Just in case you don't remember Age of Empires or never played it (planet moon anyone ??). Age of Empires 1/2 are (at least in my opinion) one of the best RTS (Real-Time-Strategy) games on the market. Very nice looking graphics, very detailed units and buildings, a HUGE technology tree to research, many, MANY units to select from (special units for every tribe) and a good AI made this a "reference" for other RTS games. Often copied - never reached... Here we have one of the "not-so-bad" clones - but read the whole review and make up your mind.
Unlike in other games of this kind you don't have 2 nor 3 but 4(!) tribes to choose from. Native Americans, Mexicans, Outlaws and the US Army (aka Americans) - each of them have their own campaign & story-line, unique buildings and units. And they all have their advantages & disadvantages as well.
For example: Americans have strong fortifications and modern weapons but they are also very expensive. The natives on the other hand are the only ones who can pack their tepees on travois and move their base to another location with more natural resources.The game takes place during the time when the Wild West still was "wild" (~1820 - 1890). You can imagine there is a lot of reference to historical events of that time (Battle of Little Big Horn, the fight for the Alamo,...) - and perhaps if you are lucky you will meet Jesse James as well...
Data-Becker could have made more with this background but the game still only has an average story line.The lack of rendered cut scenes - only Intro & Outro for each race - is not a pro for this game as well.
Well you didn't really expect high end graphic effects in an RTS game, did you ? The game allows resolutions up to 1600x1200 (at the price of speed - but if AoE worked for you, you should have no problems) Personally I think that too high resolutions makes unit management even more difficult (read below why) - choose one of the "medium" ones. The buildings have some nice details (e.g. the Outlaw HQ has two poor souls hanging from gallows at the entrance). On the other hand the landscapes are very simple and America is no match for games like Settlers which have more details and nicer animations.
The Music / Sounds:
Each scenario begins with a long briefing - the speech in the briefing is quiet good - even the accent of Mexicans and Natives is not bad. In game sound effects are average - nothing else. The music tries to build up Wild West atmosphere, while funny at the beginning it becomes boring after a while.
If you played the Age of Empires games you will handle the controls in a nano-second - for all the others there are some tutorials which explain the controls in detail. Resource Management brings nothing new for players of RTS games. There are five different goods - food, wood, gold, guns & horses. Food is gathered by harvesting fields, hunting or raising cattle (only the Outlaws gain food by transforming wood into good ol' home made liquor ;)). You collect wood - what a surprise - by cutting down trees in the forests. Gold you have to gather in mines or trade other resources for it in your markets. Guns are produced in factories (Natives have to steal them). And at last horses - you can decide whether you want to raise, capture or steal them.
There is also a little magic in America. Mexicans have nuns to heal their wounded and the Natives use shamans to call storms upon their foolish enemies. Possible mission objectives include surprise attacks, assassinating the opponents leader, protecting convoys or rescuing somebody - but they repeat after a while. In every scenario your people have one or more leaders / heroes - they are much stronger than normal soldiers and increase the troops morale - but when they die you often have to restart the level because your troops morale is ruined if that happens (or the mission objective forbids this).
Until now it doesn't sound too bad - does it ? - BUT (you knew that this would come). With the AI something went terrible wrong - it is very, very bad (an enemy standing next to a unit shoots at you and only half of your men shoot back - and path-finding is even worse). And if you want to select a single unit out of a bunch... - well be sure you have plenty of time.
The Multiplayer component is the best thing about this game. Trade and Diplomacy are possible like in every other game but with four races to choose from and a total of 20 multiplayer maps prepare yourself for one or another online fight!
Options for Multiplayer are:
Ã‚Â· 3 game modes:
"Everybody for themselves"
"Kill the leader"
"Destroy main buildings"
Ã‚Â· Population Limit
Ã‚Â· Raw materials density
Ã‚Â· Computer AI (ehh - WHAT ?)
Ã‚Â· Game speed
TIP: To learn how to play over TCP/IP visit the homepage of this game and read the FAQ.
Well - like I said before - if you are an Age of Empires addict get this one - it is a good "snack" until Settlers IV and the other games you are likely waiting for are available - all the others... - there are better games to waste your money on.
One last thing: Since this is my first review I would be extremely interested in your opinion about my style, review quality, etc. Remember - at Gamer's Hell the reader is important to us. YOU decide HOW we review. So send a e-mail if you have something to say (nice mail preferred :))