Rome - Total War
Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1/Network multiplayer
Words By:

I remember watching the BBC programme Time Commanders and being extremely excited about the forthcoming PC game that would use its graphics engine. In fact, I was so uncontrollably excited, before I could issue the command- “on my signal…. unleash smell,” I blew off my pants.
This was unsurprising however, because the prospect of following in the footsteps of great generals from the classical era of warfare such as Caesar, Hannibal, Scipio and Phyrrus and being able to deploy vast armies in full 3D should be too much for any power mad, table top tactician.

To help you through the review I have decided to employ the services of my spirit guide, who happens to be the heavenly soul of a Roman Legionary soldier from 55 B.C. (as well as an ancient ancestor of mine). His name is Gaius Decadus IV and I shall write his insightful comments in italics okay? Get it? Italics…Romans….Italy…etc. Wahahaha….. What do you mean “not funny”?

I’ll get on with it then.
It could be said that the main campaign mode of Rome-Total War is actually two games in one - a sort of strategic resource management map that resembles a mega board game and the real whiz bang graphics experience of the actual combat which take place in authentic 3D landscapes that load separately. This is a brilliant thing because it allows for an excellent, dedicated and detailed experience that doesn’t infringe or inhibit on the aspect of each.

Where are the roads? There should be roads all over that game map. We built roads everywhere and they all led to Rome.

It’s the start of the campaign Gaius, I haven’t started building them yet. Have some bloody patience! The game starts in the third century B.C. and Rome wasn’t built in a day you know.

It was built quicker than the new Wembley Stadium though. Useless Britons.

That’s enough. Either make a serious comment or shut up!
Right then, I know what some of you are thinking- “I would rather drink Hemlock than have to play yet another turn based resource management game.” Well stop thinking that, pour yourself some wine instead and get stuck into one of the most absorbing conquest experiences around - because the map-based shenanigans are surprisingly well done and addictive. You get the opportunity to direct the fortunes of one of three powerful Roman families - the Julii, the Scipii or the Brutii, or if you prefer you can control Carthage or the Gauls.

They named an aftershave after the Brutii you know.

No they didn’t Gaius. Look, I know you are a member of that family but will you please stop making things like that up. They didn’t name the Xbox game Brute Force after your lot either, or Brutus out of the Popeye cartoons so just drop it okay?

Anyway, you start off on a nicely detailed map of the Mediterranean with a couple or so towns in your possession, and by the careful management of your Denari and some decent town planning you can increase your trade, technology level, wealth, standing and power. Its familiar stuff but I found it to be done in a superior and satisfying way compared to most of the others of its kind. A lot of this is down to the sheer authenticity and detail of the proceedings and because the passage of time is completely turn-based, you can spent as long as you want studying statistics and plotting your next move as flawlessly as possible before allowing the computer to make his moves.

It is essential to get a decent balance between creating military-orientated buildings that produce better units for your conquests and the more cultural and civilian based stuff like Forums and Public baths that improve trade and prevent the plebs from rioting. It’s immensely satisfying watching your towns grow into huge walled cities that rain down masses of gold coinage with every turn because this means you can develop and recruit multitudes of the very best soldiers like Pretorians, mercenaries and superior siege equipment - goodies that you can witness in all their glory on the virtual battlefield. Now you would think I would get on with it and move straight on to that aspect but there are so many more map-based delights to tell.

Personally I think you should just get on with it. You are worse than Socrates the way you babble on.

Didn’t he play for Brazil?

No, Athens F.C. actually. Plato was in goal too. Or was it Archimedes? No, I remember, ‘Archie’ was the ball boy. He kept shouting “Eureka, I have found it!” whenever he had to fetch the ball from the crowd.

Alright alright! I’ll do the jokes thank you very much. Jumping Jupiter! I don’t know why I bothered, you haven’t contributed anything remotely intelligent or factual.

How about - did you know that the Romans invented football? And concrete?

Is that why they are all blockheads like you then?

Before you answer, back to the review. There are a multitude of complexities that can arise in the campaign mode, so much so that you can imagine just how difficult it was to run and maintain a sophisticated empire. For starters, for any of your towns to develop (and for your armies to be effective) you need to have a commander/governor in place. The trouble is, these guys can be killed in one of your battles or simply die of old age as the years pass and old Father Time does his work. This means that accepting ‘in laws’ into the fold and moving on young lads who have just come of age is essential if you are to maintain your gains. And of course whilst you are doing this there are several other powers like the Germanics, Parthians, Greeks and nasty old Carthage who are always willing to assault your outposts and put a stop to your development.

And just to add to your troubles there can be famine and rebellion, treason and annoying secret senate missions which may or may not be worth the reward. It has to be said that everything is ‘just so’ in this mode of play. In fact, it’s so absorbing you may actually decline to indulge in the actual combat engine and let the computer resolve many of your battles Risk-style for you, because there is still some skill in selecting the right commander and units to fight, and I found that the lure of seeing what the next turn offers politically on the world wide scale even more interesting than indulging in a good old scrap!

