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TVG grabs its sabre and mounts its stallion before riding into the Napoleonic battlefields of Imperial Glory...
Imperial Glory is the latest title from Commandos developer Pyro Studios, and in some ways is the spiritual successor to the companyâ??s previous encounter with the RTS genre, Praetorians. Released in 2003, the game was very much an action based RTS that heavily played on the combat side of the standard format rather than the micro-managing that the genre usually encompasses.
It has to be said that the preview build of Imperial Glory was impressive and engaging, and it certainly left all in TVG waiting for the final build to come through the post. Finally it has arrived, and after playing the near complete preview there hasnâ??t been any last minute disappointments â?“ this is a game that will suck you in from the moment players boot up the game and survey the map of Old Europe.
Giving gamers the choice of playing as one of five major European powers of the period (Great Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria) the main area of gameplay is encompassed around a Campaign mode that is sympathetic to novices and veterans alike. Besides the option of winning total control of the continent, gamers are also able to play in Historical Battles that recreate key moments of the time including, naturally, the Battle of Waterloo. Imperial Glory also integrates online play into Multiplayer modes that will extend the life of the game beyond the offline campaigns.
The main bulk of the game takes place over a map of Old Europe with the countries of 18th and 19th Century Europe split up into various territories so for example good olâ?? GB is broken into England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. In many ways the game map resembles a more localised version of Risk, and this is where all of the decisions outside of the actual battles are made. As well as providing players with a strategic overview of where units actually are geographically, the HUD also enables gamers to develop their armies and empires with a host of structures that take most of the micro-managing out of the game â?“ replicating Pyroâ??s Praetorians. Rather than sending out individual troops and units to discover and build on player resources, the various structures in the game take control and self-manage everything from the empireâ??s food reserves to raw materials, which leaves the player free to create a strategy to take over the continent.
Throughout the game it becomes increasingly apparent that the Technology Tree is the most important element after winning the battles themselves. The Tree is where players can delegate the research into new technological areas that improve all aspects of the empire. Not only does the Technology Tree focus on Military development so that stronger troop units such as Grenadiers can be built, but Diplomatic developments such as Consulates and Newspaper Offices can actually increase the ties with foreign countries leading to peaceful annexations of territories â?“ players could win without ever going to battle.
The Technology Tree is actually split up into three eras, and at the end of which, players can choose the type of government that their empire should follow such as Democracy, Autocracy, and Republic. The decision that they make changes the Tree into government specific technologies and also increase the stature of the empire in various fields so that if a player decided that he government should be a Dictatorship then the emphasis on Propaganda and Military strength develops. The fact that the Technology Tree does change according to the playerâ??s decisions is a key element in the game, and adds a level of management that would have been missed given the lack of micro-management in the title. As players unlock more and more technologies various Quests unlock that can help the progression of the campaign in ways as diverse as building ports for free to providing food for troops for a year (12 turns in the game.)
Diplomacy is also a key area in the campaigns of Imperial Glory with players able to form strategic partnerships with other countries to ward off possible attacks by rogue countries. More often than not the countries will sign a deal if enough money is thrown at them, although there is always the choice of throwing in some raw materials â?“ even the odd territoryâ?¦Declarations of War are made in this screen, and in this age of chivalry its always better to declare war than just invade, it doesnâ??t go down very well with neighbouring countries.
It would have been all to easy to clog up the HUD in this section of the game with confusing and complex options, but Pyro has managed to streamline the map/strategy areas that players of any level will find easy to use and understand. Moving troops and other units is very intuitive and given the time-setting of the game actually plays all too like Risk, and that results in an engaging experience. Despite the emphasis on combat rather than building up and micro-managing the resources the map and strategy sections donâ??t feel as if their purpose is to rush towards war. In fact it can sometimes take tens of turns before the Imperial armies are strong enough guarantee a victory, but even so thereâ??s enough to concentrate on without the player becoming bored. In some respects Pyro seem to have struck a balance between making the game combat driven whilst at the same time developing a strong sense of strategy with diplomacy at its heart, but even so there will be some RTS fans whoâ??ll regard the gameplay a little simplistic for their liking.
When players finally get to engage in battle, regardless of whether thatâ??s on land or sea (yup, controllable sea battles feature in the game giving Pyro one up on Creative Assemblyâ??s Rome: Total War), there is strong sense of fluidity in both actual unit movement and camera movement. During the land battles, the environments become of great strategic importance, with not only the lay of the land enabling troops to see farther, but structure such as farmhouses and other outbuildings can be utilised to fortify positions. In fact some battle objectives can include the fortification of the buildings, so speed is of the essence. Like the main map view, the battle HUDs are capable of displaying a lot of information without actually detracting from the battle itself or confusing the gamer, which is obviously an asset of the game after all the ability to develop and correct battle strategies quickly and without much effort is vital to win a battle.
The sea battles are perhaps the most fiddly component in the whole game to understand and utilise properly, but most of that is down to its originality. With a number of vessels to control and enemy vessels all capable of swarming and then sinking the playerâ??s ships, the fact that the wind comes into play to affect the speed and course makes for a sometimes frustrating experience. Having said that it does get across the frustrations faced by commanders at sea during the time period, so this isnâ??t a negative aspect of the gameplay â?“ it is after all a realistic simulation â?“ it is just another new type of strategy has to be developed to properly take control of the high seas before the fleet finds itself at the bottom of Davy Jonesâ?? Locker.
Visually the game is more then a match to the likes of Rome: Total War, bringing fantastically detailed and diverse environments to life with a real sense of style and effect. The various units on offer suffer from a slightly angular look due to a low polygon count, but when hundreds of these come together with such dramatic results, the effect is nothing short of stunning. The game packs an incredible amount of animations to bring the game alive, while a smooth camera system allows you to view the various battles with ease and to good effect. Not only do the sea battles bring a sense of diversity to the main campaign but also bring a pleasing change to the eye, as ships drift across the beautifully rendered ocean and engage convincingly. Occasionally the game can suffer from a slight drop in the frame-rate but only when the screen is particularly manic with action unfolding; on the whole itâ??s not enough to hinder one of the most stylish and beautiful titles within the genre.
A rousing soundtrack drives the atmosphere behind the game and helps to create a suitable tone for the game; more importantly Pyro Studios have actually worked wonders with the voice-acting to be found within the game, with its understated quality based in realism and not hammed up for comedy effect...