Imperial Glory review

PC Gamer strategically completes a few battles before lunch.

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Should you want a pithy summary of Imperial Glory's strengths and weaknesses, go get that copy of Halliwell's Film Guide that's gathering dust beside the TV and look up the entry for 1970 Napoleonic war epic Waterloo.

See where it says "historical charade" and "looks both exciting and splendid, though confusion is not avoided"? - that's IG in a nutshell.

Pyro Studios has succeeded in creating their own handsome Total War homage (historical setting, realtime battles, turn-based economics and army movement all present and correct), but it's a homage in which the combat is somewhat crude and chaotic, and the history has been compromised more times than Windsor Castle's security.

This morning I fought the Battle of Waterloo (one of five standalone historical scraps) for the third time as the British coalition and slew every single Frenchman on the field within six minutes.

The mad brevity of the engagement says little about my generalship, or the calibre of the enemy AI, but plenty about the improbable morale modelling, unrealistic weapon capabilities, and sad absence of game speed selection.

This title needs manual pace adjustment or the ability to issue orders while paused, like the Little Corporal needs built-up boots and a booster cushion. Without them the skirmishes are insanely difficult to direct.

Possibly the most heartbreaking aspect of this morning's slaughter was watching the sole survivors of decimated units doggedly holding positions or walking willingly towards walls of enemy musket muzzles.

Might they have been steeled by the sound of a nearby drummer, or a glimpse of a close-at-hand commander or colour sergeant? Probably not considering such characters aren't present on the IG battlefield. No, the lone lunatics were just victims of Pyro's soldier psychology.

Before we wander into slightly more positive pastures, a few words on unreliable unit stances. A big part of the reason why battles are so frustrating is the annoying way friendly forces insist on fidgeting.

Whatever commands you issue, formations will pivot in place or pursue threats without permission, leaving gaping holes in lines; your tactics in tatters.

Ready to exploit these ruptures at the drop of a shako is a sabre-sharp AI that actively hunts unprotected batteries and stragglers with its cavalry.

Apart from the odd bit of offensive indecisiveness and languidness under fire, artificial opponents cope surprisingly well with the violent pressures of Napoleonic warfare.

Paragraphs of concentrated combat criticism in and I still wouldn't bet against IG clawing its way into the Top Five in its first month on sale.

There's just something about the sight of hundreds of colourful polygonal soldiers clashing beside pretty Egyptian pyramids, snow-sprinkled Russian churches, and giant star-shaped fortresses that melts misgivings.

Most of the maps used in the campaign, the quick combats, and the historical fights are extremely fetching.

Towns and structures erected via the campaign strategy map might not appear on them but each has its own garrisonable landmark - a regionally appropriate ruin: a tower, a hamlet or a palace - for added character.

What of the campaign itself? Well, it's reasonably diverting and much more sophisticated than the majority of RTS solo centrepieces, but Total War vets won't be overly impressed.

Without the family ties and municipal management modelled in Creative's latest, continental conquest can feel rather mechanical.

Colonel killed during my recent invasion of Batavia? Oh well, I plundered enough gold and 'population units' during the capture of the capital to purchase a replacement for him. He'll be ready next turn? Excellent.

Don't get me started on some of the silly starting conditions either. It's 1789 and apparently Copenhagen isn't considered a port as yet, and Britain can't build any warships until several tech tree advances have been researched. That's not nearly good enough.

The encouraging thing about IG's niggles are that they are all patchable. Frankly, I'd be quite surprised if, a few months on, players weren't positioning troops with confidence and dispensing orders on a far more regular basis.

Without these improvements IG will remain annoying and silly; Total War's handsome but half-witted step-brother.

Imperial Glory is out for PC now

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