See the movie, play the game – unless you crave nonstop action and intrigue amidst the primitive setting of 13th-century Scotland.
If that is the case, stick with the movie. Compared to Mel Gibson’s big screen spectacular, Eidos Interactive’s Braveheart plays like network television’s “edited for content” version. You seem on the verge of going strong when the commercial break interrupts the flow. Only in this case, it is not the ads, but lag and micromanagement that take a claymore to a civilization game gone medieval.
The dynamics, the excitement, the urgency of the movie are missing – bogged down in the tedium of managing your clan.
The task at hand is a simple one – win the crown of Scotland. Of course, you have to get past the English, who are under the sadistic hand of Edward the Longshanks. And there are 14 other clans that also have designs on that royal headwear.
How you accomplish the mission is through diplomacy, spying and blood spilled on the rolling hills and dales of the Scottish countryside. Lure other clans to your side, or battle those who stand against you – the choice is up to the game player. The nice thing about the warfare, as bloody and ridiculous as the style may be, is that losing a battle does not mean you have lost the campaign. The folks at Eidos have configured the program so that while you will certainly lose strength and numbers, you are not eliminated, only deterred momentarily, from your ultimate goal.
There is much more to this game; it is not all just battle strategy and bloodshed. And that’s where the civilization part comes into play. As the head of a clan, the game player is expected to manage resources, open trade routes, improve towns, and, in general, keep the numbers growing and the clan happy. The options menu will help simplify this chore, but still attention must be paid. If just picking fights is more your cup of tea, then customize options will handle or simplify the management of the clan. If just picking fights is more your cup of Earl Grey (it’s a tea), then customize the options to handle all management of the clan. Of course, that is like eating only the outside of the haggis.
Begin by reading the manual. That is a must. The tutorial will walk the player through the general aspects of the game, but the manual is where the real program knowledge is gleaned. Then pick a clan and settle in to begin the ascension to the throne. Each clan has particular strengths and weaknesses, and must be worked carefully to realize any measure of success.
Quietly trying to build the clan strength does little good. Though the clan may be peaceful, the stronger it gets, the more likely it is to be attacked. Which brings up another aspect of this program – battle. A ‘radar’ screen is provided to show locations of bodies but unless the home clan is almost on top of the foe, the latter is seldom spotted until the last moment. It makes battlefield strategy difficult. However, balance that against the variety of views afforded of the melee, you have an interesting soldier’s eye view of the warfare, which is reasonably well done.
Overall though, this game is not as visually appealing as other civilization-style games – which is what this program basically is. The main difference is that while other games evolve – the nations can afford more advanced weapons up the evolutionary scale – the armament choices in Braveheart are finite. There are no scientists working on new technologies, there is only the clan and the resources you trade for or acquire through political or military means.
Braveheart was a grand motion picture, but it stumbles in the translation to the computer gaming world.
More interesting are the multiplayer scenarios. The game is hosted by Mplayer (accessible through a shortcut in the start menu) and players can also challenge other gamers through IPX, TCP/IP, serial or modem. But be forewarned, there are no friends on a battlefield. The multiplayer games are won by the last one standing at the end of the fray.
Braveheart is rated M for mature audiences due to animated blood and violence.
Installation: 5. This game requires a lot of components to make it run properly so set-up takes a while. Aside from a look at some illustrated period costumes, there is nothing else here to hold the attention.
Gameplay: 4. Tedious and slow.
Graphics: 6. Eidos has configured this game to run on a variety of systems and though there is difference, the game still looks fine.
Sound: 5. There is nothing intriguing here – just average audio for a civilization-style game.
Concept: 7. If Eidos can be faulted for anything, it may be for cramming too much into this game. Though the scope may be wide, few things have been overlooked.
Difficulty: 7. This is a challenging concept, sure to consume many hours of play-time.
Value: 6. The period setting may be intriguing, but many of this genre (you can count Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri among them) offer unique settings.