Rome: Total War: Alexander
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Son Of Zeus. Visionary. King. Warlord. Tyrant. A man whose empire stretched from Hungary to India, a warrior who stood 10ft tall (OK, more like 5ft) and fired lightning bolts out of his arse. All of these titles and legends have at one time or another been attributed to the mighty congueror Alexander The Great - admittedly some by me in this very review. There is, however, one accolade Alexander held that cannot be disputed: military genius. In his short yet glorious life, this young Macedonian king swept across two-thirds of the known world and united it under one banner, often leading his armies to victory against overwhelming odds.
Of course, if he was alive today, any one of us could trounce him at a head-to-head in Rome: Total War, right? No problem. Especially if we hid his mouse, cut off all his fingers and unplugged his monitor, before distracting him with a hoax call from the office while we laid waste to his leaderless armies. Mwaaahahahahah. Seriously though, could we, sons of bank managers and shop assistants emulate this man's incredible feats of conquest? Would you like to find out? Well, here's your chance.
Alexander - a downloadable expansion pack to the PC's greatest ever RTS game Rome: Total War - places you firmly in the sandals of the great leader himself and charges you with matching Alexander's incredible feats.
In just 100 turns, you must sweep across the land like a typhoon and capture 30 provinces, including ten key enemy cities, which you must then hold on to and protect from rebel armies and hordes of Persian and Barbarian forces intent on reclaiming their conquered lands. Easy right? Yeah, as if.
Off With Their Heads
From the moment the luscious 3D turnbased strategic map swells onto your monitor, you're hit by the sheer enormity of your task. With just two small provinces under your control on the far western corner of the world, you must sally out on a bold, unwavering campaign of conquest. Mercy and hesitation are not an option. With the clock ticking, every move becomes critical to completing your objective. Forget fortifying, consolidating or pausing; Alexander is a relentless drive towards victory, a blood-spattered surge through hordes of enemies and overwhelming odds in order to reach one seemingly impossible goal.
You can also forget about auto-resolving anything but the most one-sided of battles. With no time to stop off and replenish your forces, you must drive your commanders on through the world, massacring populations to quell uprisings and to raise the instant funds needed to amass a mercenary army as you travel.
Unlike Rome, there's no room or need for politics and diplomacy here. This is a pure, unadulterated cauldron of all-out war and conquest. With fortune favouring the bold, you immediately find yourself launching daring attacks on forces you know are vastly superior to your own, spurred on by pastethick jets of adrenalin as you first sweep aside Barbarian hordes, then march towards the bristling spears of the massed Persian armies, whose cities teem with gold.
During the course of Alexander, you'll encounter ever more exotic and deadly foes including Indian War elephants - ivory-tusked juggernauts which turn your men into mush as they butt and bulldoze their way through your ranks. There are also Indian naked female archers that'll have your men furiously polishing their spears instead of pointing them, and barbarian chariot archers which break up even your most well-organised defensive lines, while peppering them with a hail of missiles.
Before long you find yourself fighting on four or five fronts, pushing towards your goal with unrelenting determination as you watch the turn-counter plummet As your holdings swell, you'll become ever more thinly stretched, with handfuls of defenders trying to hold back tides of enemy attacks against your cities as you venture ever further from your capital.
Without doubt Alexander is one of the most taxing Total War experiences to date, forcing you to bloody your hands on the : battlefield as you try to outmanoeuvre Persian and Barbarian armies that often dwarf your own.
Odds of three to one are normal, four or five to one are common, while six to one are rare, but possible. You're going to need to call upon every battle and victory you've ever had if you're to stand any chance of matching Alexander's legacy. So steel yourself and prepare for one hell of ride - well, at least till you're two-thirds of the way through the game...
Sadly, after around 60 or 70 turns (if you're on course to achieving your goal), you suddenly realise the hardest part is behind you. No longer are you the underdog, eking out a campaign with threadbare armies while the might of Persia faces you, cackling at your paltry forces before being silenced by a strategic masterstroke. Unlike Rome. there's no alliance of factions that rises to oppose you. Instead, you find yourself simply sweeping aside the remnants of a once formidable foe.
With the end in sight, the last few strongholds begin to crumble more easily than a paper dam, meaning the final few hours of the campaign become a predictable, somewhat uninspired waltz past the finishing post.
Also irksome is the absence of night-time battles. After the visual feast of Barbarian Invasion, where the night sky would be lit up by a pyrotechnic extravaganza of fire - especially during siege battles -Alexander's constant daylight conflicts feel overwhelmingly uniform.
Bugs are also fairly commonplace, especially during siege battles where entire sguads suddenly freeze on siege towers or walls, drastically stretching your already frayed forces. What's more, cavalry sometimes do the exact opposite of what you tell them to - including Alexander's elite guard - and can wade straight into arow of spears you've just ordered them to run in the opposite direction of.
But these problems are only minor irritations, like flies tickling the back of a majestic war elephant The relative simplicity of the final third of Alexander's campaign is offset by the sheer difficulty of getting there, while the bugs and glitches never prove so crippling that they destroy the immersion and brutality of the real-time skirmishes.
Add to that the paltry price and copious hours of enjoyment, and it's hard to find too much to severely criticise here, especially as Alexander possesses much more than just a solitary new campaign. Oh yes my friends, there's plenty more for us to cover before we're done. So sit tight and stay with me...
Having retraced the legendary commander's footsteps in a freeform way, you're also given the opportunity to relive the key battles of his campaign via six brain-bleedingly challenging historical battles.
Starting off with a bit-part role helping your father Philip crush the Greeks, you soon find yourself in increasingly more challenging situations as you seek to push back the Persian masses, including battles in which the odds are stacked so highly against you, that you start to wonder whether it's even possible to prevail. Rivers must be traversed by your plodding Phalanxes, while Persian defenders unleash swarms of arrows at your slow-moving forces. Towering city walls have to be scaled and gateways smashed, while burning oil pours on your already threadbare armies, further diminishing your resources and raising the challenge to even greater heights.
As if that wasn't hard enough, you must also ensure that Alexander survives, a mechanic that doesn't quite work as well as it could due to Total War's squadbased battle template, but does add an extra level of challenge and excitement to each encounter.
As with so many things in life, Alexander's ultimate value comes down to money. For just over eight measly quid, you're getting one of the most challenging Total War campaigns to date, six superbly crafted historical battles, a new multiplayer mode, four new factions (Macedonia, Persia, India and the Barbarians) and endless hours of replayability. By the time you've reached the end of the campaign, you'll have started to appreciate just what a gargantuan feat Alexander achieved. And he didn't even have the luxury of sitting at home in his pants while masterminding his strategic strokes of genius.
Sure, it's got its faults, oversights and weaknesses, but if you love Rome: Total War, then you simply can't afford to miss out on this. After all, you can't call yourself the best until you've emulated the best -and they don't get any better than Alexander The Great.
Download Rome: Total War: Alexander
The Great Thing about budget titles is that you can pick up entire games for little more than the price of a round. However, Alexander's an expansion and despite it being an excellent but tough addition to Rome: Total War, I have a problem with the price. Just under a tenner may sound good, but when you realise that the game was first available to download for a measly $8.50, the appeal of this soon starts to wane.
Even worse comes when you venture onto the Total War site and discover it's still available for download at that price. Alexander may have been a strategic genius, but this pricing deserves a military coup. Grab it online and save your pounds.