Pyro Studios and Eidos, the companies responsible for bring us the Commandos series, brings us its latest endeavor, Praetorians. I think they’ve held up to their own standards with this game. Praetorians is little bit different from most RTS games on the market today. The units are grouped as they are in Shogun: Total War, which is a nice idea. The graphics are your standard isometric view. The game also has good sound, good music and a unique style of game play.
The graphics in Praetorians are nothing new. The first thing I noticed when I started the game was the rich vegetation. The trees and bushes look really nice, and I love the way they sway in the wind. The terrain is basic; forest, desert, plain, etc. but the textures on the maps are great. They really give it a feel of realism with some nice detail on the ground and surrounding objects.
The buildings give the game the feeling of an era without much technology. However, the units counter-act this feeling. The buildings look old and run down, but some units have nice shiny metal armor, which actually detracts a little from the sense of continuity within game. From afar the models look great, but at the up close cut-scenes the models show their dull flat side. The animations on the models are good and have nice, fluid movements. When they are stationary you can see random units move around, checking their equipment and such.
There are several new effects in this game that I really enjoyed seeing. The rain looks realistic and it leaves a ripple on the ground where it hits, which is very cool. The clouds hover out of view, but you can see their shadows move across the land. The water in this game is some of the best I’ve seen in an RTS game. It flows with a nice current, and as your units traverse the rivers it also leaves big ripples in the water.
There is a semi-zoom to use; it’s nice to see a close-up view on what’s going on. The only problem is, you can zoom, but you can’t rotate. Giving a game total 360 degree views is quickly becoming a standard feature in RTS games, but this game, nor being true 3D, doesn’t offer this feature.
Overall, the graphics in this game are pretty strong; they offer a lot to look at, and a lot of detail. However, there are few things that I don’t like about the graphics, the lack of rotation being the most notable.
The music is a subtle tribal beat that lingers in the background. When an attack starts it changes to a more up-beat war theme. However, when not fighting, the music helps you relax and concentrate on building up your army, which is definitely a strong point for the game.
The voices in the game vary. At points they can be stern and very well done; while at other points it can be weak and disappointing. For instance at one point a character runs about screaming “Help, we are under attack!” but sounds like he’s under no distress. Also, every time you move a unit or a group a voice says “Uh huh,” “Yes sir,” etc. This gets very annoying, very quickly. There are a small variety of sayings, but they repeat far too often to go unnoticed.
While the sound effects when building and using weapons are standard, the ambient sounds such as rain fall, birds, and such sound great. When it rains you really get the feeling that it is raining, especially with surround sound. Also, as sounds fade off in the distance, you can use the surround sound to hear where they are coming from, depending on your position. This is a very cool effect.
The layout of the buttons and controls are very straight forward. As expected, everything has a tool-tip incase you don’t know what it does. The main feature of this game is the focus around units. The only building you can build is a defense tower. You can use your units to build siege weapons like catapult and a ballista. When you begin to build troops it tells you exactly how long it will take. Some units will build faster than others. Also when you train units, they come out in a large group, instead of 1 unit, you get 16 or so, depending on what you’ve built. This adds on to the focus on units.
Another thing to note of is the lack of resource gathering. Each map has several villages that you can take over and use to train troops. Your only resource is the population of the village you take over. Each unit costs a certain amount of the total population of the village. When their population runs out, you’ll move to a new one or wait for the village to regenerate. Most villages offer about 400 people to use, but the villages are very tiny, looking like they hold only thirty or so people.
Unfortunately there are a few drawbacks to the game play. For example, when a troop is walking and they need to change directions, they will come to a complete stop in order to complete this simple maneuver. It’s really annoying to watch your units run away only to stop to turn. However, there are some interesting extras in the game that make up for these little annoyances. For instance, when your troops walk into the forest, you’ll be able to see birds leave the trees and fly away. This works to your advantage if you are trying to spot enemy troops in the trees. Neat little feature.
There are missions, tutorials, and skirmishes to do. The tutorials teach you all you need to know to get started. The skirmishes are quick and easy to start, but even on easy difficulty the CPU kills me every time. The games don’t last more than 10 minutes on average. Being that the game is based on units and not buildings, it’s whoever has the most units will win, regardless of what units the other player has. The single player missions seem to be the main focus of the game.
The only MP support is TCP/IP. There is no general server, so you’ll probably have to use Gamespy or some other online server listing program to play. Multiplayer pretty much plays like the single player skirmish mode. There is an MP demo out if you wish to try that before buying this game, it should give you a feel of what to expect.
After playing for quite a while I was rather surprised. Having swapped from the typical RTS game to try this one out, I don’t know whether or hate it or love it. I don’t like the fact that you can’t have buildings or more defensive features, but I do like how it’s purely based around units. It might take some time to adjust to, but I think this game would be fun for the serious RTS fan or the regular computer user.