tactical part of the game puts you on the ancient Japanese 16th century battlefield in control of hundreds of soldiers (controlled as groups of 60 by default). Units at your command include the following;
  • Samarai Archers. These are a very useful unit for showering the enemy hordes. When out of arrows of if rushed can fight reasonably well with their swords.
  • Warrior Monks. Tough as nails melee infantry armed with swords. Highly effective when used aggressively.
  • Yari Samarai. These troops carry the yari (a spear of sorts). Good defensively against enemy cavalry in particular where they operate as pikemen.
  • Yari Ashigaru. These are inferior peasent troops pushed into the service of the Daimyo. They would be better off sent back to their farms generally but can help somewhat if well suported against an inferior enemy.
  • No Dashi Samarai. Mean sword weilding fighters who love to charge down the enemy. Weak defensively and have little armour protection.
  • Naginata. Probably the toughest defensive unit, slow and well armoured can absorb arrow bombardment well.
  • Arquebusiers. Firearm unit. These troops use slow loading weapons that can dish out significant damage and carry loads of ammo. Totally useless in a melee situtaion.
  • Musketeers. A more effective firearm unit with greater range. Also more expensive to buy. Both the Arquebusier and the Musketeer are rendered useless in wet weather.
  • Cavalry Archers. Light cavalry armed with bows. Ideal for hit and run tactics keeping the enemy at a distance while showing them with arrows. Can also be forced to charge in melee combat but they are not the best suited for this.
  • Yari Cavalry. A great allround unit for any army. Effective in most roles and great when charging down hill at an enemy. There speed also makes flanking manouvers possible.
  • Heavy Cavalry. Tough heavily armoured medieval battle wagons. These guys are the elite and can take on most things, they are not invulnerable however and still have it tough against yari samarai in tight formation.
Using all these different units effectively in battle takes some practice, but it's highly rewarding when you get the hang of things.
One thing to watch out for is friendly fire. If you go marching your infantry in front of your own muskeeters while they are firing on the enemy for example then you're going to take some 'blue on blue'.
This realistic friendly fire really make you rethink your tactics and is a great part of the computer game I reckon. Likewise the enemy forces loose troops to their own fire.

Elevation is of major importance in this battle simulation. He who holds the high ground and knows how to maximise it's benefits has a huge advantage. Ranged weapons fire further from a high vantage point so the enemy can be engaged before taking any incoming fire. Also charging downhill give an advantage. Enemy forces engaging a foe while having to slog up hill can have a really tough time.

Rivers are another terrain that plays a large part in a battle. On a map with a river passing through it the attacker is going to have to move his forces across it at small bridging points. These are easily guarded and you can hold off a very large force with a relatively few troops of the right kind. For instance a couple of musketeer units backed up by some cavalry will give the enemy heavy casualties as they attempt to cross a narrow bridge in the game.
A favourite ploy of mine is to line up some musketeers in front of archers with cavalry or No-Dachi between. If the enemy keeps coming or gets too near the ranged units then I can send in the cavalry to make them high tail it back over the bridge while still taking fire.

Units on the tactical battlefield consist of 60 men by default (though this can dwindle in the battle). These soldiers are individually simulated in battle but the individual soldier cannot be given his own orders, this is great as it make the game much more realistic and doesn't bog the game down into ridiculous micro management like so many other real time strategy games.

These units can be given movement orders, facing orders and formation orders. Their battle behaviour can also be set to hold formation, skirmish where they move to fight indivudually but try to return to formation when possible or they can be given total freedom. You can also set tight formations, loose formations (useful for sustaining fewer casualties when under ranged attack) and the aggresive wedge formation used to break through enemy ranks.

A useful way of setting formations shapes is with the mouse you can rubber band a group out into a single line or into a square box (with everything in between also possible). For instance to maximize musketeer firepower you might draw the 60 strong unit out into a two rank line where every soldier can fire at once. Or you could set a unit of Yari samarai into a tight square (Roman Army style) configuration to withstand an onslaught of enemy cavalry.
These formations effect another well dealt with aspect of the game, morale. Rather like the close combat series of war games (and in total contrast to command and conquer type games) soldiers have their morale modelled during battle. You might send a unit to go fight that horde or enemy cavalry up on yonder hill but if they think better off it they will turn tail and head for their farms of the map. A routing force is east prey for cavalry attacks, they get cut to pieces as they run away so it's important to keep each unit well supported and happy.
The other part of Shogun Total War if you play the campaign game is the turn based strategy part that's played over a map of ancient feudal Japan. You take the role of a Daimyo with ambitions of becoming the Shogun. In this element of the game you fight for and defend the provinces of Japan while taxing the farmers and building castle, training establishments, ports etc. You also have spies and ninjas that you can move around the map for covert operations.
This part of the game is good enough and plays a bit like a game of Risk but is lightweight compared to the tactical 3D battle simulation which is what this computer game is all about.

Computer Games SCORECARD

Graphics 8/10
Sound 8.5/10
Gameplay 9.5/10
Originality 8/10

Computer Games score 9/10

One of the wargaming greats on PC

Graphically the game is pretty good, the site of hundreds of soldiers fighting and moving at your command is a gratifying experience. Though while the battlefield is depicted in 3D the actual units are 2D sprites.
Sound is also good with weather effects, battle noises a suitable music background etc.
This game has been around for a while now and has spawned a sequel (Medieval Total War). I'ts still a great game and now available at bargain prices is well worth picking up for any strategy enthusiast.
Todays fast computers can handle this game much better than the machines available when this game first came out. Large scale battles now don't make the game crawl to a standstill to the same extent as before.