|a game by||Pyro Studios S.L.|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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Concerning the second thing that the Romans were famous for, and not in fact being the official 3D version of Sim Orgy, Praetorians is a 3D RTS set amid the trials and tribulations of the emerging Roman Empire. But in a climate where RTS players have gorged themselves to bursting point on historical strategy fare along the lines of Shogun, Age Of Kings and Cossacks, will Praetorians be the wafer thin mint which has us coating the walls?
Praetorians' project leader Javier Arevalo certainly thinks so."We believe that focusing on combat and bringing these kinds of innovations really sets Praetorians apart. Special unit abilities and formations such as the Roman TUrtle or the Gaul war cries, emphasise the combat-oriented gameplay style, and the player will have die chance to drive fortress sieges using a variety of war machines such as assault towers or battering rams."
The good news for those that would rather concentrate their efforts on troop juggling than crop rotation, is that Praetorians contains very little resource management, and instead is much more focused on the military strategy aspect, using a number of actual Roman campaigns as the inspiration behind a number of the missions. "Our goal is to emphasise troop control and strategic decisions in combat situations," says Arevalo.
"In this context, making a complex resource model would conflict with our style of gameplay, because it would shift focus to building bigger armies faster."
As far as camera angles go, Pyro have sensibly decided to opt for a fixed camera angle which ideally will help the player evaluate the terrain, stay focused and keep track of their attack and defence plans. However, the game uses a full 3D engine in order to reflect the complexity of terrain and unit animations, which together provide some impressive visuals.
Following in the upstanding tradition of three-sided warfare, the big three in Praetorians are the disciplined Romans, the raw strength of the Gauls (undoubtedly caused by falling into the magic potion when they were babies) and the Egyptians, who use a combination of religious fanaticism and science to complement their range of military units.
Your military units are arranged and controlled in troop formations, although some specific types of units are individual by nature, with special purposes like exploration or technology, rather than direct combat. You will be given a specific army to begin with, and you'll need to recruit additional troops all through the mission and also work out a way to prevent the enemy from doing the same. As you progress through the campaigns, new abilities and technologies will become available, and within an individual mission there will be several ways of improving the abilities and performance of troops in combat.
But as with most RTS games, it is the AI of your troops that can make or break the entire gameplay experience. Too many of us have wept over our keyboards as our perfectly honed army were cut to shreds because they decided to take a short cut straight through the middle of the enemy's base. "The AI evaluates and makes use of the most appropriate unit abilities depending on the balance of their forces and the enemy they're facing," claims Arevalo. "It also recognises the importance of villages, terrain and ambush spots. Additionally, we can fine-tune the specific details for each mission's flow of goals and sub-goals, thanks to our scripting engine."
The excesses of the ancient Romans are legendary -especially its leaders. Give any centurion several tables of meat and wine, surround them with small boys and you can bet that by the morning he would have devoured the lot and still be fresh-faced and ready for battle at the crack of dawn. Just as long as the local governor gets his taxes and the indigenous barbarians are kept at bay, a Roman commander could live in idyllic over-indulgence, indefinitely. Mess things up though, and it's off to the most desolate and uncultured place in the Empire - Britain.
As far as Roman provinces went, Spain was something of a safe seat. Neither desolate nor uncultured, Spain - or to be precise, Madrid - is also where Pyro Studios, the developers of Praetorians, work, rest and play. And rather than bless this sceptred isle, the company asked a load of journalists to Madrid in order to cop a look at what it's been working on besides Commandos 2. We accepted.
Praetorians looks to the untrained eye like Age Of Empires would if it was in spin-o-rama 3D. In fact it looks better than Age Of Empires in fancy 3D. It looks better than almost any 3D strategy game you'd care to mention. Unlike AOE however, Praetorians is a man's strategy game; none of that sheep-farming, wood chopping girly stuff you get in other games, oh no. The only resources in Praetorians are of the fleshy variety: soldiers, slaves and horses. Find wild horses and you can train your infantry to ride them, take a few enemy prisoners and you can order them to 'take point' - very sharp points in uncomfortable places - or push your siege towers into position up a fortress wall. In response, the enemy can even take your soldiers prisoner and put them to work as human shields, then you can liberate them, or let them rot if you like.
Mission-based, Praetorians starts in linear fashion with players in command of a small garrison of Romans on the edge of the Empire. As you progress and bump into new civilisations, you can either stick with the Romans, or defect. The idea, as Pyro co-founder Javier Perez explains, is: "To expand the single-player game to feel like a multiplayer game, but with a story linking the missions."
Yet to be incorporated are the nighttime missions. Traditionally, night missions in most games just mean more of the same, except darker.
In Praetorians, darkness is a whole new type of warfare, where giving soldiers torches can make them a target for a concealed archer, although, without light your troops may panic, especially if the enemy is skulking around waiting to slit a couple of throats.
With a good few months until its release, there is still a long way to go until the game is complete. What you can't see in these pictures is just how watchable the game is. All the soldiers are in 3D (unlike the forthcoming Shogun: Total War) and they are all superbly animated. Units within formation move realistically just out of sync. Centurions fan out and engage the enemy when disembarking from siege towers and war galleys, and walls even crumble realistically when hit with boulders. God knows what it'll look like when units find themselves under a downpour of boiling oil, but if what was on show in Madrid is anything to go by, it'll be spectacular.