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Rome Total War PC CD-ROM

Published by Activision
Developed by The Creative Assembly
Release Date : Out Now
Price : £34.99

With Shogun Total War, The Creative Assembly showed that strategy games didn't have to either real-time or turn-based and that in fact by mixing elements of both these you could get the best out of both worlds. With it's board game like campaign map and action packed real-time combat the game was just stunning and it gave the strategy genre the boost it desperately needed. A few years later came Medieval Total War which used the same formula but this time on a greater scale (in regards to the campaign map and siege warfare) and once again the game was excellent. With two strategy classics in their catalogue it was always going to be the case that The Creative Assembly's next title was going to receive maximum attention and when it was announced that the next game in the series was to be Rome Total War the interest in the game increased beyond expectation.

If you've played the previous Total War games you will be very impressed with what The Creative Assembly have done with Rome Total War. The game modes on offer will be familiar to anyone who has played a Total War game before. You have the Imperial Campaign which consists of turn-based strategy (where you get to move your units around the map, look after factions and carry out diplomacy and political alliances) and real-time battles. You can also just focus on the real-time battles if you want in the Historical Battle, Custom Battle and Quick Battle modes. To introduce you to the game there is also a tutorial called the Prologue which will teach you how to get the most out of your battles and campaign map strategy. You don't have to play through the Prologue but it's advisable if you want to get the most out of the game.

Initially you'll have three factions to choose from when you play the Imperial Campaign. There's The House of Julii, The House of Scipii and The House of Brutii. As in Medieval Total War you won't just have the goal of conquering as many territories as you possibly can. Armies cost money and money comes from a thriving economy so you'll have to look after your own territories and maintain a healthy economy. You'll also have to maintain a line of succession and should you not have any sons you'll have to marry your daughters off wisely as your Governors and Generals have to be part of your own family. As in Medieval your key men can have vices and virtues, these affect their standings in the eyes of your people. This time you'll also have to contend with retinues such as mistresses, lackeys and aides that can all cause trouble for your Generals and Governors. However problematic these annoyances can become for your faction though, the Senate can cause even more trouble for you if you don't do their bidding. You'll frequently receive orders/missions from the Senate and if you complete them you'll find favour with them but if you fail to do their missions then you could fall foul of them. It's common for the Senate to ask you to do things that could put you at war with someone else. Keeping them happy and keeping your family safe is very often a balancing act. Of course as you grow in stature with the Senate you'll gain jealous parties who will delight in trying to crush you and it makes for some very exciting action.

Although there are many things that Rome Total War does better than Medieval Total War, the most spectacular improvement has to be the graphics and in particular the battles. In Shogun and Medieval the battles featured 3D landscapes with 2D sprites. This looked all well and good until the fighting began and it was all too common a sight to see everything become a visual mess with it being difficult to make out what was really going on (of course with Shogun, in particular, it still was impressive at the time). In Rome Total War though the 2D sprites have gone and in their place are full 3D models and the difference this makes is staggering. The biggest surprise is that the 3D unit models are actually very nicely detailed, especially when you zoom in close. It's now a lot easier to watch the battles and see who is doing what. Obviously to have the graphical settings enabled when playing at a decent screen resolution means that you'll need a powerful PC but as in previous games you can set the resolution of the battles independently of the campaign map.

The campaign map has also had a major overhaul since Medieval Total War. In Medieval and Shogun the campaign map basically played out like a board game where you click and drag your piece from one region to another. The pieces where just that and didn't move or animate in anyway. The campaign map in Rome Total War now looks like a Civilization game in 3D. Your units now fully animate and don't simply move from one region to another. Instead when you click on a unit you'll see a green overlay appear on the map to indicate where your unit can move to in that turn. As well as moving military units about the map, you'll also have diplomats and spies. You can even setup ambushes if you want to. You'll also have to move your ships too. Settlements/Towns will also have to be maintained and you'll have to keep your people, and those factions you don't want to anger, as happy as you can. Visually though the campaign map looks much improved from the ones in Shogun and Medieval. You'll see the seasonal changes and experience natural phenomena such as earthquakes etc. It isn't just a case of shuffling your units from one battle to another anymore, there's a lot more to the campaign map.

With such a glowing opinion of Rome Total War it's difficult to hold back from giving it ten out of ten as a rating. As amazing as it is though it's not perfect. Out of the box the game has several bugs and back to desktop crashes have been experienced by many. Thankfully the first patch seems to have resolved the majority of issues but some still remain. I also think it was a mistake to only make it as you have to complete an Imperial Campaign before you have access to the other factions/races within the game. Both Shogun and Medieval let you play who you wanted right from the beginning and Rome Total War should have maintained this trend. It's also not clear why the Prologue (why do I always think of Frankie Howerd in Up Pompeii whenever I see the words 'the Prologue'?) won't let you save for almost a dozen turns and it can be irritating if you don't have a good hour to play the game for the first time. Playing the game on a 17" TFT means you're going to want to play in the native 1280x1024 screen resolution but in doing so the interface icons all look stretched and not at all as good as they should. Switching back to 1024x768 resolves this issue but then the graphics are not as sharp as they should be (as all 17" TFT owners will tell you). Mercifully though none of these issues are unfixable and could easily be resolved with patches. However those expecting multiplayer campaigns and naval battles (which are carried out automatically) will be out of luck as they are still missing.

There weren't any problems for deaf gamers with the previous Total War games and Rome Total War is also fine for deaf gamers. Subtitles can be enabled and this allows you to enjoy all of the speech within the game, apart from the verbal comments that your units make when you've issued them with orders. For the first time in a Total War game you'll have advisors on hand to help you when you're not sure what to do. Victoria will help you on the campaign map and Centurion Marcus will help you during the course of a battle should you get into difficulty. Their instructions are shown in text which means you'll benefit from their help and you can also click on a 'show me how' button and in this case the relevant button you need to click will be highlighted. The game manual offers 70+ pages of useful information that should help you should you want to find out about anything in particular (on that note don't bother with the strategy guide that you can buy as it's pretty awful to be perfectly honest). The game also comes with a pull out Roman technology tree that has a map of the lands that were part of the Roman Empire on the reverse. No print technology trees for the other races are given though.

We can't really emphasise enough just how impressive Rome Total War really is. Graphically the game looks many times better than either of Shogun or Medieval. It's still a beautiful mix of turn-based and real-time strategy but the presentation is much, much better and is almost everything you would want from a strategy game. We've already mentioned the problems the game has but perhaps what will disappoint the most is that you still can't have a campaign in multiplayer mode. When Shogun Total War was released this was the biggest issue that people had with the game and it's still the same with Rome Total War. Fingers crossed that this feature will be included in an expansion (along with naval warfare) or The Creative Assembly's next game because then we'd have a strategy game that would be pretty much perfect.

Overall Game Rating: 9.4/10
Without a doubt the greatest strategy game we'll see in 2004. Rome Total War does so many things in such a spectacular fashion that it's easy to forgive the fact that a multiplayer campaign still hasn't been added to a Total War game.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Absolutely fine for deaf gamers.