History Lessons. If you're anything like me, you may have spent your time not paying much attention, but should your history teacher have covered the realms of Ancient Mediterranean history, then things may have been a little more interesting. Conquering empires, marrying your younger brother, falling in love with eunuchs and bathing in asses' milk - it was all in a day's work for the likes of Alexander The Great and Cleopatra.
It's these great civilisations of Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia around which Rise & Fall is based, but if you've seen a few movies of the title before with its action-packed vistas of thousands of men battling and dying on the field, you may be a bit surprised to learn that for the most part, it plays pretty much like a standard RTS. Your burgeoning civilisation still requires developing with structures, harvesting of local resources, recruiting advisors for extra bonuses and preparing your army for times of war.
Saving these slower sections from slipping into dull obscurity is the glorious graphics engine. In the Egyptian campaign, pyramids tower into the desert sky, sphinxes tower over scurrying Egyptian workers and statues and obelisks adorn walkways past ornate temples. Zoom in and things look just as impressive, with burdened workers going about their daily chores, animals pootling around living areas and armed units standing proudly in rows.
Where the engine is really shown off to best effect, though, is in the battle scenes. Flaming arrows arc through the sky, highly detailed units charge across the terrain, and siege units raise ladders alongside walls that are being bombarded with ballista from catapults. Often overlooked in the world of the RTS, the naval battles are a particular highlight. Ships are huge and can be filled with all kinds of different troops, giving you a platform from which to launch your attacks, while also offering chances to get wet and wild, as you ram and grapple with other sea-faring vessels.
The most impressive of your units is your Hero. Taken from history's list of who's who, you'll get a chance to play as Alexander The Great, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Achilles to name but a few. As powerful units they're handy in their own right, but if you double-click on them you'll take direct control of them via a third-person view, where you can utilise ranged and close-combat attacks as well as your superior hit points to swing the tide of battle in your favour.
This is likely to be either a love it or hate it kind of feature, but with balance being provided by a limited stamina, I found these moments to provide a hugely enjoyable change of pace as you wade into the fray yourself, cutting swathes through enemy lines. However, if the thought of third-person combat makes your blood run cold, you'd be well advised to note that some levels are played entirely from this viewpoint.
Rise & Fall manages to bring some welcome action to a normally slower-paced genre, but it sometimes feels like this is at the expense of tactics. While it's not likely to provide a massive challenge to the tactical supremacy of Rome: Total War, the game's a huge amount of fun to play and with the addition of the third-person Hero mode, provides enough action and change of pace to keep you hooked. A bit of a turn-up for the history books, then.
- Great graphics engine
- Action-packed Hero mode
- Decent multiplayer options
- Not very tactical
- Standard RTS sections can feel uninspired