If you’re into war, and deep down see yourself as this repressed strategic genius who should be getting nods of recognition as you walk down the street like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Or if you love reading about war and watching war documentaries because, let’s face it, war is so damned entertaining although you try to pretend you’re just passionate about history, then like me, you should get hold of Empire: Total War.
It’s a game which really lets you vent that inner yearning to conquer like Caesar, and gives you loads of war facts to impress your in-laws with when Mastermind is on. And you get all that for just £9.95 from Zavvi, when the next cheapest copy is going for nearly £15. Having paid £35 for my copy a few months back, I will be honest and say I was quite tempted to keep this one to myself.
But the problem with Empire: Total War is that it’s set in a period of history when war just wasn’t that cool. Everyone is dressed like Siavash from Big Brother; wearing stupid big hats, effeminate wigs and politely taking it in turns to shoot each other. The only person who made this period of warfare look cool was Sean Bean in Sharpe, and he only pulls it off by being this rugged, working class ‘jolly jump up’ as they call him, who sort of customizes his uniform like one of the cool kids at school and is never seen dead in one of those big admiral hats.
That’s my biggest problem with it. Graphics are great admittedly, but muskets are boring. There is no variety and when it comes down to it, all you do is have infantry slogging it out with volley after volley. Cavalry usage is limited and must be adapted to rapidly redeploying infantry. Naval battles on the other hand do a lot for Empire: Total War. Visually they are stunning, and if I said this period of warfare wasn’t that cool, naval battles are the exception, especially if you loved Russell Crowe in Master and Commander – the only man alive who could pull off one of those hats with style, sorry Sean.
But who would rather wage war in the 17th century when you can wage it in the classical period or the medieval? Romans, barbarians, crusaders, longbowmen, the golden horde, the Holy Land….this was war at its best. So if you’re new to the Total War series do the right thing and start at the beginning with Rome. If you’re a hardened veteran, don’t expect the same replay value from Empire, but it's a game you still have to play nonetheless.