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Creative Assembly, developer of the hyper-ambitious Total War strategy franchise, has charted a more focused course with Napoleon: Total War. Even though the Gold Edition — brought to Mac by Feral Interactive — includes three add-on packs with more units, battles, and countries in tow, the mission of the game is clear: To use the Total War framework to tell a personal narrative of one of history's most determined, megalomaniacal, and successful conquerors.
Napoleon: Total War borrows form and function directly from its predecessor, Empire: Total War, which saw the Total War formula stretched a bit thin. Instead of attempting to tell every story, only Napoleon Bonaparte's life is in view. And like Napoleon's own career, his Total War entry is not a game about always winning. Strategy and position supersede.
Napoleon: Total War features three kinds of play, with campaign action plus land and sea battles. Players see all of these in the single-player (or drop-in multiplayer) trajectory from Italy to Egypt, Europe, and finally Waterloo, taking command of Napoleon and his armies on a game board akin to Risk. The hundreds of variables at play on the board make it almost realistically unpredictable, from managing diplomatic relations to recruiting militia and repairing theaters for public welfare. Ultimately, it's a numbers game dominated by geography — a game that Napoleon himself played well.
Conflicts on the board can be decided automatically or by jumping into land or sea battles, both of which require careful troop positioning, clever use of formations and high-ground tactics, and the occasional tactical retreat. Like in Empire: Total War, units act as groups and individuals in high-fidelity, detail-oriented clashes that are as strategically nail-biting from a distance as they are brutal at ground level. However, while the series' past issues with illogical A.I. movements have been improved, the occasional cavalier stuck on a tree has yet to be completely routed, causing some unfortunate consequences for retreating (or advancing) armies.
As much as Creative Assembly leaves room for the player to drive the experience, the team is clearly passionate about representing Napoleon's life accurately, down to the numbers of bodies he left on the field. The respect for history impresses, despite its constricting effect on the game's choices, although managing uprisings, uneducated (or too-educated) citizenry, and fragile tax rates can become a bit tedious for would-be conquerors, however historically fulfilling it may be.
The bottom line. The Little Conqueror's rise and fall manifests well as a multi-phase strategy game, particularly when players assume his emperor's cloak and character.
Mac OS X 10.7.5 or later, 2.0GHz processor, 4GB RAM, 256MB GPU
Staggering combination of scale and detail. The several complex, interwoven systems are made relatively easy to understand and control. Focused narrative paints a vivid portrait of The Corsican.
Occasional A.I. movement hitches. Small text in menus means that users with smaller screens may need to squint at times. History can be tedious in spots.