The Punic Wars: Clash of 2 Empires
The slightly rode-sounding Punic Wars is the sequel to Celtic Kings, a lesser-known RTS that picked up a respectable 70 per cent in these pages last year. Like Is predecessor, Punic is an Interesting effort set in the times of the Roman Empire, only now on the wars between Carthage and Rome (think Hannibal - the elephant one, not the people-muncher).
Also like its predecessor, Punic Wars' loins are girded with some great resource management ideas. No bases are built and resources aren't collected - rather, they're transported from villages to military camps and facilities as required. This is all managed fairly simply using the excellent overview map.
Troops can be assigned to follow one or other of your hero units, which means that while you may have a huge force to deal with, large formations can be manoeuvred with a single click. It's an economic system that minimises unnecessary micro-management.
As well as being your hardest hard-nuts and the marshals of your lesser soldiers, heroes can also carry special items that can be unleashed mid-battle to swing the course of a fight. Barracks, town halls, forts and villages all feature in Punic Wars, but they can't be built or destroyed - only captured and lost. In addition, most troops have the ability to build a catapult at the gates of the enemy settlement to destroy its defences, before reducing its loyalty by yelling at it. Yes, yelling. What this means is that scenarios have a tactical edge that many so-called strategy games lack - both sides know where the resources lie (in the form of the villages and such), and you both know that control of these will win you the war.
But as with the previous game. Punic Wars is made less accessible by its flagrant lack of polish. A cursory manual, a poor tutorial, terrible animations, weak voiceovers and an unsightly interface immediately count against it. And even once you get to grips with some of the more unusual mechanics, certain things remain a thorn in the game's side. For starters, the actual battles are dull. While the broader strategic style is good, your tactical options are minimal once the battle is joined, and your main concern is when and where to use your precious Hero power. Formation options are lacking, and there are some glaring palette, resulting in combat that's nowhere near as exciting as it should be.
Still, this is a laudable effort, and some of the campaign missions can be enthralling contests between huge armies. But the series hasn't moved on from the last instalment and still has plenty of distance to go to enter the RTS premier league. Until then, you're best off waiting for it to hit budget.
Download The Punic Wars: Clash of 2 Empires
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP