ROME Is Where The Heart Is
Right, that's the strategic map covered, which only leaves one thing. The battles. And you'll no doubt be pleased to know that we really have saved the best till last.
If you tuned in to watch BBC2's Time Commanders you'll be more than familiar with Rome's real-time battle engine. What you may not know is that the version used on telly is now getting on for two years old. Oh yes. Meaning? That the engine in the finished version of Rome is even more impressive than the one you've seen on the Beeb.
Take it from me. The first time you're transported to the battlefield you're going to feel a real rush of exhilaration. Vistas sprawl majestically to the horizon, streams meander through forests and in the middle-distance stand your enemies, countless in number, baying like animals and waving their weapons defiantly. Every soldier has an incredible level of detail, right down to the individual rings on their chainmail.
Preceding every battle is a speech from your army's general (generated on the fly from thousands of voice samples) in which he divulges important information about your enemies. These tactical nuggets can prove invaluable, often helping you to find the right strategy to outmanoeuvre your opponent.
But the true genius of these battles is the realistic tactics. Unlike the majority of RTS games where weight of numbers always prevails, Rome allows the canny general to forge victory from seemingly unwinnable situations, thanks to real-life battle dynamics and tactics. Every one of the hundreds of units on offer has a strength and weakness, a purpose and use that if utilised can turn the tide of a battle in your favour. Height advantage, flanking and use of combined arms are all essential skills to learn, while working out how to take advantage of an opposing army's weaknesses will make world domination an all-the-more realistic prospect.
Oh, The Humanity
Soldiers clash with merciless ferocity, thrusting, parrying, pushing, stabbing and jumping as they hack at their enemies. Cavalry and war elephants decimate petrified ranks of poorly defended foot soldiers, sending dozens carving through the air with their tusks. Men turn and flee in a desperate attempt to save their lives, only to be cut down by merciless horsemen as they run. And you now have even more time to enjoy these ocular delights, as the clunky control interface of Medieval has been dropped in favour of a more streamlined system that incorporates the tried and tested RTS drag-and-select mechanic.
And let's not forget the castle sieges either, which have also been revamped since Medieval. These are now titanic operations, with gates to be battered and walls to be scaled, while defenders rain down thick blankets of fire arrows (archers can line walls) and gallons of burning oil on invading armies.
With the thundering soundtrack embellishing the already feverishly high atmosphere, conflicts reach a level of immersion and brilliance never before sniffed at by an RTS, and not even the occasional AI glitch (confused troops; the odd clipping error) can mar the game's quality to any significant extent.
So there you have it, Rome is everything we'd wished for and more, an RTS so far ahead of the current competition
that it must almost feel embarrassed by its utter dominance. No doubt it'll come under fire from those with unrealistic expectations, who forget that despite its brilliance, it's still a game - not a life-altering experience - and feel aggrieved that it doesn't transport them back in time (literally), saddle them on a horse, stick a rusty scimitar in their hand and wipe their backsides with silken toilet paper as they lead a cavalry charge at quaking peasants.
It's their loss.