Imperial Glory

Maybe if Eidos's merchandising wallahs had any imagination then we'd have strolled out of their recent Imperial Glory preview event weighed down with bottles of Napoleon brandy and pairs of logo-emblazoned wellies rather than predictable (but appreciated) armfuls of T-shirts, pens and office furniture (Please return the chairs - Legal Ed).

IG, you see, is a strategy game that the Little Corporal and the Iron Duke would have loved, had their steam-powered, mahogany-cased Georgian PCs had the poke to run it.

Napoleon: Total War in everything but name, with its combination of turn-based empire management and real-time 3D ructions will - come spring - allow anyone with an expansionist bone in their body to completely rewrite early 19th century European history.

That fractious continent and adjacent areas of Africa and Asia is portioned into a jigsaw of 50 territories and 30 maritime regions for game purposes, and shared out among five major powers (Britain, France, Austro-Hungary, Russia and Prussia) and a shoal of small neutral 'NPC' states.

For patriotic Brits, choosing which nation to lead through the 40-year grand campaign won't be a problem.

The rest of us will want to weigh-up elements such as unique units (sabre-wielding Cossacks and be-sporraned Black Watch) and inherent Civ-style cultural traits before committing.

Keen to emphasise the formative influence of games other than Total War, the devs cited other characteristically Civ features like the extremely shady tech tree, the wonder-esque 'quests' and the age-linked choice of political systems.

But it wasn't really until the presentation took to the waves that we saw anything dramatically different.

Unlike its august rival, Imperial Glory models wet warfare with the same thoroughness as it models dry.

Here are breeze-ruffled oceans, clanging bells and creaking timbers. Ships-of-the-line, brigs and frigates tacking for position before loosing smoke-wreathed salvos against sailcloth, sailors and salt-stained hulls.

Not only can you tailor fire to immobilise, sink or depopulate an enemy tub, you can come alongside and try to board the rascal, too.

Inland clashes don't appear too shabby either. We witnessed several spectacular skirmishes, being particularly impressed by the soldier-skittling carnage wrought by speeding cannonballs and the naturalistic way individual infantrymen took advantage of cover such as buildings, barricades and trees.

The scale of battles (around 2,000 units max) and the choice of formations (three basic) may not be quite on a par with RTW or Cossacks but the makers claim that there'll be ample compensation in terms of animation quality and the adeptness of the AI.

If the latter assurance proves true then we at GAMER will be naming spirits and rubber footwear after Pyro on release day. If untrue we'll be packing them off to St Helena on the first available sloop.

Imperial Glory will be out for PC this spring