|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Black Hole Entertainment||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Namco Bandai||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 2, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1, 2-4 (Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
It takes a special kind of nerd to play real-time strategy games. In the PC hit Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, for example, one didn't merely direct armies around, Risk-style. No, as a general in the medieval era, the player was in charge of an increasing number of units, each with unique advantages and disadvantages, not to mention individual "heroes" and "champions" with special skills.
These units so desperately needed micromanagement that the general had to tell them to face the enemy, whether to chase and kill fleeing opponents, what formation to take, and even how tight that formation should be. Developer Black Hole Entertainment eliminated the resource management common in similar titles, but the battle mechanics were enough of a handful. Well, two handfuls on a computer keyboard.
Take that keyboard (50-plus buttons and a mouse) and cram it into an Xbox 360 controller (12 buttons and two joysticks), and you have Warhammer: Battle March, an adaptation (the makers object to the term "port") of the PC game that includes the Battle March add-on.
It's hard to believe there are any nerds special enough to withstand the absurdly complicated assault waged here. Sure, it's easy enough to move a unit around or tell it to attack - select the first the unit, then the desired location or enemy with the joysticks and A button. Beyond that, a player typically has to hold down a trigger, press a direction on the D-pad, and then choose from four microscopic pictures representing options for the A, B, X, and Y buttons. That is, assuming anyone is capable of pushing the button they intended to on the Xbox 360 D-pad, especially in the heat of battle.
Take the in-game three-part tutorial, and your head will spin. Forget any part of that tutorial, and you'll realize that neither the instruction manual nor the in-game "controls" page includes a moves list, and there's no way to convert those microscopic pictures to words in the menus. Accidentally told a hero to take on a whole group of enemies alone and can't remember the button combination required to stop him? Tough luck!
If grief has five stages, this game has three. The first is maddening, even sticking to the basics; all the game's quirks hit with full force. For example, say you want one of your units to attack one enemy unit and for another of your units to attack a different enemy unit. So, you select the first unit, select the enemy, select the second unit, select the other enemy. Oops. Selecting the second friendly unit didn't de-select the first one, so now both of your units are attacking the second enemy unit. You forgot to press B in between.
However, after a mission or two -- either in the battle-at-a-time Skirmish mode, against other humans online, or in one of the three story modes (Empire, Orc, and Chaos, with more than 60 missions between them) -- the most basic elements become second nature, though, and the game is quite enjoyable. This is stage two.
It's fun to arrange the different units so as to maximize their effectiveness, even if you're not quite sure what to do with the heroes (and forgot how to have the heroes join a regular unit). It's easy enough to ignore the game's deeper elements, and before your blood pressure gets too high, you can just flip the difficulty setting to "Easy." It's nice to stock up on war items at a town, then head into the next battle without worrying about resource management or figuring out where to go next.
Once you've had your forces attack, it's mildly amusing to zoom in with the camera and watch the action. The fights don't feel nearly as visceral as they should, though; the soldiers tend to stand still and swing their swords lackadaisically, and normally it doesn't even look like they're hitting each other. Once in a while, there's a splash of blood, but nothing too exciting.
It's around this time one starts noticing the graphics -- the visuals are nothing special, at least during battles, which take up most of the game. The water looks good, as all water seems to on the Xbox 360, but the rest of the landscapes, textures, and character models are rather nondescript. There's neither a unique, artistic visual style nor a breathtaking sense of realism.
By contrast, the cutscenes that introduce the three stories (two use the same one) are simply amazing, sometimes to the point where they don't even look animated. Well, aside from the monsters smashing each other with axes in the Orc campaign introduction. The tale here, insofar as it matters to the game, is this: there was a huge war, and factions are still fighting.
In the course of story mode, other cutscenes further the plot. While colorful, they have a more blurry look, with characters whose mouths sometimes flap completely out of sync with the voice acting.