Microprose's new strategy game, Fields of Glory, re-enacts the battles which decided the future of Europe following Napoleon's dramatic escape from the island of Elba in 1815. The campaign, which climaxes at Waterloo, includes five other battles, Nivelles, Wagnee, Quatre Bras, Ligny and Wavre. Two of these, Nivelles and Wagnee are of course, war fans, entirely fictional. Fields of Glory is a hybrid, half strategy, half combat and features MicroProse's CQCS (Close-Quarters Combat System) which lets the player see things happening close to (well about as close as you'd get to a troop of Britain's' finest). It's very like the combat system in Dune 2. You use the mouse to direct your army and watch as your orders are obeyed. This system is a sweetie and manages the action smoothly and quickly. Fields of Glory also features a zoom-in, zoom-out facility which enables you to view the carnage at a range of one, four or eight miles.
The game looks like an animated diorama. As action is joined, units move stiffly but smartly into position and because the graphics try to create the illusion of a kind of cyber-table top -rather than the reality of say, an episode of Sharpe, they leave most of the work to the imagination - which is a neat trick. It's easy to pretend that you are controlling events from a nearby hill-top and viewing the action at close quarters through your telescope. During engagements opposing forces sort of meld into each other, but zoom-in and you'll see sabres waved about, vollies fired and smoke mushrooming from artillery pieces. To complete the picture, the sound boys have added the appropriate, crackles, screams, whinnies and booms.
Programmers of Fields of Glory have taken great pains to be as historically accurate as possible. They've included as much detail in the game's database as might be required by the avid wargamer, or digested piecemeal by the curious. The manual packed with information and reads, appropriately enough, like a history lesson in miniature. The producers obviously hope that you will study it at length, because as I quickly discovered, it's not hard to win a battle without knowing what's going on. You are probably getting away with playing only half the game and can therefore expect only half the enjoyment. But, if you can win comfortably knowing zippo about the Napoleonic War, where is the incentive to read the manual? And won't the buffs know it all anyway?
But let's cast any doubts aside for the moment and play the game. To begin, the first thing to decide is which battle you want to fight and which army you want to control. Chose from the Allied forces
(Wellington) the French (Bony) or the Prussians (Bluecher). Then you select a skill level, (ranging from the lowly 'Conscript', which forgives basic military blunders, to 'Guard', which pitches you against a computer opponent with the tactical brilliance of a Clausewitz). You can also choose from a number of opening deployment options: Historical - which disposes the armies with historical accuracy; Non-historic - which is a suggested deployment but allows you to move some units and Free Deployment -which allows you to move everything within the bounds of a predetermined level of realism.
Fighting the battles is easy as pie. Select a unit and a window appears which gives you the low-down on its strength, formation, attitude (i.e, assaulting, deploying, holding etc). So, issue some orders, sit back (though not for long because the game is played in real time and bags of other stuff is happening all around you) and watch your boys giving it to the enemy hot and strong.
Messages pop up throughout the engagement when an objective is reached, when a prominent general or commander is killed and if, as in the case of the Prussians at Waterloo, a new unit arrives on the scene. When you win you're allotted a score based on the number of casualties and can enter your name in a high score table, presumably hoping to do better next time. I wonder though, if you triumph at the first attempt (as I did) and at a respectable level of difficulty to boot, whether there is sufficient incentive to fight a battle again merely to improve your score? Only, I suspect, if you want to fight the perfect campaign.
After a few days playing Fields of Glory I was beginning to doubt whether it was any good. I, a strategic Norman Wisdom, had on at least six occasions, thrashed the pants off the much vaunted armies of Imperial France, by the the simple tactic of attacking everything under the Tricolour. They obviously don't like it up 'em sir, those Frogs. I did eventually loose at Waterloo - playing without anything remotely resembling a strategy and at the hardest level - but not without a titanic-sized struggle.
The fact is that you can play Fields of Glory (and win) with as much, or as little strategy as you want. Whether this will turn buffs off, or attract the X-mas browser is debatable. A critic might say that Fields of Glory falls between two stools (and I'm talking furniture), an apologist, that it attempts to bridge the gap between out and out strategy and simple combat. But which is it?
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