When someone mentions to you the term “real-time strategy”, games like Starcraft, Command & Conquer and Age of Empires pop into you head. To consider 1503 A.D. another RTS game would be a big mistake. 1503 is a sequel/prequel to 1602 A.D. made by German developer Sunflowers Interactive. While you may have never heard of the first one, EA is hoping the second will gain a nice following here in North America.
One of the sad things about 1503 is the lack of effort in the sound design. It contains all the usual audio effects one would find in any conventional RTS game since the days of AOE. The voiceovers are bland and the music sounds like an exact copy of old Zelda games from the days of SNES. In fact, almost all the world sounds are the same recycled versions from 1602 three years ago.
This is one of the better points of the game. Not quite fully 3D, but it offers enough eye candy to enjoy watching your townsfolk go about their daily lives. Although there are some similarities between the buildings in 1503 and other games, like the AOE series, the scenery is quite well detailed and gives a nice feel of the race you’re playing. The worlds are quite large and your cities can expand much further than you would expect in a RTS game. Also your buildings adapt to the area’s surroundings perfectly. While playing in a winter scenario your buildings are all igloos, in the desert they are tents and clay houses, and so forth. Plus, there are around 350 unique building types that give off a great variety for expanding your territory. Although you’re not playing entirely in 3D, with the shadow effects and lens flares from the sun and burning buildings, the graphics are excellent.
Here is the kicker for 1503. It contains your most common RTS elements but requires itself to be played like a simulation. The key element within this game is trading and economics. How well you handle yourself with the other nations determines just how good your civilization will become and how powerful you will be. Now, the basis of your economy is entirely up to you.
This game offers numerous choices for what kind of product you wish your town to produce. First off, there is several types of farms to choose from to grow, ranging from your usual corn and wheat to exotic tobacco. Of course, with corn comes the expansion of what you can make with it, mainly beer. Pubs can be one of the large benefactors within your game, mainly from the fierce competition you receive from other towns as well as other pubs in your town.
The computer AI plays itself like a mirror image of you. As long as all you do is just build and expand your city, that’s all the AI will do. But the second you start your military, be prepared to face confrontation within minutes of that first soldier leaving the compound. If and when you decide to attack an enemy, you must choose wisely for your choice could affect every other nation and bring them all against you. Mainly, it all boils down to economics again. If you take on someone who is the largest producer of tobacco, first look at how many other towns will be affected by the loss of their biggest importer. The trick is to try to start up to take your target’s production as soon as possible. If other nations see you offer just as much tobacco as the other guy, his defeat won’t be a big significance to them or you.
With this amount of detail put into a RTS, it offers numerous replay abilities for both the action and simulation fans of the RTS genre. One real shortfall of 1503 is that you are stuck playing the English during single play. Not being able to takeover other races and play with their unique abilities hurts this game's chances for a huge following. Whether this option will be corrected in add-ons or patches to come is yet to be seen.
At the time of this review, the multiplayer patch for 1503 A.D. has yet to be released.
1503 A.D brings something largely new to the younger RTS fans looking for something really unique and different. Old timers will also enjoy the original flavor that comes with this game. To those who have played 1602 AD, this will feel the same as before since not much has changed, but if you enjoyed the first one, pop this puppy in. All that’s really left to see is how much multiplayer can bring to the game when the patch is released. Sunflower has also promised several free scenarios to be put on the net in due time that adds more options and style to the game. Even with the bland sound design and not being allowed to play anything other than English, 1503 A.D. should be added to every RTS player’s to do list.