Games

Rome: Total War

Paul De Angelis

While we can all agree that things like 3D graphics are a good thing, it's difficult to extol the appeal of certain time periods.


Publisher: Activision
Subtitle: Total War
Price: $44.99
Multimedia: Rome
Platforms: PC
Number of players: 1-8 s
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Creative Assembly
US release date: 2007-07
"I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble."
-- Caesar Augustus

It's tempting to suggest that Hollywood's current fascination with the Ancient World (Gladiator, Troy, two versions of Alexander the Great) has influenced the gaming industry. But Greece and Rome have always provided inspiration for developers; the latter alone has been featured in everything from Centurion: Defender of Rome and Rome AD 92, to the city-building Caesar series and Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome. Romans have also been a de rigeur faction in strategy classics like Civilization and Rise of Nations. When a large, well-organized, aggressive, pre-gunpowder nation is needed to stir armchair generals to action, the Roman Empire fits the bill.

Rome is the third in developer Creative Assembly's Total War series. Even though it's not a true sequel to Medieval: Total War, Rome fulfills the demands of one: improved graphics, a streamlined interface, and tweaked gameplay. But a successful franchise also avoids messing too much with the formula, so Rome retains the basic mechanics of the Total War series.

You start with a campaign map, centered on the Mediterranean. It's divided into provinces, each with an accompanying town that must be conquered if you're to reap the benefits of that province's resources. (In a thematically appropriate addition, some provinces contain a Wonder of the Ancient World bonus.) On this map, you make strategic decisions, moving your armies, diplomats, and spies around while simultaneously building up your cities in order to generate income and larger populations. You must also choose construction projects in a sequence that will best assist your growing power.

The most prominent change in the campaign map is the elimination of the Risk-like interface of Medieval. No longer do armies pile up in the middle of a province to slug it out in one battle. In Rome, your units move throughout the provinces, giving the game more variety. Now, armies are blocked by mountain ranges, can engage in more than one battle per turn, and be slowed down by poor travelling conditions. This last point is a welcome addition, as it integrates the Roman Empire's famous road-building skills into the game; in order to increase the speed of your armies, you have to upgrade road conditions, creating better connections between your cities.

There are multilayer options, as well as historical, quick, and custom battles, but the single player mode centers on the Imperial Campaign. Here, you start off as one of three Roman families (factions like Carthage, Egypt, and Greece become available later). In addition to capturing provinces, you also have the option of accepting timed missions from the Senate. In another nod to the setting, when you feel yourself powerful enough, you can, in true Roman fashion, turn against the Senate and march on Rome itself.

When two opposing armies meet, the game switches to Total War's calling card: the battle map. It's here, where the tactical decisions are made, that Rome really excels. There's a climactic battle in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus between escaped slaves and a Roman army. Before that, there's a slow build up in which Spartacus and his men watch from a hill as the Roman army approaches. From their position, the legionnaires are so numerous that they appear as giant black rectangles, moving and shifting against a green background. It's scenes like that that Rome recreates so successfully.

While gamers self-defensively wait for games to be declared a true art form, there are moments in Rome that indicate the wait is over. Whatever one's definition of art, it's obviously more than "that which provokes a simple 'Wow, this is fun' response". Rome's battle scenes are epical, in a manner that is awesome to behold. So many games have tried to deliver a sense of scale, from the galactic empires of Master of Orion to the space battles of TIE Fighter. But in the past, armies were either represented by symbols or limited by graphical considerations. Now, here's Rome presenting scenes of true spectacle: siege towers disgorging men who swarm across castle walls, war elephants trampling formations, cavalry charging through the streets of a besieged city. While the soldiers in each unit are identical and move a little chunkily when you zoom in, that's not how best to enjoy the game. Pull out as far as you can and watch as literally thousands of soldiers march into battle.

The reviews for Rome: Total War, uniformly favourable, caution against the game's overwhelming details. But the scrolls that pop up, giving more information than you need, help exaggerate the game's complexity. For example, if you choose Land Clearance as a building option, it includes a description, when all you really want to know is that it gives you +1 in food and farm improvements. It just isn't that significant in the long run if you decide to build, say, a market first instead of upgrading your barracks, since you'll get around to doing both anyway. The fact that city management can be automated points to its somewhat inessential nature. And while your generals get bonuses in the form of retinue additions (example: a Merchant, which gives a 10% trade bonus), what and when additions are given is out of your hands (though retinue members can be transferred); all you can do is have your generals continually win battles -- something you have every intention of doing anyway. That being said, the game offers great depth when it comes to making decisions on the actual battlefield.

Ultimately, with most of the game's mechanics having already been field-tested in Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War, the appeal of Rome rests on its subject matter. But while we can all agree that things like 3D graphics are a good thing, it's difficult to extol the appeal of certain time periods; after all, The Cool Factor is a hard one to qualify. Suffice to say that for me, Medieval suffered greatly from its setting, since I think of the Middle Ages as a time of flagellating monks, unsanitary conditions, dreary castles, and tin can armour.

The Roman Empire, on the other hand, had real grandeur and style, and was so long ago that its unsavoury aspects are more easily overlooked. It certainly had the warrior aesthetic working for it, as evidenced by its standards, uniforms, and architecture. Rome captures all of that, and as an added bonus gives us the only set pieces in games reminiscent of The Return of the King's Battle of Pelennor Fields (at least until The Battle For Middle Earth is released). It's enough to satisfy even the most discerning megalomaniac.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image