Following BreakAway Games' Waterloo comes Austerlitz, which applies its sophisticated real-time treatment to the influential title battle waged earlier in the career of the famous military genius. Take the role of Napoleon Bonaparte to lead your forces to victory, or win the day with the Russian or Austrian armies and rewrite history. This game is built on the same programming as Waterloo, which itself is based on the solid Sid Meier's Gettysberg! engine. Over 20 historically accurate and "speculative" scenarios are included and custom battles can be generated. Up to eight players can compete over the Internet or a local network.
Earlier this year I had a chance to play and review La Grande Armee Campaign Series: La Grande Armee at Austerlitz from developer Jean Michel Mathe. In addition to joking that one of the 19th century's greatest military geniuses is remembered in song for his greatest defeat rather than victory, I also noted that this loss has been re-created more often in game form. But fans of the Napoleonic era can take part as now a second -- and much less hardcore -- adaptation of that battle has arrived.
La Grande Armee was solid, but also un-inspiringly difficult at times, which probably gave it a somewhat limited appeal. Those who like the slow methodical gameplay of a turn-based board game will be right at home with that game; for everyone else, Napoleon's triumph against the combined forces of Austria and Russia comes to life with this epic war title. Originally planned to be published in North America by Strategy First, this new adaptation of the game arrives from noted wargame publisher Shrapnel Games. The slight downside: you'll probably have to search high and low (or order it online) if you want to engage in this great battle.
Although the game is being released by a smaller niche publisher, the results are as polished as anything the big boys have brought out; in fact, the game may have gotten better treatment as a result. Shrapnel Games is at home with titles like this, and are comfortable producing manuals and supplying the extra things that wargamers expect. It also doesn't hurt that developer BreakAway Games has garnered quite a reputation as a developer, producing some impressive titles such as the Cleopatra expansion for Pharaoh as well as Sid Meier's Antietam.
The Sid connection is evident immediately with Austerlitz: Napoleon's Great Victory, which uses the enhanced engine previously developed for Sid Meier's Gettysburg. The real-time based combat interface seamlessly adapts from the Civil War era to that of the earlier Napoleonic period, and this latest title refines all those issues that existed in the earlier games. The only downside is that the tutorials, which probably aren't as necessary to play as they might have been in La Grande Armee, are downright dull.
This game clearly outshines La Grande Armee when it comes to visuals, as well as virtually all of the previous Talonsoft Battleground titles from this era. The animations show a noticeable improvement over the (now) somewhat dated Sid Meier's Gettysburg, and there are numerous options to zoom in and out of the action. Actual fog and clouds are there to add confusion to the battle, while historically notable landmarks like Sokolnitz Castle have been added to further immerse you into these Austrian settings.
Austerlitz is accessible to novices and wargame-lite players because of its rather unencumbered interface. Commanding troop movements is straightforward, and there is the additional option to hand over controls to your various generals. This allows for a bit more realism, as these commanders have their own weaknesses and strengths. The biggest difference between Austerlitz and Gettysburg is the matter of the technology of day, and the engine has been adapted adequately to handle these subtle differences. To the causal wargamer, it may appear that both conflicts had armies line up and take turns shooting each other, but this earlier era featured a mix of smoothbore muskets and early rifles -- range plays a bit of a difference.
Additionally, the cream of the crop of professional soldiers fought this Napoleonic era battle against the combined forces of Russia and Austria, compared to the recruits and volunteers of the American Civil War. These differences are accounted for in Austerlitz and the game's balance is certainly there. Because this was truly an overwhelming victory against great odds, playing the game as the French can be quite a challenge, especially at the harder difficulty levels. You'll have to do everything right to truly master this game in Napoleon's role, but don't expect to walk over your enemy when playing as the allied forces.
In addition to the full battle, the events are broken up as they were in the Waterloo and Gettysburg titles, this time with 25 historical and speculative scenarios that capture the various key segments of the engagement. There are also options for random battles that can be designed by players or computer-generated scenarios for those who don't merely want to replay history.
As mentioned previously, the animations look as sharp as a well-drilled company of professional soldiers. Realistic uniforms have been modeled, but a higher resolution setting is necessary to really differentiate between the various forces on the battlefield. The Napoleonic era was arguably a time of the most "overdressed" soldiers at any time in history and there were so many unique uniforms that it was often difficult for soldiers to tell who was who at times. This is evident in the game, and while it's enjoyable from a historical point of view, it can cause confusion in the heat of battle.
Additionally, as with previous games using the Waterloo engine, commanders and cavalry units can look all-too-similar at a glance when zoomed out. Since Austerlitz unfolds in real-time, it can be quite annoying when you inadvertently send your commander off, thinking you are ordering a charge. More disturbing is when you don't properly click the next unit you want to lead and end up directing previously selected forces to the wrong part of the field. It is a minor nitpick, but one that may be problematic for those less experienced with games using this engine.
Multiplayer is solid and up to eight players can control different commanders on the line, either via a LAN or over the Internet. With the random battle options, this game should certainly appeal to wargamers looking for a fast-moving experience.
Overall, Austerlitz: Napoleon's Greatest Victory is really the greatest adaptation of this battle. It offers a different style of gaming than La Grande Armee, but the bottom line is that this title probably has the broadest appeal. There have been many wargames featuring the exploits of the Little Emperor of France, and Austerlitz is certainly one of the best around.
People who downloaded Austerlitz: Napoleon's Greatest Victory have also downloaded:
Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle, Battleground 3: Waterloo , Battleground 6: Napoleon in Russia, Battleground 2: Gettysburg, American Civil War: Take Command - Second Manassas, Axis & Allies, Sid Meier's Antietam!, Battleground 7: Bull Run
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