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Rome Total War | review | game | Lollipop

Rome: Total War

(Activision for the PC)
by Eric Johnson

No game has ever elicited more maniacal laughter from me, and none has sucked away more of my time than Rome. Half brain-twisting turn-based empire management, half heart-stopping real-time tactical battle simulator, the strategic portion of Rome takes place on a highly-detailed map of Europe and the Near East that looks like a Risk board.

It's 270 B.C., Rome is a small republic, the nations Alexander the Great established still thrive in a strongly Hellenistic Middle East, and a dozen potential world powers are poised to take advantage of dwindling Greek influence. To the north, there are Gauls, Britons, and Germanic Tribes across the Mediterranean Carthage. As head of one of three Roman families, you amass armies, conquer new territory, building infrastructure, taking care of the mundane business of empire building, and making the conquered respect you whether it be with the carrot, stick, or wise application of both. The strategic portion is about the raw manipulation of power. Curry favor with the senate until your popularity and power threatens them, then pounce. A potentially intimidating but streamlined interface is made easier by an excellent tutorial and an attractive, stern, and somewhat maternal AI advisor. Tedious details, like taxes, can be delegated, making Rome only as complex as you wish it to be.

When armies clash, it's in real time, a stunning accomplishment where phalanxes of infantry collide with Elephant Cavalry, and great war machines hurl flaming boulders into densely-packed formations. This mode is stunning, sporting thousands of men, and puts as much emphasis on manipulating psychology as the turn-based portion emphasizes power. Units of between 20 to 100 are easily controlled, the trick is to break the enemy psychologically through maneuvering or overwhelming force. Some knowledge of ancient or military history is always applicable, but not required, and common sense is the best advisor.

Rome is one of the best games I've ever played, and the best games are always the hardest to review. Too epic for 400 words, it condenses 300 years of history into a single experience, rendering the past as accessible and engrossing as any alien invasion. A full game can take months to complete, and every defeated culture is unlocked in campaign mode (the shorter campaign mode is better). Download the demo and step into Hannibal's shoes, when those Elephants charge an infantry phalanx, you'll know if it's for you or not. Then call in sick, apologize to your girlfriend in advance, and unleash your inner tyrant.

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