There’s nothing better than a battle - and we Romans always won.

Really? Like when Hannibal kicked your arse at the battle of Trebia?

That is not what happened. We were not decimated by that Punic idiot. Half of the men were ill with dysentery and had to keep nipping into the woods for a shi….

Erm, I think I will get on with the actual combat then.
There are several ways in which you can plunge into the close up and personal aspect of war. Apart from moving your units to either siege a town or attack an opposing army on the campaign game map, you can also play a quick single battle in which the computer randomly generates the parameters, such as what units you have and where you will be fighting. Better still is the custom mode which allows you to deploy the units of your choice in all those lovely locations that you always wanted to visit, such as cold Germanic forests or the baking deserts of Persia. And as if that wasn’t enough there are several, actual historical battles to attempt so that you can see if you could do better than the famous names of military history.

It is excellent I must admit 4thy. The troop units look completely believable and authentic and there are so many unit types! Spanish cavalry, Balearic slingers, Greek Phalanx’s, Roman Auxilia, Cataphract cavalry and even Elephants all look the part, have authentic costume details and move like they should. The landscapes are beautifully drawn and bring back memories of when I wandered the earth in those ancient times.

Well done Gaius! You bring a tear to my eye. And he is right, you really do feel that you are commanding real armies on real terrain. Forests, undulating hills, rivers, towns and desert are all represented. The 3D engine complements the rather static and traditional campaign map beautifully by delivering a gorgeous and sometimes jaw-dropping experience akin to a poor mans Lord of the Rings movie battle. But such is the simple flexibility of the engine it is actually a joy to control, even if you end up getting a beating.

Your units are clearly marked and graphically distinct and can be selected by either clicking them on the actual battlefield or on their respective icons. There are certain complexities that can be used such as different formations or the odd special ability (like being able to form the famous ‘tortoise shield’ formation or using incendiary arrows) but in most respects combat is a wonderfully simple matter of ‘move and attack’. Every unit has its particular uses. Heavy infantry are good for opposing light cavalry, heavy cavalry or elephants are good for shocking heavy infantry, and light cavalry are good for harassment or protecting the flanks and so on. Just like real war, all of the real complexities come from your ability to send the right troops in to the correct areas of the battlefield. Terrain and other cover can be used to your advantage and it’s a wise idea to keep track on the morale and physical state of your enemies (and your own) troops. It’s just fantastic.

The only slight problem is that open battles often result in units being spread all over the place and fleeing to all four points of the compass, often being pursued by troops who you want to remain on the field. This results in you having to resort to a lot of long, swooping camera movements and a good few pauses so that you can take stock of what is going on. But is this really a complaint? War is confusing and hectic and battles are often lost due to poor intelligence and communication. Another little oversight was the inability to fight sea battles in real time (the computer resolves these for you on the map), but I guess that is like complaining that you haven’t had enough pud when your gut is already busting from the lardy goodness of a three course meal.

Gaius Decadus once dated Venus
And made her so happy, like a cat who got the creamus
You may think I am lying or it was all in a dreamus
But the fact is, she proclaimed I was a sexual Roman genius.

What on earth was that?

Oh, just a little song. And also a hint to talk about the music.

Well thank the Gods that you didn’t go for the rhyme that I was expecting.

Oh yeah, the sonics. These are just as wonderful as everything else. If you have watched the Time Commanders series you will be familiar with many of the tunes and they are really spot on, somehow resonating the flavours of the diverse ancient world, as well as providing an adrenaline drive where necessary. I just love the haunting melody that plays on the campaign map, sung by what I imagine is a vestal virgin with a harp. The battle sounds are excellent too, cries of heroism and agony, the ringing of steel, screaming horses and that classic stomp, crunch, stomp of thousands of men marching.

To wrap up, Rome Total War is a massive game with far too many nuances and touches for me to cover here. It’s so good that you can play it as an arcade style combat simulator or as a time-consuming, tactical world building campaign that will keep you enthralled for months. Indeed, you may find that building up your family tree and eventually trying to wrest the seat of power from the Roman republic more interesting than the glorious battles themselves. Without a doubt it is for me a total package and the greatest strategy game of MMIV. It came, it saw, it knocked my conkers off.

Nice work 4thy, you must be weary after all that. Here, have this goblet of….erm…. wine.

Thanks Gaius.


*4thDecade was later found to be poisoned and delirious and was rushed to hospital immediately. A mental hospital that is.*


Best Bits

- Historically, visually and geographically authentic.
- The 3D combat engine is gorgeous and sublime.
- Various modes of play.
- The campaign mode is a deep and rewarding experience.
- Depth and staying power abounds.
- It sounds spot on too.
- You can learn a hell of a lot about the classical world.
Worst Bits

- Battles can spread out a bit.
- No naval combat.
- No lasers, racing cars or 7ft cyborgs.


by: 4thy

Copyright © Gamecell 2004