European civilization has produced many great works of art, fascinating people and marvellous tales, but it's war which has inspired the most computer games. And let's face it, an online tour is never going to match the numerous emotions of a good pc war game. These are my picks of the current best.
When I was playing the excellent Rome: Total War, I thought the only way it could be made better was by setting it in the Napoleonic era (a favourite of mine). Well, “Empire: Total War” sees the action moved to the gunpowder age and opens the map up to include America and India as well as Europe. The game has been polished and deepened, and now you can direct your ships during naval battles (although this is still a bit clunky), as well as hundreds of individual troops in land battle. The result is another critically acclaimed entry into the series.
Set between 1090 to 1530 CE, M2:TW lets you command thousands of individually animated 3-dimensional warriors in battles featuring knights, archers, catapults and even elephant mounted cannon. You also have to build and fund your armies while conquering regions on a map of Europe, the Middle East and even South America (once it's been discovered) with the ultimate aim of becoming emperor. Great graphics, great gameplay and a strong sense of history... An expansion pack is now also available.
This real time strategy has plenty of arcade elements, but the rest oozes World War Two atmosphere. Build your units and send them to your targets on the map, balancing capturing resources with defeating your opponent. This probably won't satisfy serious wargamers, but everyone else should be happy.
4. Men of War
The Russian computer game industry is coming along at a great pace, and “Men of War” may be one of the best yet. It’s another World War 2 strategy game, but it mixes the scale, from massive battles to stealth operations. It’s been described by some reviews as the most comprehensive WW2 strategy ever, but with campaigns from a Russian, German and Allied point of view. However the game is difficult: even die hard reviewers have said it’s taxing. Oh, and it looks good too.
This massive value-for-money compilation includes every game and expansion released in the Total War series before (but not including) Medieval II: Total War, as well as a soundtrack CD. The price is worth it for just Rome: Total War alone, a game equally as good as M2:TW with a different, but equally superb, atmosphere.
7. Blitzkrieg 2
Pitched perfectly between the simulation of Combat Mission and the arcade of Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2, the original Blitzkrieg was my favourite real time strategy game set during the Second World War. This sequel opens the game to cover the Pacific theatre as well, but also features cameos from historical figures, adding a special character feeling I found offputting. Be careful of the copy protection though: you might not want to install this game at all, depending on what you use your pc for...
Play as Britain, Russia, America or even Germany in this graphically stunning live action strategy. You control beautifully modeled 3D units in either groups or individually as you attempt to complete 25 missions; unfortunately, the general theme is special forces behind enemy lines, an all too common setting for WW2. However, you can choose between stealth or outright carnage to achieve your goals in what is ultimately an arcade look at WW2.