Commander: Napoleon At War
Developer: The Lordz Game Studio and Firepower Entertainment
Publisher: Slitherine Games and Matrix Games
Genre: Napoleonic War
Release Date: 09/29/2008
Historical war games are a difficult genre to wrap your head around. On one hand, they require a tremendous amount of detail and accuracy to capture the time and place they represent, in order to make the player feel the mud beneath his boots and the eight pounds of death in his hands. On the other hand, a war game must, by the nature of being a game, be abstracted in order to be playable. This is the razor’s edge all games face, but a historical war game must bear it most of all. France cannot have dragons to balance the might of the British Fleet, Russia cannot have armored polar bears to meet the French cavalry.
The play style of C:NAW is very similar to Commander: Europe At War and the classic Panzer General. The hallmarks of this style of game being threefold: turn-based, hex mapped, and non-stackable units. Being turn-based lends itself to PBEM, which seems to be the primary play style the designers had in mind. The hex map is an acquired taste, especially if this is your first PC war game after years of toiling away on Advance Wars and Fire Emblem games, as I have. The lack of stackable units does not pose a problem to me, as I am not a Napoleonic war game expert, but I have heard complaints about this.
What is a real and true deal maker with Commander: Napoleon At War is the scale. The map covers all of Europe, the top of Africa, the eastern seaboard of America, and half of Russia. The distance from city to city is quite small, making the vastness of Napoleon’s campaigns feel quite quaint. Units limited to 16 choices are meant to represent enormous amounts of troops, though it would not be easy to guess as such from the game itself. For some, the massiveness of the map and the abstract nature of unit size and composition will make the warfare feel bigger. For this reviewer, however, the whole affair feels small, only a step removed from Risk.
The game ships with eight scenarios, with mods sure to appear soon. The first scenario is a massive 160+ turn affair, stretching from 1808 to 1815. The remaining scenarios vary in length, with some having as few as 6 turns. These brief encounters were no doubt intended for PBEM, but they are of little use to the single player, leaving only the 1808 scenario to feast upon. Too bad this mode exposes the game’s twin flaws: poor AI and a lack of depth. The AI goes haywire relatively early, doing strange and counterproductive things from the third turn on in some cases. I personally witnessed England produce a fleet of ships to compete with my complete lack of a navy, to the detriment of it’s army. As for depth, there is little to do, beyond producing troops and scientists. With no social or political gameplay, the long game feels empty very quickly.
Graphically, Commander: Napoleon At War is very average. The in game graphics are nice enough, though there is little to be excited with. The troop types are easy to recognize and the map is readable. As a child of Panzer General and it’s offspring, I was disappointed at the lack of combat animations, a genre regular since the era of Warlords, but I can excuse it, given C:NAW’s limited budget.
If you happen to notice the music as you play, then you will likely forget it soon after. Inoffensive but bland, the soundtrack is nothing more than aural wallpaper. After a half hour, I went running for my iPod, in dire need of stimulation.
In the end, Commander: Napoleon At War is the sort of game that you will either pass over, uninterested in it’s setting and game play, or you will be playing it for the next 10 years, modding it into oblivian. I would heartily recommend passing this one by.
Story and Modes: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Balance: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
For a fan of the Panzer General series or someone trying to outgrow the Nintendo war games, this is a playable exercise. If you demand more than a glorified board game, than there are more advanced and interesting games on the market.