January 24, 2005

Rome Total War – Review

From the stylish initial splash screen onwards, Rome Total War is a game that exudes class. This third instalment of the highly acclaimed Total War series provides the opportunity to play as one of three large Roman families, fighting for the Senate to expand the glory of Rome. Until you build up a large enough powerbase to be able to turn of them like the treacherous dog you are, that is. During the campaign you will encounter many of the factions around at the time – the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Gauls and the Carthagians to name but four – most of whom you will be able to play as once you complete the game as the Romans. In addition to the main campaign there are also a number of historical battles, allowing you to experience the magnitude, confusion and glory of large scale warfare first hand.

With a mixture of a turn-based world map and real-time battles, Rome provides everything a strategy gamer could want, and then some. The world map provides a sumptuous Civilisation-style view of Europe and northern Africa, complete with geographically recognisable terrain, cities, resources and armies. Here your management skills are tested as you decide which buildings to construct in each city, what army units to recruit and so on. The level of participation is up to you – the game provides auto-management for cities, as well as constant advice – should you wish it – on what to do next. There are some more advanced elements, such as trade optimisation, which allow advanced players to excel, thus making the game accessible and interesting to the widest spectrum possible – from those who want to concentrate almost solely on battles, to management specialists.

It is the battles however that will be the main draw for most people. These are beautify rendered – to the extent that you can tell a unit’s status with a close-up look – and are fought on terrain mirroring that of the armies’ placement on the world map. This makes positioning very important, for example a fairly small army placed in a mountain pass could stand a chance of victory against a much more numerous foe. In real battles, tactics are all-important, and this is no less the case for Rome. Each unit in the army have their own stats and descriptions, allowing you to choose how best to use them. It is up to you to decide whether to take the General Hague “CHARGE NOW YOU LOW-LIFE SCUM!” approach (and most probably lose), or to be more studious, perhaps using infantry to tie up an enemy before crushing them with a cavalry charge from the rear.

Of course, all games have flaws, and Rome is no exception. The AI can occasionally act a little strangely, naval battles have to be auto-resolved, and all the Romans speak with American accents. But when you realise that a bout of nit-picking is needed to find anything wrong with this game, it’s time to stop. This is a must have game, but be warned: it is very long and could result in the end of your degree, and maybe even your social life.


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