The Total War games are some of the most highly respected strategy titles in gaming, and now they finally find their way to iPhone and iPad in this latest release, Total War Battles. However, they may not be in the form you could have been expecting.
I had secretly hoped for a super ambitious ‘proper’ Total War game, albeit scaled down in troop numbers and battlefield size, but I guess that was a forlorn hope. Instead, what we have here is a souped up and upgraded version of Sega’s Samurai Bloodshow, minus the card based ethos.
This was initially a disappointment to me, but it turns out that Sega have done a fine job with this game, managing to bring a level of depth and interest absent from many an iOS strategy title. Yet, this is still very much a typical iOS game, as it is essentially a lane based tower defence game, but with the added ability to send your troops forward and a high level of building based resource management.
You generally start on the left hand side of the screen, with your enemy placed on the far right. You must install buildings to exploit the natural resources, such as stone, wood and water, and then different troop creation structures to spawn the different available unit types, such as archers, samurai etc. This is all based on a hex grid, with each building taking up a set area, although they can be rotated. The only thing I found tiresome is the fact that certain buildings can’t be placed near each other, which is no doubt to offer an extra level of strategy, but just comes across as picky and annoying. There are some bonus levels based totally around this, and although they do offer a more puzzle based change of pace, I feel they just highlight the irritation.
After you have created your troops, you can choose to spawn them within any location in your half of the map, and you can then either let them stay where they are in a defensive position, or send them off towards the enemy. You get few options for directing your troops, and can only send them either straight forwards or move them diagonally up or down a level, and when they are in an adjacent hexagon to an enemy unit, they will automatically stop and attack. One important factor is that you can’t send troops back the way they came, which is a nice touch from a strategic point of view, and means that you really have to be careful when attacking not to leave your buildings exposed.
The different troop types are all great, and it all makes for a satisfying strategy game. There is no real feel of simply building up a massive army, but rather it comes across as a matter of selecting the right moment to strike, turning defence into attack and killing the enemy general. When the game all comes together, it is brilliant.
The graphics are great, not perhaps in the maps or structures, but in the unit animations, which are spectacular. It really looks like the little men are slugging it out. What is fantastic about this is that they all actually deliver the final killing blow to each other, and I loved the fact that arrows stay in the ground for a long time after being fired. Seeing an enemy general go down theatrically with dozens of arrows in the ground all around him is a worthy end to a hard fought mission.
You only get one campaign to play through for your money, but to be fair it will take even seasoned gamers at least 8 hours to conquer the game, and more if you choose to take on the experience gaining side missions. The lack of a skirmish mode really hurts, as does the missing online multiplayer, although there is at least a pretty cool pass and play multiplayer mode included. A hint: after you beat the game, go to the options for a nice extra.
Total War Battles has full Game Center functionality, adding to the replay value, although the addition of IAPs comes across as a little bit greedy, especially considering the asking price for the game. Luckily, the in-app purchases are simply for extra EXP, which you will really only need to max things out beyond what is required to finish all the missions, so I would recommend just playing some side missions if you must 100% everything.
Overall, this is an eye catching strategy game that adds some great ideas to the lane based tower defence genre on iPhone. The lack of a skirmish mode and online play is a big loss, and I still would have preferred a more traditional Total War game, but with many hours of fun battling and those oh-so-lovely animations, this is still a rare treat for iPhone fans.