Note = 82/100 / design = 80 / technical = 84
Ironically, Napoleon is most often remembered for the crucial battle that he lost. No fewer than a half a dozen computer games have been based on Waterloo over the years, yet his shinning moment at the battle of Austerlitz is seldom recounted. Almost as ironic is the fact that two new simulations will finally be showcasing this historic battle. Strategy First’s Austerlitz: Napoleon’s Greatest Victory will use the same modified engine of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg that was used for Waterloo: Napoleon’s Last Battle; but it is La Grand Armee at Austerlitz, the latest from the La Grande Armee Campaign series by indie developer Matrix Games that may well capture the hearts and spirits of the hardcore gamer.
More substance than style on the first glance than the Strategy First game, La Grande Armee at Austerlitz can best be described as a solid combination of a classic military board game blended with a miniatures campaign. LGAA recreates the epic battle of December 2, 1805 when Napoleon and his army of 68,000 troops defeated almost 90,000 men of the Austrian and Russian armies. The result of the battle, the first major engagement of the War of the Third Coalition, forced Austria to make peace with France and caused Czar Alexander I to take his army back to Russia.
Players will have the opportunity to recreate Napoleon’s greatest triumph and lead the Grande Armee to victory, or even as the Allies in their bid to stop the French Emperor. Of course, much like Waterloo, this engagement is not exactly a fairly balanced contest, and you’ll have to work really hard when playing the French to recreate their success. The game does feature, however, a number of options that will allow you to hone and master your skills. This title can be played as a two-player game, or have the AI control either of the sides. Additionally you can even have the AI take on both sides to better understand the complex balance of power and see how the game might unfold.
While the actual engagement was not fought in the best of weather conditions you can change these and have the battle unfold during a warm and sunny day. The different weather effects are more than just different backdrops and have very crucial affects on how the battle plays out. Line of sight is greatly affected by even light rain and a dry field really changes the way that cavalry and infantry units respond. These aspects of La Grand Armee at Austerlitz are a war gamers’ dream, but all of this, unfortunately, won’t mean much to the novice or causal gamer.
In fairness, this isn’t likely the kind of title that the non-military buff would pick up, but this title is also not ideal for those looking to venture into the realm of war gaming. The interface is downright confusing at times, and you’ll be likely forced to restart the game a few times in the beginning just to master the finer points. The game uses a manual on the CD-ROM as well, so it isn’t possible to look up key points unless you print it out before you head into the game. In addition, the game’s interface dictates that start a new battle to load up a saved game – strange. While these are minor annoyances they do add up at times to make for a frustrating gameplay even for the more experienced gamer.
LGAA’s multiple views are touted as big selling point, but are too cumbersome at best. While the developers have done away with the hexes that are usually used in war game simulations, they also have made it all the harder to determine distance and relation of your forces on the battlefield. In the overhead map view it often seems that your units are on top of each other, but when you zoom into the bird’s eye 2D or the 3D view the troops don’t always line-up as you’d desire. LGAA tries to incorporate the best of both worlds, but they haven’t quite made it.
LGAA certainly can’t compare to Austerlitz: Napoleon’s Greatest Victory visually, and the actual rendering of the troops is really disappointing. The sound effects are barely worth mentioning; however, if you do choose to crank it up, you won’t need the most high-end sound system to take advantage of what is offered.
The troop movements and actual battlefield are far less impressive and actually serve to bring down the overall appeal of the game. The columns of men aren’t exactly 3D, but rather appear like cardboard cutouts lined up and lack almost anything in terms of animation. It is hard to fault the developers, especially considering that this view isn’t crucial to the game, but because they added it (and made a point of making it a selling point) it can only be described as utterly disappointing. The soldiers themselves have almost no individuality—they all look like one soldier was cloned—and when these columns meet the enemy they do little more than bump into each other and then pull back.
Again, this wouldn’t even be a problem, but the use of the camera in this 3D view just further adds another level of frustration. Had the developers removed this aspect you probably wouldn’t mind as much. On the other hand, the 2D bird’s eye view is like flying over a battle. Here the game seems so compelling that it is worth watching the AI play out both sides just to see the smoke rise off the battlefield and the troops, who are the size of dots, move in formation.
The other notable bonus is that you can also take part in the lesser engagement at Haslach, which was an October precursor to the main battle. All things considered this a title that will appeal to old-school fans of military simulations, possibly even more than Austerlitz: Napoleon’s Greatest Victory, but even the most hard-core war gamer will find at least a few faults in LGAA.
The final word : While not as flashy as Sid Meier’s Gettysburg or the Talonsoft series of military simulations, Matrix Games has created a solid simulation that captures the heart and spirit of Napoleon’s greatest triumph. However, the end result is a game that won’t inspire novices or attract causal gamers. This is one for the hardcore only.