"Real Time Conflict," blares the title of Namco's Real Time Conflict: Shogun Empires. From that, you might extrapolate that this is a Real Time Strategy game, like PC classic StarCraft. But there's a reason it's "Real Time Conflict" instead of "Real Time Strategy," and that's because Shogun Empires doesn't actually have any strategy. In fact, it's not only completely devoid of strategy, but also of any compelling gameplay whatsoever. Good thing it's a Real Time Conflict, then. Let's shrug off any unfair expectations drawn from past games, and see what this promising new genre has to offer.
Empires puts you in the role of one of two brothers who are competing to unite the various provinces of feudal Japan. Takashi, the game skillfully misleads, is a "gifted diplomat and strategist," while his brother Kenshin is a "ruthless warrior" who believes that "war is the only true path to victory." The trick is, there's no in-game difference between the two. So, most tournament-level Shogun Empires players choose Kenshin for his cool eye patch.
The game opens with a map of Japan. In each round you take several turns, marching your army into neighboring states in an effort to acquire their territories via diplomacy or combat. There's no penalty for failing diplomacy, so go have a chat. You can choose polite or aggressive tactics, but the result seems completely random, even with diplomatic wunderkind Takashi at the table. If talks fail it's off to the battlefield, which is where the Real Time Conflict gameplay truly comes into its own.
Battle presents you with three units: archers, spearmen, and swordsmen. Dragging and tapping gives them marching commands, as well as targets. Luckily for Kenshin (cool eye patch, remember?), the archer unit is more or less invincible. You can march them near an enemy company (in Real Time) and absolutely perforate that enemy at will (that's Conflict).
The poor enemies, who in later centuries would perhaps be transported on short buses rather than horses, mill about confusedly, presumably wondering why feathered sticks are appearing in their comrades' chests and faces and spouting sticky red stuff. Playing our role as Kenshin, we laugh heartily and mock those two-eyed, cool eyepatch-less fools who think one needs depth perception and binocular vision to be a sharpshooter.
Once in a while these Napoleonic skirmishes are interrupted by action-oriented mini-games, such as "move the cursor over an enemy archer, then move it over another enemy archer" and "press the L button really fast." If you mash the buttons with skill and righteousness the territory will be won, and Kenshin (seriously, choose Kenshin) moves one step closer to Japanese domination.
Round finished, it's time to watch the computer-controlled brother (hopefully not Kenshin) take his turn shuffling around the map, likely losing territories as much as winning them. While undeniably comic, this may seem boring, but it does provide a quiet interlude to ponder things like, "Wait, you mean there's no resource management whatsoever, and my troops are magically replenished each battle?", "Did the game just crash on me, again?", and, "Why do battles have only three unit types and two lousy commands?" (The answers are "yes," "most likely," and "because this is Real Time Conflict.")
Shogun Empires must be taken for what it is, a daring stab at the new genre of Real Time Conflict. Players who misunderstand its intentions and come in looking for strategy will be disappointed, likely finding it to be a half-completed husk of a prototype that somehow found its way to retail shelves, not to mention a game experience that compares unfavorably with particularly interactive screen savers. Strategy fans should beware, but Real Time Conflict fans? Your game has arrived.
Unfortunately, GamesRadar's editorial staff doesn't yet acknowledge the Real Time Conflict genre, so Shogun Empires had to be scored according to the narrow standards of fun, successful strategy games. Apologies go to the designers: the world, or at least GamesRadar, is not yet ready for your particular flavor of genius. Keep on pluggin'!