"You've seen the movie. Now live it"? Not Quite...
Don't let the title or the box teaser fool you, this game has as much to do with the Mel Gibson movie as integrity has to do with politics. That doesn't mean that it's not a good game, but don't buy it expecting to re-live the romanticized exploits of William Wallace in 13th century Scotland. No, what you'll get is a pretty good barter/ trading/ economy and 'clan-life' simulation punctuated by flurries of incredibly violent, tactically stimulating battle scenes.
You play the 'leader' of one of the multitude of clan's fighting it out on the Scottish landscape ... oh and don't forget the snooty English just over the border. They never cease to be a problem. You get to forge alliances, spy on the enemy, raid them, scout out the territories, storm fortifications, and lead blood curdling charges with your fellow patriots against anything and everything that stands in the way of a united Scotland (united under your clan, of course).
Unlike the movie, you have to worry about the economy of your clan, explore new trading opportunities, manage your finances, raise and equip an army, play diplomat, and generally do all the boring things that bureaucrats are famous for. Normally I wouldn't have a problem with this genre combination, but in this specific case I must protest. The advertising on the box hypes the movie and all the action in it, but barely mentions the majority emphasis of the game. Actually, until I had read the manual I didn't even know that trading between clans was a component of the game. All the screenshots on the box show only the 3D pictures of battles and troops... not a single picture of any of the resource management screens where you will be spending the majority of your time.
The Eidos website does a much better job of comprehensively explaining what the game entails and also goes into the history behind the game; quite a good summation of the events portrayed, actually. The effort put into the website helped change my mind about panning the game. But I'm still not happy about this gross violation of truth in advertising. What really annoys me is that I would have liked the economic and 'life' simulation just as much as the pure battle game portrayed on the box, and I would have never bought this game by browsing the shelves.
Ok, now that I'm done lampooning Eidos's marketing department, let me compliment Red Lemon Studies on designing a really good game. Buried in the hype is an excellently designed game that encompasses the entirety of medieval society in clannish Scotland. Organizing your clans economic efforts is incredibly easy. In fact there is an 'AI' function that simply lets you allocate how much effort you want to direct to Trade, Welfare, and Warfare if you don't want to do it yourself. But if you do want to take a more personal hand, the interface is quick and painless, letting you decide how many workers focus their energies on which product. From agriculture and basic goods to fine jewelry and building fixed fortifications.
Coupled with this is a trade caravan function that allows you to sell items you have in surplus with clans that are wanting. Think of modern day OPEC and you'll get a good idea of the scenario. This is also a function that you can relegate to the AI if you wish.
Beyond this we come to the 3D aspect of the game: the battles. Here's where you get to lead raiding parties against other clans to do your dastardly (honorable) deeds and kill your enemy clan's fighters in the most efficient manner possible. You get to direct your troops (equipped from your weapon stores dependent on your economic decisions) against the enemy in a 3rd person perspective view ala Myth with a variety of pre-chosen formations and commands. Battles tend to degenerate into brawls, but a savvy commander can maneuver his troops and annihilate the enemy. Unfortunately, this gorgeous tactical 3D simulator, complete with satellite photo derived terrain, is impaired by a badly done interface and an almost impossible to use view screen.
I would love to review the multiplayer aspect of this game, but I couldn't get the darn thing to work with Eidos's Mplayer support. They didn't even have a listing for the game.
Despite these negative misgivings I still like this game. It has all the good hallmarks: A variable difficulty setting, optional control setting, and a tactical setting that begs for innovation. It's got beefy, illiterate Scotsmen with nothing under their kilts. "Freedom!!" Oops, guess the movie did affect my review :)