Samurai Warriors 2: Empires takes place during the same era of Japanese history as the Akira Kurosawa films Ran and Kagemusha. But you won't find much Shakespearean drama, political intrigue, or cinematic eye candy in this feudal actioner. The epic clashes of the time are reduced to one-man killing sprees, with players slicing toward victory nearly single-handedly. A layer of strategy is draped over the hack-and-slash combat: Players can tweak countless variables, from the training of their steeds to the formations their grunts will assume. But no amount of strategic dressing can hide the fact that the game hinges on button-mashing.

There is a certain gratification in galloping through enemy lines and bashing heads. And the game does a decent job of changing the venue for the noggin-knocking. In one fiefdom, battle takes place in a shallow stream. In another, your men make war on the decks of enemy boats. Kurosawa was able to find a strange beauty on the battlefield, but the settings in the console incarnation of period Japan feel as workaday as the warfare.

Beyond the game: You can capture or recruit dozens of different warriors, but they're voiced by only a handful of actors, one of whom uses an awkward, nasal intonation that sounds more like nerd comedian Brian Posehn than like Toshiro Mifune.


Worth playing for: It's good to be the daimyo! Methodically unifying Japan one prefecture at a time can be a gratifying process, if you're the obsessive-compulsive type.

Frustration sets in when: Death comes quickly when playing on the game's "normal" difficulty setting. Unless you've got ninja-like hand-eye coordination, accept the loss of face and opt for "novice."

Final judgment: Civil War recreation for dummies.