Europa Universalis 2

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By Richard Moore


Austerlitz: The Rise of the Eagle - the premier play-by-email Napoleonic wargame


God bless Strategy First, the developers of Europa Universalis 2, they have created a strategic and political masterpiece that computer gamers - particularly Napoleonic buffs - will go nuts for.

The game does focus on various other timeframes in European history -Joan of Arc and Gustavus Aldolphus to name two - but the one we are really interested in is the Napoleonic struggle.

And if you wanted a short-course in the period (other than by visiting The Napoleonic Guide) then you'll find this real-time strategy game hard to go by.

You can control almost any country you want and then set about building up your forces to initially survive, and then expand your influence.

If you are a small country you'll be bending over backwards to stay on the good side of your bigger neighbours (and praying they are nice honourable types), or if you happen to be a big neighbour then bully or bribe them into your sphere of influence.

At first glance, the screen will just overwhelm you with information and you'll be wondering just what the heck you've installed. But, persevere (and do the tutorial) and eventually all things slot into place.

That, of course, is just for basic understanding and the survival of your chosen country, if you want to win then you need lots of practice and get your head down into the manual.

Europa Universalis 2 is complicated and even experienced gamers will be sorely tested.

The Artificial Intelligence is a tough nut and you are never left alone long enough to settle into a complacent mood of "I'll win this easily."

Your prowess as an emerging empire is judged on several areas and they earn you victory points. How you handle your economy is one, diplomatic relations with other nations another, your technological accomplishments, size of your military and territorial expansion all give you victory points towards your main goal - global supremacy.

Now despite being such a gameplay-oriented title, Europa Universalis 2 is very pretty to look at.

The maps are clear and give you all the info you need about your lands, where your armies are, your fleets and which towns or cities are under siege.

Fleets sail along nicely and when it comes to action - both on land and at sea - the close up window becomes the battlefield where you can see what's going on.

A third, world-eye, map allows quick zooming around the globe for expansionist naval powers like Britain, Spain and Holland.

The maps can also be changed to focus on religion, diplomacy, trade and colonization and these devices give you a quick and effective way of working out how your country is progressing.

This is particularly true of your diplomatic charts as you can see quite quickly if your bothersome neighbour is worth declaring war on.

Diplomats are useful in the game as they can be sent with gifts to lessen an old enemy's hatred of you, or rile up a semi-neutral into declaring war on you.

But foreign powers are not the only worry. Rebellions are regular occurrences if your stability level is low and if one breaks out it can be a real pain in trying to either defend against them or try to retake rebel-held cities.

Now that's not to say Europa Universalis 2 doesn't have flaws, because it does. The major headache is the message-window system, which initially fires up a new box everytime someone blows their nose. You can adjust this (and need to) but it is time-consuming. A default minimal message system would be nice.

The only other annoyance is that the game occasionally crashes - now whether this be due to full-programme glitches or is resident only in the demo I'm not sure.

All up, however, you can be damn sure that when you fork over your money for Europa Universalis 2, you are getting very good value.

Strategy gamers will play this for hundreds of hours (possibly in one sitting) and it will hang around on the hard disk for a very, very long time.

Europa Universalis 2 is a classic-to-be that will eclipse even Civilization in gamers' minds.

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