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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

Eidos Interactive

 

Developer

Pyro Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q1 2003

 

 

- Well balanced units

- Good use of tactics

- Terrain is very useful in combat

- Good presentation

- Good music

- Good controls

 

 

- Can't rotate camera

- Zoom feature is limited

 

 

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Praetorians

Score: 8.7 / 10

A lot of time in recent years it seems more and more prevalent that real time strategy games have become more about economy management than about the combat that these economies are supposed to finance.  Players regularly find themselves spending over half of their time telling their towns’ populace to collect resources to build new structures, and creature huge military forces that only wind up being used to fend off attackers until their numbers are so great that they can march on the enemy’s compound utterly obliterating it through the player’s forces being so numerous.  The folks at Pyro Studios, on the other hand, have gone for a far purer approach to the genre, focusing on fighting, not finance, making for an excellent combat oriented RTS.  

praetorians-1.jpg (22016 bytes)         praetorians-2.jpg (18901 bytes)

Taking place in 56BC, Praetorians follows a time early in Rome’s expansion as it starts to work its way into Europe and wrap itself around the Mediterranean, making for a game steeped in history.  As such players will have the opportunity to play as Romans, barbarians and Egyptians through the over 20 campaigns available in the game with similar units and units unique to the different factions.

From the moment a map loads up and the player can get down to business the only resource they will ever need to worry about is the different villages’ inhabitants.  Simply occupy the town and slowly recruit its population to add to your army until you have sucked it dry and can move onto the next one.  Different units require different numbers of villagers and take varying amounts of time to create whether you want something as basic as an infantry unit or something as lofty and formidable as some praetorians.  Bare in mind also that some of these higher-ranking units also require honor points, which are accumulated through victories in the battlefield.  It’s really great to have things kept so straightforward in this regard, not having to worry about chopping down trees, mining minerals, and maintaining a food supply.  Simply focusing on deciding which types of units will suit you best for the terrain of the battlefield and what intelligence your scouts have gathered is and ordering their training accordingly is a breath of fresh air.

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And while the adage that there is strength in numbers holds true to Praetorians, it’s not just a matter of training as many units as possible, then moving on to the next settlement, continuing the process until you have a monolithically huge army to swarm the enemy with.  The different units each serve distinct purposes and can have specific reactions to certain terrain.  You could imagine my surprise when I tried to send a squad of spearman into a 

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forest after some retreating archers only to discover that they would not enter the area, resulting in their annihilation at the hands of the archers now safely concealed in the woods.  I later learned that infantry are the unit of choice to send into such areas which makes sense when you consider that they are armed with swords, far better suited to confined spaces like that of a forest, as opposed to spears which need considerably more room to function properly.  There actually is quite the rounded out selection of units to make as well, ranging from infantry to spearman to archers to legionnaires to praetorians and beyond.  There’s a little bit of everything and players will find themselves needing to keep a good balance of these units to get far in the game.  They have a surprisingly symbiotic relationship; so building too much of one and not enough of another could prove disastrous. 

Tactics also play an important role in Praetorians, whether laying siege to a fort or finding the best way to have your forces maneuver on the different terrains, there is quite a bit to consider in battle.  Terrain plays a huge role in strategy in the game, as the high ground gives units a better view of what’s around them, and units some units can even hide in the forests and tall grass, popping up seemingly out of nowhere to strike their foes.  Many of the units have special attacks that they can use as well, ranging from the legionnaires’ turtle technique where they put their shields overhead and encircling their unit, preventing archer attacks from having an effect, or the pike men sticking their poles firmly into the ground to repel charges.  It’s also nice to see that the enemies are quite smart, adjusting their tactics accordingly, taking advantage of any opening players present, as well as taking advantage of the terrain around them.  

praetorians-3.jpg (27481 bytes)          praetorians-4.jpg (34143 bytes)

From a visual standpoint Praetorians takes a 3D presentation, which by and large looks nice.  The vegetation is lush, the soldiers have a decent level of detail, and the animation stays smooth throughout.  The trouble spot in the game’s graphics comes from the camera.  Rotating is not an option, and zooming is highly limited, restricting players’ ability to see what is happening on screen as well as they may like.  It won’t ruin a campaign, but can serve as a distraction.  But as far as the audio experience of the game is concerned things are great.  The music is comprised of very engaging orchestral pieces that go a long way to add to what’s happening on screen, and generally the sound effects are well done.  Listening to the sound of a legion march is very impressive, though the screams of fallen soldiers sound like they were recorded in somebody’s bathroom.

The controls are kept fairly simple in the game, never becoming overwhelming.  Most of the work is handled through point and click commands, but there are several hotkeys to streamline play and players can assign units to the numbers on the keyboard for quick, easy reference.  There are some nice little tweaks like being able to dictate which direction a unit will face after completing its march and being able to balance out the numbers within units who have ad casualties at the push of a button.

Praetorians is a breath of fresh air in PC real time strategy.  Stepping away from the tedium of resource management, with a focus on combat will be a draw for many.  The sheer focus on tactics and all of the available options within this makes this an extremely challenging game, but persevering and learning these intricacies will reveal a true gem.

Mr. Nash

(April 20, 2003)

 

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