Rome: Total War is the latest in the excellent Total War series brought to you by The Creative Assembly. Building on the success of Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War the Roman version is the best game in the series to date and should tempt casual and hardcore gamers alike. Budding strategists will not find a better game to quench their desires as Rome features some gorgeous 3D graphics, a robust engine which allows for battles on a truly epic scale and an addictive turn-based campaign interface.
All of the Total War games feature a dual play system whereby you oversee the growth of your empire on a large map and zoom in to the battlefield in order to command specific battles. The selling point of these games has traditionally been the battle engine which continues to improve, now allowing you to command literally thousands of men on a beautifully realised map complete with cities and varied terrain. In this latest release however the grandest improvement comes in the overview and management side of the game. This has really been beefed up with missions assigned from the senate, resources, city building on a larger scale than ever before and an intriguing family tree which charts the rise of your clan.
The aim of the game is to conquer the known world and unite Rome under your banner. There is a choice of three families to begin with and you start in possession of a small army and a few towns. You must spread and grow completing senate missions for rewards. Of course the senate would like an obedient servant but there are times when their desires will conflict with your plans and so it is not always wise to do as they say. In order to ultimately triumph you must defeat the other Roman families and march on Rome itself.
The management overview is a huge graphical improvement on the plain game board which confronted you in Shogun. Units, terrain, cities and resources are evident and nicely animated. Cities can be auto managed or you can station a member of your family in them to oversee affairs. This is something which you have to take real care about, putting a corrupt man in charge of a wealthy city can cause the profits to slip away or a tyrannical leader may make the local populace very unhappy.
The fact that each family member has distinct talents and flaws is a terrific addition to the game, they receive bonuses and disadvantages according to how their lives pan out. For example a family member who is sent to govern a distant Gaul settlement may become bitter and corrupt; commanders who achieve success on the battlefield improve accordingly. You can set the faction leader and heir and each family member will also accumulate a retinue. The characters they are close to have an impact on their personalities, so while a drillmaster may increase the command talents of a given person a pet idiot will detract from their skills.
The battles themselves are beautifully done. There is a huge choice of units, although you must build the appropriate buildings before you can produce certain units. Army stacks can be made up of whatever units you choose and naturally it is best to choose units which suit your purpose, for example when attacking a city you will likely want some heavy artillery such as the devastating boulder hurling onagers. Each battle begins with a speech from the commander which relates to the kind of character they are, cowards will not give uplifting speeches while the bloodthirsty may howl that they want to bathe in the blood of their enemies.
As units gain experience they become more deadly and depleted units can be retrained in cities to rebuild the full sized contingent without the loss of their experience. The battles are very strategic affairs and unit placement is vitally important. The timing of attacks from various types of unit can often determine the outcome of the battle and with similar numbers the day is invariably won by the more talented strategist. The AI is mostly very good and displays a decent knowledge of tactical warfare on the higher difficulty levels.
The sound in this game is of the highest standard, from the cries of men on the battlefield through to the foreboding music as battle commences. The voice acting is excellent, the music is very fitting, relaxed and dreamlike in the map view and exciting and dramatic in the battle sequences. This is top quality stuff through and through.
The history is also satisfyingly accurate with a realistic recreation of the Roman rise to power and the corrupt politics of the senate. The characters you face are also familiar from the pages of history and there is little more intimidating than realising you are leading men into battle against Hannibal and his elephants. These touches elevate the game to a level rarely achieved and really add to the overall immersion.
In addition to outright war you can also trade and make deals with other factions. There are a number of special units such as diplomats and assassins who will do your bidding and this allows for a different approach to outright military domination although this is ultimately the focus of the game and generally necessary in order to win. However it is worth pointing out that you could play a campaign without ever actually commanding a battle as there is the usual option to automatically determine the result of a battle (though I wouldn´t recommend it).
The naval battles are probably the weakest part of the game and on the lower difficulty settings the AI can be very stupid indeed. The game is also quite difficult at first and features a fairly steep learning curve which may necessitate a few restarts before you succeed in uniting Rome and conquering the world. Flaws are few and far between in here and this comes as a welcome surprise given the huge scope of this title.
Rome: Total War is quite simply the best strategy game on the market. With impressive graphics, great sound and some of the best game play I have ever encountered. I wouldn´t hesitate in recommending this game and anyone buying it should be prepared to spend days of their life engaged in an exciting struggle for supremacy.