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Rome: Total War

Itís not too often that a game can blow me away on almost all aspects of itís being. Rome: Total War was one of these few games that seemed to take control of me from the moment I started the first training session, all the way to the first time my family took control of Rome itself.

Epic is the perfect word to describe this release in the Total War series (coming soon, Total War on your console of choice), from the massive raging battles to the sheer size of the region that you need to spread your empire over. You will start out your campaign with few units, towns and generals, but ultimately grow your army to sizes that havenít been seen since the battle of Helmís Deep in the Two Towers.

Taking queues from strategy games like Civilization, and real-time strategies that put you in control of the battles, R:TW tackles both sides of this equation with the grace and charm of a linebacker.

Letís start on the strategy side shall we. Your put in control of multiple units, some of which are merely your soldiers and what leads soldiers into battle? Thatís right, a General. The General can be either part of your family, who can work his way to the top of the empire, or another male who marries his way into your life, or just one hell of a leader. Generals are used not only to lead an army in battle, but they are useful when garrisoned in a town(the first named character to enter a new town becomes Governor); without them recruiting new units becomes tough, and the work force gets unhappy and productivity drops.

Like those other strategy games, you can assume complete control of your towns selecting what building to erect next, the level of tax to impose on the villagers, and recruiting new war units that will defend the town when required, and also go out and pillage without a grumble. The level of detail that is involved in R:TW is about perfect, giving you enough control to make it seem like you are controlling things, but also it has the automation that can let you focus on the cooler part of the game, the enormous battles.

Sometimes while playing Starcraft and pounding on my opponent with a dozen carriers with the maxed out helpers ships Iíd think, wow, a ton of action. Then I stepped into my first battle with over 400 units, ON MY SIDE ALONE. The battles here are a site to be seen, and thankfully you have almost total control over the camera during the battles so you can sit back after marching your horde headfirst into the fray, and watch the mayhem unfold.

All units are animated on a massive battlefield, which can also include cities that are under siege, or smaller forts. To see a group of characters wheel a ladder up to a stone wall of a city, then proceed to pummel their foes is definitely something thatíll make you smile with glee when playing Rome: Total War. Management of your units is fairly simple and after working through the helpful tutorial missions, youíll be moving your archers and war dogs around with the best of them. One thing that is a little intimidating however, is the sheer number of hotkeys that can be used. Youíll be able to play without using them, but the gameplay moves along nicer when you are able to select multiple units, and specific units on the fly with a simple keystroke.

Surprisingly you donít need the meatiest machine out there to play this game, but having more than the required system specs sure will help make your battles smoother. Given the sheer scale of this gameís battles, it would be easy to expect that the characters are not modeled well, or that thereíd be some fogging present in the battlefield, but fear not. Because you can zoom all the way in on a battle, you can see that each character is individually modeled, different classes of unites all look unique, and even individual units move independent during the hectic action.

To see well over one thousand strong standing on a field about to siege a heavily guarded town, with arrows of fire raining down on the armored war elephants is breathtaking, I know Iíve said it before but itís worth driving the point home. This game looks great.

One sour spot for me though when it came to graphics, were the animated cut scenes. They were a blurry mess, which was a disappointment when contrasted with the sharp detail in the in-game engine. Sadly the cut scenes are the first impression, and these ones werenít good, but the game more than made up for it.

On the strategy side of the game, you get some great voice work from some advisors who are your eyes and ears to the civilized world, and that level of quality is here throughout the sound in Rome. In the over world screen and in the city view, music is calm and suits the era of the game quite well. One you enter battle however, it changes pace to match the action onscreen, and the sounds of war are all around.

Pikes clash with spears, arrows fly overhead all while the sounds of death and war-cries surround the camera. Now, admittedly Iíve never actually BEEN to a Roman era battle, but based on the physics of metal vs. metal, I feel that the sounds here were quite accurately represented and worked well within the game.

Mixing the best of the in depth strategy games like Civilization and GalCiv, with the high action, unit management of the newer real-time strategy games, Rome Total War is another great entry into the series. The level of depth is just enough here to satisfy the hardcore strategists who get off on board games like Axis & Allies, yet can be automated enough for the RTS user to sit down and enjoy the action.

Aside from the one issue I had with the graphics, I didnít find too much to be disappointed with in this game. To fans of the series, itís a no brainer to pick this up; to new players to the Total War series who are interested in getting settled into not only a ďlead your clan to victoryĒ game, but more of a build your empire one family member at a time experience then this is the game for you. For those who are looking for something to help mark time while sitting at the computer, this is probably not the best option for your money, as the game can be quite involved. Overall though, I highly recommend this game.