Review by StavrosJ
"Alright tribune, these are your orders, for the Senate and the Roman people!"
This line often concludes many of your mission briefings, which then puts you over control of an army of roman soldiers. Praetorians is a great strategy game that focusses solely on the offensive part of RTS games, and it works extremely well.
The graphics is Praetorians are great. What I like most about them is how every roman soldier is modeled individually with lots of detail. Its not, one roman soldier represents 10 roman soldiers or anything like that. Praetorians allows 800+ individually modeled soldiers on screen at once. I have a Geforce 2ti, an Athlon 1.8, and 256 RAM and this game runs perfectly at full settings even when the screen is literally covered in fighting. The environments and weather effects are mind blowing. You will be amazed when you see the winter and desert effects which look frighteningly real. The environment is also detailed, each level being filled with an assortment of trees, mountains and rivers. The maps can be extremely vast as well, the largest one I've seen stretches on for miles. On the down side, some of the units animate strangely when they attack. When climbing up ladders or towers, soldiers move inhumanly quickly for some reason. When attacking, they sport only one animation. For instance, the Roman Legionnaire swings his sword in the same manner very quickly. These things, however, are minor, because when over 50 soldiers clash together in fighting, you won't really be able to notice any specific fighting moves. Overall, graphics are great.
Praetorians' sound effects are mediocre. The unit voices are the same for all units, and even that one voice sounds quite weird. The Single player demo actually had a different voice which sounded much better than the final version's. Whenever units fight, a generic, looping sound effect of swords clashing and crowds clamoring plays. This itself has no fault since the battles involve hundreds of soldiers, but it would have been better if the sword effects sounded more crisp. Remember the sound effect used in those Loony Toon shows, when a character would crash into all kinds of things like buckets, brooms and whatnot? That sound effect is used in Praetorians when an artillery piece is destroyed. The music is so ambient and plain that you will barely notice it, so I turned it off and played the Gladiator soundtrack on a media player, and it really helped set the tone for this game. On the good side, other sound effects like arrows whizzing in the sky, and the noise of the artillery pieces operating are well done, and they convey the satisfaction you get when you see hundreds of arrows or stones flying in the air. Overall, sound is mediocre but it isn't so bad that it detracts from the game.
Praetorians is an excellent RTS game. The single player campaign is 24 missions that will last you about 1 or 2 hours each. You play only on the Roman side, and for me I think this is a great plus since I love the roman military, and I'm not very interested in the barbarians or egyptians. Each mission puts you in different situations, and make it so that you need to use the environment to your advantage. Environment in Praetorians plays a role more important than it has in any other RTS game. Two groups of archers on high ground will easily wipe out three groups of infantry on low ground, which is also the case if the archers are hidden in trees. Wheat fields or tall grass allow soldiers to hide in them, perfect for setting up an ambush, but at the same time archers that shoot wheat fields with fire arrows can ignite the wheat, and that can prove to be a big problem for any soldiers hiding in them. The units are also varied, and there is not one unit in the game that is completely obsolete. Legionnaires form your main fighting force, and can also use the turtle formation to render them nearly invulnerable to archers. Archers provide long range support, and are important at defending various locations since they can use high ground to their advantage. Auxiliary infantry build onagers, ballistas, assault towers and so on, and are vital to repairing these machines, as well as villages and other structures. Spearman are lightly armored but devastating against cavalry, and even more devastating in their stationary formation. Cavalry are lightning fast making them important at solving sticky situations, like archers being attacked at close range, or soldiers being ambushed by archers. Physicians heal soldiers, scouts are important at spotting units in high ground, or units hidden in trees, slingers are important at softening up the enemy before a direct encounter, and of course we have the Praetorians which are the ultimate infantry fighting force. There are many formation types with some of the infantry types, and they are important when fighting different kinds of enemy. This isn't a game where you can assemble a thousand legionnaires and plow into the enemy base. Every single unit benefits another, so you have to use different units in conjunction with other units. For instance, archers can take out infantry from afar, but they need soldiers to be in front of them in case any enemies get to them. Infantry in general, are helpless against ranged units on high ground without a scout to spot those units, and cavalry to speed in and take them out. You get the idea. It is these things that make Praetorians a game that requires a lot of thinking, which is something players seldom need at attacking in most RTS games. One thing the developers did to reinforce this idea, is that units cannot pull out while in the midst of a fight. So, archers who are jumped by enemy soldiers, cannot withdraw from the fight and simply run away. They will be stuck there fighting until they either die, or are rescued by cavalry or nearby legionnaires. This is a good way of punishing those who don't think ahead, but at the same time its frustrating that some vital units like heroes who are jumped by a horde of men can't gallop away. The game allows you to train up to 500 units, and in numerous cases, 700. Occassionaly though, you get to go over the limit. One mission allows you to ally with various splinter forces, increasing your total number of troops to 900! This large population limit allows you to experience the grand scale of armies the Romans had. All in all, the diverse, real life units, the strategic advantages environments give, the large population limit and the intense need for fast thinking makes Praetorians a true test for RTS buffs who constantly brag at being the best at Warcraft or whatever.
Praetorians bases all its missions on the real campaigns of Julius Caesar. While there are no FMVs that show the story, like in the excellent C&C games, the narration and the events that happen during the mission tell the story. You fight all that Rome fought in real life, such as the gauls, led by Vercingetorix, the Jews, Samaritans, the Egyptians, the Norse, and more. Overall, the story in Praetorians is based on true events and that makes it all the more interesting to play.
Praetorians has a long, diverse 24 mission campaign, that gets increasingly hard and will keep you at it for several months. It also has a somewhat limited skirmish mode as well with an above average computer AI that uses its units' capabilities fully, so it proves to be a real challenge. Praetorians also has multiplayer, but you have to rely on having gamespy to play it and for some people who have a firewall such as myself, and cannot play games on gamespy, this really detracts.
BUY OR RENT?
If you are a true RTS fan, then buy this right now. I mean it. If you are a Roman military buff, then buy this now as well. For other casual players, I suggest playing the demo first. And, just as it is with any game you burn, its illegal.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/25/03, Updated 03/25/03
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