Review by Showtime1080

"Stong engine leads to a fun game"

Ever watch the behind the scenes of a television show? Well on every show, no matter how big or small, the ubiquitous TV producer stands there directing other technicians on their actions---like cutting to a commercial, switching cameras etc. In a short amount of time, the TV producer makes hundreds of decisions and this mirrors exactly what the gamer experiences while playing Age of Mythology. The third installment in a successful strategy series, it takes the already strong engine drips in a few drops of sophistication, then injects a tension-filled managerial aspect that grips gamers throughout. Since it powers the experience, good strategy games rely heavily on a solid engine. The perfect engine in a strategy game would consist of a reliable but flexible resource gathering system, a clean, taut interface that aids the gamer, and a fighting system with a good sense of balance where no enemy overpowers another. Age of Mythology accomplishes all three with resounding success.

The single greatest tool in Age of Mythology is the resource, whether it be gold, wood, food or favor, because they allow the gamer to purchase the tools and upgrades used to attack. The system works basically like a barter where everything has a cost; 9 pieces of food with 10 pieces of gold can purchase a fundamental soldier. With the exception of one civilization, villagers gather the resources, but what makes the engine so exciting is the hectic micromanagement responsibility that Age of Mythology thrusts onto the gamer. Wood and gold can only be acquired by chopping or mining, respectively, but calculating exactly how many villagers to bestow on each activity brings enjoyable managerial elements. Too many villagers assigned to one resource obviously leaves a deficiency in the others, nullifying the ability to diversify a squad. Certain items and monsters use a particular resource and nothing pains more than the feeling of not being able to buy something simply because of a lack of funds.

Just gathering food alone turns into a fun mini-game with the many quick decisions the gamer must make. For instance, the player has 8 villagers and little food. On the map, however, are elephants, zebras, boars, deer, sheep, berry bushes, chickens, wolves, and fish among others. Each animal has different attack resistance and each holds different amounts of food. Sure, the gamer can send a couple villagers to hunt the elephant, but that'll soon turn into a massacre; elephants are huge, violent beasts. The gamer must decide if it's worth attacking the elephant for the food, when safer methods exist, and other resources must also be gathered. To successfully hunt the elephant, all of the villagers need to toil on the job, but is it worth it? Even though the copious amount of food is welcome, gamers may feel it's too dangerous and too much work to hunt the larger animals, so the gamer hunts the smaller deer or gathers berries instead, only to find they take a lot longer.

While the gamer's villagers are scrambling around getting food, the enemy might have developed a better approach to gather food, and the enemy gains a head start in production, therefore his army will reach its mass quicker. The time element brings tremendous tension to the resource gathering process; gamers will curse themselves for wasting time gathering berries when quicker methods exist. The fantastic pressure filled nature of Age of Mythology elevates the gamer to acting like an Air Traffic Controller, constantly checking, constantly monitoring, looking at every possible angle.

The clean-looking interface powering Age of Mythology performs well with a simple menu bordering the bottom of the screen and buttons are laid out spatially. Each activity is slightly hard to recognize as tiny pictures represent them; what looks like a sword is actually an icon for developing wood equipment. Thankfully, important tasks can be imbued with a simple right-click of a target, a very useful and thoughtful tool. If something needs to die, right click it, and it'll soon face a barrage of lethalness. The only problem lies in the unnecessary secondary menu movement required to access advance options for the military. Organizing the infantry amid all the chaos in a battle remains paramount, but Age of Mythology requires the gamer to hunt for a small red arrow to access the secondary menu to use the organizational features (spread out, pack together, aggressive). Still the system functions well, especially since gamers will eventually memorize the icons.

Of course, with 3 different aggressive civilizations, arguments and disagreements boost themselves to the forefront of Age of Mythology and every single activity should be geared toward creating a massive, but diverse army. After studiously collecting resources, the next step heaves those resources into the creation of armies whether it consists of a fleet of ancient, long jumping tigermen of the Egyptians, stone-faced Cyclops creatures of the Greek who pick up and hurl opposing soldiers, or huge, muscle-bound rock men of the Norse who wield enflamed rocks. Age of Mythology features a plethora of units and each has their strong and weak points---the gamer must think to be successful. If the opposition is using a horde of powerful horse-riding cavalier, little else can damage them except pikeman who have spears that stab the horses. Its a great feeling when, even though the enemy outnumbers the gamer, using the right units can still defeat their large force. The actual fighting is tight and varied. The physics perform admirably as big contraptions can easily fend off weak attacks but bigger units cause great damage. Just as with resources, military planning is important; victory rests on the cunning player. Sometimes it's better to attack the enemy with a close-fighting unit (swordsman) then as they focus on the swordsman, swoop behind them with archers. With the excellent sense of balance, the fighting engine maintains a level of sophistication resembling battle chess; each move must be carefully thought out. When squads clash together, weapons primed in hand, battle cries screaming, the battles are spectacular to look at.

Everything in Age of Mythology looks beautiful. From the large, lush environments down to the 8 spoked, wooden tire of a chariot archer screams with eye-candy. Plenty of details populate the world too including footprints following anything that walks, trees swaying in the breeze, or individual waves in the water---all without a hint of slowdown. Gawking at the surreal scene that unfolds as snow falls onto the ground, when the lush, healthy green fields become white almost to the point of blindness raises Age of Mythology to a graphical winner.

In addition, viewing each exquisite animation forces a smile out of sheer amazement. In fact, gamers will intentionally let a soldier die just to view its death animation. Instead of harmlessly falling off, each axel on an archer's chariot collapses, flipping the tires flat on the ground, then as the carriage sinks and the horse flails his head skyward, the body will tumble over the side. It's nice, but even more impressive almost every death performs with this same theatrical flair.

Featuring amazingly detailed graphics, Age of Mythology's deep, strategic engine mixes nicely to a thorough, well-written campaign mode and a competitive multiplayer mode to create an excellent strategy game. The economical engine alone earns top regards for producing a fun, very competitive sensation, where the gamer will have absolutely no time to relax. Sly people may think the resource system is simple: a couple villagers chopping wood, a few mining gold, and a few gathering food seems like the perfect plan. Wrong. Depending on the attacking style, certain resources need greater attention and the decision falls into the lap of the excited gamer. This is why Age of Mythology succeeds. The open-ended, pressure filled blueprint awards gamers with a game where intellect is just as fun as taking a flock of fire breathing dragons and sadistically burning the enemies' humans. After finishing the campaign mode, take it online and find out just how amazingly deep the engine reaches.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/03/04


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