|a game by||Philos Laboratories|
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Hype, don't you just hate it. The anticipation, the counting down the days, oh the apparent excitement of it all. Who remembers waiting for Independence Day, possibly the most built up film of all time, or the third Oasis album Be Here Now? The hype which surrounded both was huge and yet, how many of us can say we were truly satisfied by them? Come on, be honest now. Sometimes in life, however, something really great comes along, without bravado, huge advertising campaigns and a host of false promises. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's as refreshing as a pint of lager after a chicken vindaloo, and definitely worth shouting about.
Who, What, When?
A mix of Civilization 2 and Age Of Empires II, Theocracy attempts to take the best from both games, and for the most part it succeeds. Set in Mexico during the 15th and 16th centuries, you are cast as the leader of one of 42 Aztec tribes, with your goal being to unite all of them and fight off the Spanish invaders. The beauty of Theocracy is that it is open ended and not mission-based. You are presented with a map and a realm, and the rest is up to you.
Also, it's real-bme tum-based, which stops you from drowning in complexity when your empire starts to expand. Make your choices, direct your troops and accelerate time. If you want to jump in at any time, stop the clock and issue your orders. Simple, yet effective. Combat, however, is all done in real-time, but if you don't fancy it much, the computer can emulate a result tor you. The story line unfolds as you progress, with both cut-scenes and text used to wonderful effect throughout, and a multitude of sub-quests creating plenty of variation to keep your interest. There really is something here for everyone.
Slave To The Game
Day one. You've got a patch of land, a few buildings, some soldiers and a group of slaves. Everyone born into your society starts life as a slave, but can be trained to be a soldier, farmer, builder, etc in corresponding schools. Farms, ranches and fishing huts must be constructed in order to feed everyone, and barracks to train your army. Every single character then gets to work and watching them go about their duties is fun in itself. With excellent graphics and atmospheric music, Theocracy makes an excellent first impression.
If you don't want to allocate every slave to every job, you can appoint a governor, set how many slaves you want for each task, eg food production, and let him take care of the rest. This is very helpful if you're the kind of person who gets scared off by over complicated resource management, but it still allows hardened strategists the chance to take care of every element of their tribe's daily life. Another rather nice feature is that each citizen has their own personal attributes. Every warrior for example, has his own hit points, experience, attack, defence and stamina levels, giving them an engaging individuality. Many a time I found myself crying out in despondency as my star warrior was mercilessly cut down in combat. Sad, I know, but Theocracy has a way of doing that to you.
A View To A Kill
There are four different perspectives in which the game-world can be viewed; Normal, Bird's Eye, Strategic and Realm. The first shows you close ups of your men and buildings, while the Bird's Eye view gives you a Scrolling map of your province. The Strategic view shows your entire province from above and the Realm view shows all the tribes in the Aztec empire. The interface is easy to use and access, and is further aided by an excellent (if occasionally rushed) tutorial and help option, which explains anything you might have difficulty with. The only time you may have trouble handling the different viewpoints is during combat. It would have been better if the Bird's Eye map had been put on the side bar during battles, because as it is, you end up frantically fumbling to change between the Normal and Bird's Eye screens.
Realm mode gives you control over trading routes, diplomacy and army movement. Some provinces will have resources that others don't, so transporting these from one part of your empire to another becomes an integral part of success. On the diplomatic front, alliances can be made (or bribed) and wars declared. Finally, your troops can be moved to a neighbouring province, where the only option Is, of course, to attack.
Combat in Theocracy is very good if not outstanding. In the latter stages of the game, you can literally have thousands of units on screen at a time, bringing a sense of magnitude and realism to the battles so often missing from RTS games. Appointing commanders allows you to group your men in one of four set formations but, better still, you can create your own with the easy to use formations editor. Heroes, mages and jaguars (the cats not the cars) can all fight alongside the three basic army units of spearmen, swordsmen and archers.
Several technologies can also be discovered by conquering certain realms. Being strategically aware gives you a distinct advantage over larger but less organised armies. There are two main criticisms of the combat, though: there aren't enough units to choose from, and your men can occasionally be a little unresponsive to your commands. In this respect, Age Of Empires 2 is far superior.
They Think It's All Over, But It's Not
Theocracy has avoided difficulty settings. Instead, the further through the game you go, the harder it becomes, especially when the Spanish turn up. Just when you think you've got the game wrapped up, along come the boys from southern Europe to try and colonise you. This is the hardest part of the game, but it's the part I liked most. There's always a new challenge, always something new to discover and subsequently, always the desire to get that little bit further. With multiplayer available over LAN and the Internet, the overall longevity is huge.
Theocracy is a fantastic game, devoid of hype, but full of atmosphere and gameplay. It falls short of AOEII's honed combat elements, and perhaps lacks Civil's replayability, but anyone who's enjoyed these two should go out and buy it. Like a love bite, it's unexpected, sucks you in and leaves a lasting impression.