Monday 6 November 2006
Whoever came up with the Chivalric Code was an incredible optimist. Or, rather, an incredible prat. "Thou shalt never lie. Thou shalt be generous. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy. Thou shalt make ceaseless war against the infidel..." Follow ethics like that in Medieval Europe and you'd likely end up a dead pauper in no time at all. That's certainly what would happen if you tried it in the mesmerisingly challenging Medieval II: Total War.
Creative Assembly has returned to the scene of its second triumph (Medieval: Total War) with a new graphics engine and a modest cartload of fresh ideas. Once again Europe is the cockpit. Once again rich turn-based grand strategy spawns spectacular real-time battles.
Just how spectacular those new scraps are is hard for mere words to convey. Swoop the camera through the fluttering pennants of three thousand charging knights, then watch them smash full-tilt into a similar sized wall of counter-charging enemy and you will swear Med II is the most awesome thing you've ever seen on a PC screen. Honestly, there are sights in this game that combine scale, beauty and brutality so sublimely they make you want to weep.
From the highest view, battles are pure geometry. Triangles attack rectangles, dissolving circles and lines. But drop the view all the way down and suddenly the giant battle reveals itself to be made up of a thousand tiny dramas, all exquisitely choreographed. Wherever you look men are fighting for their lives. It's breathtaking.
The frantic pace of the warfare and the vividness of the violence is the perfect counterweight to the slower, cooler grand strategic game. Whether you've dished out a drubbing, scraped a nerve-shreddingly slim win or had your regal rear well and truly booted, returning to the strategy map is a constant pleasure.
While much of the depth is inherited from its dad and grandpa (Medieval and Rome), there are new elements dotted here and there if you look hard enough.