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Shadow of the Horned Rat is a real-time strategy game set within the Warhammer fantasy world. You are placed in charge of a mercenary company, with the simple aim of lining your pockets with as much gold as you can carry! To this end, you will find many dangerous missions available to you. They will lead you on a campaign that will take you across the Old World, with the fate of all good peoples in your hands.
The game is faithful to many aspects of the Warhammer universe, but is played out in real time, unlike its tabletop counterpart. This provides a very different challenge, as you will have to consider your actions quickly and carefully - or with copious use of the pause button! You are put right into the action from the first mission onward, and the early missions are quite challenging for a beginner.
There is a large amount of voice acting, which is generally quite competent, although nothing special by today's standards. The music is of relatively low quality but is very fitting for the game, with battle cries and other sound effects adding to the thrill of the action.
Reading the manual is highly recommended, as it not only provides you with help for the in-game controls but also background on both the world you find yourself in and the mercenaries that you command. The story presented in the manual does help to set the scene before you enter the fray.
One of the first things you will notice is the graphics. The introduction and campaign screens are very well drawn 2D artwork, with occasional 3D-rendered backgrounds. However, this is a stark contrast to the 2D/3D mix that you are presented with in the tactical game proper. This is a game that had the unfortunate timing to be developed before full 3D was as prominent as it is today, and this does make its age quite apparent.
By default, nearly two thirds of the battle screen is occupied by the command interface, unit information, and the map. This leaves a small visible area in the top left of the screen in which the battlefield is shown. At the beginning of the game, when you are dealing with no more than three or four units in an area, this doesn't present a problem. Later in the campaign, the ability to see more would be very helpful. The battlefield display can be extended to cover the top half of the screen with a "widescreen" button in the top-right corner, but this also removes the map. The map is of great importance when planning an attack, so this widescreen option is unfortunately of little use.
You begin your campaign with two regiments: one of cavalry, led by the player's avatar (your avatar is Morgan Bernhardt by default, though the name is customizable), and one of foot soldiers. Initial tactics revolve mainly around the mobility of your cavalry, until you can purchase other units. Once you have finished a battle, you will receive a debriefing which will let you know how many units per regiment were either killed or injured, as well as how much experience you have earned. You earn gold based on your success in each battle over the course of a mission - a bigger reward is given for those missions which require larger or more frequent battles.
Your gold allows you to recruit extra men for your regiments or to hire entirely new regiments to complement those already in your employment. Your two starting regiments are restricted to melee attacks, so picking up some ranged units can be of great advantage. Amongst the units available to you in the later game is a form of artillery, which brings added benefits if you can use them appropriately!
The mission structure is relatively linear, with branches available to gain extra experience, units, and magical items. These are all important in the later game, when having these stronger, more experienced units, can turn the tide in an otherwise evenly matched battle.
The game is difficult and can be quite unforgiving, with only the first couple of battles being what I would term easy, though for a beginner they can still be hard. It can take some time to adapt to the tactics appropriate for certain scenarios, with some missions (even quite early on) requiring special tactics to dispatch key enemy units.
To conclude, Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat is a solid RTS experience which provides great entertainment, but whose appearance looks ever out of place in the modern era of gaming thanks to the mix of 2D and 3D graphics. With a graphical facelift and some tweaks to the user interface, I could imagine a remake doing very well today, as it is really only lacking in these two departments. Perhaps a choice of difficulty levels would also be beneficial to the less experienced player.
I would recommend this game to the more hardcore RTS players, and also potentially to those interested in Warhammer. For those less experienced in such games, I would say that this may be a bit of a jump off the deep end, unless you have the perseverance to learn the game's quirks.
IMPORTANT!!! READ THIS!!!!!
#1. Download the game.
#2. Download 'Batch' (available as an extra at the top of the page)
#3. Unpack the game and 'Batch' extra, and move the whshr.bat file into the game directory.
#4. Run the whshr.bat file (DO NOT RUN WARSTART.EXE OR SETUP.EXE)
#5. First path - Enter in where you want the game to be installed. Example: c:\warhammer
#6. Second path - Enter in EXACT LOCATION of the installation files that you just unzipped. Example: c:\downloadedgames\warhammerSOTHR
#7. Installation should be complete. Go to wherever you just installed it, and set the WHSHR.EXE file to Run in 256 Color Mode.
#8. Run the game. If it ever complains about needing music or sound files right after the map screen just click OK to skip past them and you should be fine.