The first in an intended series of historically accurate simulations of the various campaigns of the Napoleonic era, La Grande Armee at Austerlitz (herein after referred to as Austerlitz to save my fingers) is still a work in progress. It ran onto problems right from its release however, the developers were quick to respond, and have been very responsive as further problems have surfaced and as gamers give their input on the system. Even now, in release 1.3 there are features discussed in the tutorial that are awaiting a patch to incorporate.
Once I realized that you needed to download and install version 1.2 before installing version 1.3, the game ran well (this information was in the online comments on the two versions but I merrily just grabbed version 1.3 installed it and then called the help line to find out why it would not run, they are very nice, by the way, even when you do something dumb like this). There is a quirk with the CD that if you load in the CD after installation of the game, the autorun program will ask you if you want to install it rather than if you want to play. You get to play the game, or get access to the other post installation options, only when you click on the desktop icon for the game.
It is very obvious from the tutorial and the documentation that a lot of painstaking research has been performed by the developers of Austerlitz. The game mechanics are based on this research to the point where the field commanders will respond to commands as they did historically. By this I mean if you had an aggressive commander they might run headlong into what they view as a weak point of the defense without orders to do so. Conversely there are others that will take forever to respond to any command and in some cases do other than what has been commanded. While this can cause you to swear at the game at times, it is aimed at giving you the perspective of the commanding general in a Napoleonic battle. There are options to simulate the ‘fog of war’ in which there is a chance of battlefield communications being intercepted and never reaching the intended troop commander. Unfortunately the fog of war option ends up with a two dimensional display on which you only see your troops for the majority of the battle.
The tutorial was quite helpful however, I had to replay several sections over again once or twice before I caught on to the various interface commands and how they worked. Like any other game on the market of this complexity level there is a rather stiff learning curve before you become familiar with the game interface, but once you do you wonder what took you so long. Also included is a small scenario which is really nothing more than an extension of the tutorial with which to ease you into familiarity with the interface before tackling the grand campaign.
There are two basic display modes two dimensional (like looking down on a board wargame) or three dimensional (like looking at a table top miniatures battle). In my play I never did get used to navigating the 3D view and always got lost on the battlefield due to a jerky response to controls and my not being able to discern which portion of the battlefield I was on when I went into 3D mode. The ability to ‘strafe’ (move right or left while looking forward) would be real nice in any future upgrade to the game. There is a cool feature however, that allows you to hit the F4 key while the cursor is on a particular unit and go into the 3D mode with your point of view centered on the targeted unit and watch as it maneuvers around the field or gets into combat.
So basically you spend the majority of your time in the 2D display mode while your units move and fight in response to your orders and enemy activity. The amount of information that is displayed in this mode is incredible. The unit icons (that can either be in NATO style or in a pictorial representation of infantry, cavalry and artillery) have a border that tells you their status at a glance. The icons themselves will change color when the troops have actually been broken by combat losses and fatigue and are fleeing from the battlefield. You can also bring up a status on any unit by pausing the cursor over the unit. The various field commanders will also send you dispatches covering their progress or problems that are depicted on the bottom of the game screen and when over written by the next are available for review via an onscreen icon at the top of the screen.
While you have control of how the forces are organized on whichever side you choose to play, you function as the Supreme Commander for your side. This entails issuing orders to the various field commanders and then sitting back and gnawing on your fingernails as they execute them. In theory these field commanders will in turn issue orders to the units under them to accomplish your commands. Some are much better at this than others. There is an onscreen ability to speed up or slow down the action to suit your desires. While you can take direct command of individual units on the field, the game is designed for you to issue orders then watch as the field commanders interpret them and execute them. They will get their units in order and march them to your destination but will pause and respond to enemy activity that occurs along the way. In many cases the decisions are sound and directed at complying with your commands but, at times you will want to personally go to the field and strangle the necks of certain commanders that make really terrible decisions.
Austerlitz is a real time strategy game and is not to be taken lightly due to the learning curve associated with becoming familiar enough with the interface to enjoy the gaming experience. While not for everyone, if you are a student of Napoleonic combat or a fan of real time historical simulations you will probably want to give Austerlitz a shot and keep your eye out for further upgrades to the game and new games in the series that will depict other Napoleonic conflicts. The 3 GiN gems are based on this view, 3 GiN gems if you are a standard gamer and closer to 4.5 GiN gems if you are a student of the Napoleonic era or a real fan of real time historical simulations. Austerlitz has much potential and will hopefully become a game with broader appeal as the developers continue to upgrade and augment a basically sound if somewhat complex game system.