Napoleon's Russian Campaign

By Richard Moore

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A year ago I thought all was lost to Napoleonic wargamers who love to hop on the computer and test themselves on the screen of battle. It seemed game developers had given up on producing thinking-people's titles and forsaken them for 3D shoot-em-ups.

But how the position has changed and developers have hit a purple patch, releasing some very fine games on the era of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Breakaway Games has given us Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle and the hopefully out soon Austerlitz: Napoleon's Greatest Victory, Strategy First the empire-controlling Europa Universalis 2 and now HPS Simulations has joined the party with the John Tiller creation Napoleon's Russian Campaign.

And straightaway it has to be said that Napoleon's Russian Campaign is yet another game that will have grognards ignoring their kids, spurning their wives and DVD movies and reaching for the PC's on-switch.

For it is an engrossing simulation of the disastrous French 1812 invasion of Russia and, once you get the hang of it, will keep you absorbed for an eternity.

Napoleon's Russian Campaign strikes me as being a Mark II version of Talonsoft's Battleground series, with much-improved gameplay and testing scenarios.

While the sprites and terrain are not as good, the in-game graphical information is superior and the whole set-up of the game and its playability will appeal to all. In addition, there is the sheer challenge of taking on a military operation that even Bonaparte could not win - a gauntlet that all self-respecting wargamers will want to pick up.

Now that is not to say that Napoleon's Russian Campaign is an extra campaign of the Battleground series - far from it. Rather Tiller has produced a game that Talonsoft fans will easily pick up - due to its basic Battleground style - but one that offers a much more fluid and playable time at the computer.

The first thing that hits you is that no longer do you have to go through the rigid phases of play forced on you by the Talonsoft games.

Each side has a turn, and in that period you can move, shoot, melee, change facing as you see fit - within the generous limits the rules allow you.

Instantly Napoleon's Russian Campaign changes from a board-game style "follow the phases in exact order" to a more realistic and sensible clash of arms.

Units automatically get defensive fire when a unit moves - or changes facing - in their electronic zone-of-control. This not only gives newcomers to computer wargaming a feel of immediacy of action, but will tell old boardgamers that Tiller has come up with a game engine that we had all been praying for.

Basically it is as if he has told the computer to put together a great series of battles, avoid what gamers hated - such as ridiculously strict and ultra realistic limitations - and worked out a fine balance between regulated play and real-life likelihoods.

There are more than 100 scenarios to lose yourself in, as well as a campaign mode where a player conducts the entire Russian adventure and gets to make all the significant decisions that will decide between victory and tragedy. The game also has a scenario editor.

All the major battles are included and my choice to test the game was the Maloyaroslavets scenario. I got off to a Marshal Ney-like start - that is slow - as without a manual it took a wee while to get the hang of the controls. But it came to me fairly quickly and then it was time to really get stuck in.

Malayaroslavets is an interesting one to fight - it certainly caught my imagination - as the French desperately need to break through.

And in the computer battle, it has to be said (with extreme modesty), the French forces were led by a brilliant tactician who quickly split the Russians and destroyed them utterly.

The sound is very good and there is a fine selection of period music you can listen to while you are whipping the enemy.

There are four levels of view from 3D to satellite, although I found the two most used views were using hotkeys 1 and 4 - the 3D and the bird's eye view.

I'm definitely looking forward to playing Tiller's Campaign Eckmuhl.



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