Fields Of Glory is all about what might have happened during two days in June 1815. Although younger readers probably won't remember it, June 1815 was particularly memorable for a series of battles between the French and various allied armies leading up to an almighty bang shoot at a place called Waterloo in Belgium.
The tactics are a little too complex to go into here, but basically much maiming and hurtage went on with both sides kicking mucho ("Class" - Ed). Eventually the Allies won, leaving the victorious English free to go into terminal economic decline, and the defeated French to indulge in their twin passions of food and making art movies about relationships. Still, c'est la guerre, right kids?
The game's split into four real battles and two fictional ones, and you're free to play either side in all of them, and if you're not happy with the placing of troops, you can move them all around.
Being a Napoleonic wargame, each battle has the French fighting either the Prussians or the English (although in Waterloo itself those Gallic funsters had to cope with both enemies at the same time, so it's hardly surprising they lost).
Each battle's viewed in three scales. The largest scale shows just the location of unit commanders and so is just a map overlaid with lots of flags. It's good for the start of the battle, but you quickly need more info than it's giving you.
The next scale's far more helpful, and it's possible to fight an entire battle quite successfully from this view, as you can see and move individual units of infantry, cavalry and artillery. This fine-tuning is essential as artillery units are weak in hand-to-hand combat and need to be protected by infantry, and it's useful to back up charges with cavaly.
The final scale lets you see individual figures, with each man on screen representing a few solders, and each gun, a battery.
In this scale, you can actually see the effectiveness of different formations during attack and massed cannon fire on infantry Troops advance, let off a volley of musket fire and then charge into the enemy to give them a taste of cold steel, and cavalry strike down fleeing survivors. Each clash leaves the battlefield scattered with bodies and smashed equipment and it's simply a matter of counting the holes in the ranks to see how many casualties a unit's taken.
It's fun, but the down side is that you can only scroll around a small area of the map at a time, so have to keep zooming out and then back in again to get to different areas of the battlefield.
Eventually the allies won
The control method's fine, but could be improved. Every time you click on a unit, an information and order box pops up, obscuring much of the screen, so you're endlessly moving the command box around to get at the map underneath. Hot keys or some command options down one side of the screen would have been much better.
The three scale system cleverly portrays the confusion of war by sucking you into minute details when you should be looking at what WW1 generals referred to as "the big picture". Although you can move the entire army by selecting the supreme commander's flag, or a division by selecting one of the lesser commanders, command at this level is unwieldy, and invariably places some units in the wrong place.
This forces you to close in on the action and concentrate on moving battalions, and once you do that you start fiddling around with individual companies with the battalion.
This constant stepping down of attention means that either you've got to think extremely fast, or spend all your time gaining a victory at one end of the battlefield only to find that you neglected troops at the other have have been wiped out. Such is the joy of real-time wargaming.
As you can see, the game's got masses going for it, which makes it all the more annoying to have to say that it's fatally flawed. In all but the hardest levels, the enemy are loath to attack, forcing you to go on the offensive all the time.
This gets to you when you've spent ages setting up a a rock hard defensive line only to have to send them all forwards, ruining all your planning. It also prompted a silly stand off situation where I had only one company of infantry facing about two battalion of French who wouldn't attack and finish me off.
Take away the need to capture woods
Being real-time, there's a clock ticking away in the top corner, but battles can last five, ten or even twenty hours without it ever going dark or any unit reporting fatigue. You can wipe out all the troops in a battalion but can't target the commander for attack, which leaves loads of impotent enemy officers on horses drifting across the battle field. Clearly stupid, clearly niggly faults.
The big, crippling problem is that the game completely fails to take terrain into account, which is a bit like having a flight sim that ignores the ground. Artillery units can travel through woods, cavalry can charge through them. Hills don't slow the progress of units, roads don't speed them up, and get this - rivers can be crossed at any point by alone without incurring casualties or taking any more time than it would take them to cross a field. And, worst of all, artillery can even fire from the middle of woods or the middle of a river, which is quite clearly ridiculous.
The Battle of Wavre looks like it's going to be a fantastic struggle to see who can control the bridges that cross the wide river, but seeing as all units can cross anywhere, the entire thing (or indeed any battle in the game) might as well be played on a green, featureless background for all the difference it'd make.
In 1983 I was hooked on a Lothlorian game called Johnny Reb for my Spectrum, and even that recognised the fact that units couldn't cross rivers, so what's gone wrong here? We seem to have gone backwards.
Take away the need to capture woods or bridges, to defend farmhouses and hills and you've got a wargame that requires little or no strategy. FOG is fun for a while, but you soon realise that all you have to do is close in and engage the enemy. It's all a bit samey and tedious.
FOG is still the best wargame of the year (which says more about the faults of the others than the quality of this), but Microprose haven't half messed it up.
Get some terrain recognition in, and it would be brilliant, but as it is, it's nothing special. You'd be better employed dusting off Dune 2 and playing it again.