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Knights Of Honor

You know globalisation has got out of hand when a developer from Bulgaria drops the 'u' in honour, US-style. And while America has nothing to do with this European-set medieval empire-builder, at least the goal of having to achieve domination over the known world will ring true the other side of the pond. For as regent of one of Europe's feudal kingdoms, your task in Knights Of Honor is to bring the entire continent under your sway.

The game plays in real-time and revolves around territories, each of which are controlled by a town run by one of your princes or a knight. To emerge triumphant, most of your time is spent tinkering with your vassals (ooh, missus!) to get the right man in the right job at the right place. Of course, sooner or later, some maggot is going to challenge your power, at which point you can slip into the tactical battle engine and direct your metal-clad forces to a well-earned victory.

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While it's true that it's old-school fixed-view isometrics all the way, the look of Knights is fairly charming. The pottering peasants, streaming banners and massive game map are perfect for the genre, even if the battles themselves are a tad lacklustre. Generally either ambushes of armies at camp, attacks on castles or straight meeting engagements, these slightly rudimentary clashes certainly won't be threatening Medieval: Total War.

Bush Is A Knave
Which is fine, as the real meat of this game is what happens between the fighting. Your progress as a leader is measured by a power bar. Representing both the strength of your realm and the support of your populace, it lowers when you do unpopular stuff like launching unprovoked wars or raising taxes, and any leader would find it hard to do both of these at the same time. When low, corruption is rife and your income suffers, while at the same time peasant revolts are more likely. To raise the bar, you must take decisions that please your serfs, such as winning wars and expanding your empire, by fair means or foul.

After all, as any proto-Machiavelli will tell you, there's more than one way to skin a cat. You could grasp it in your mailed fist before hacking away its mangy hide with a crude dagger (that's a metaphor for using force, by the way). Alternatively, you could get the cat to marry your daughter, (which is where the feline allegory starts going awry), or even place one of your spies in its court, hoping that one day your agent rises to become heir to the moggy's litter (throne).

We like the way this is shaping up - a sedate, cerebral foray into the Dark Ages - and if you like a little more kingdom-making and a little less tank-rushing, keep your eyes firmly on it.

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