Review by Alecto

"Good for a few hours of entertainment"

Centurion: Defenders of Rome was a historical strategy game released in 1990. You begin the game as a low-level Roman official in charge of a single Roman Legion. From there you must work your way up the ranks to become Caesar through a combination of conquering territory and pandering to the Roman citizen mob. The game’s setting is the boundaries of the traditional Roman empire, from Spain and Britain in the west to Scythia and Mesopotamia in the east, as well as the northern part of Africa. One-by-one you will add these provinces to the Roman Empire until you control the entire region.

It is hard not to look back on this game as simplistic, given the standards set by that benchmark of historical strategy games, Civilization. However holding Centurion up to a game that came out 4 years after it would be pointless and unjust, so while playing and reviewing Centurion I tried to look at it as honestly as possible without any unfair comparisons.

What I found was that while Centurion had many admirable points, it didn’t live up to its potential and could be considered simplistic by any standards, Civilization aside.

Let me start off on a positive note by saying that Centurion is very well-researched. Each Roman Legion is commanded by an important historical Roman general such as Scipio Africanus. (Remember him? he was the guy who kicked Hannibal’s butt.) The foreign leaders are all there too, from Vercingetorix the Gaul to Cleopatra the Egyptian to my persona favorite: Malodor the Impaler of Sarmatia. Different regions have different attitudes, battle-tactics and units which will effect how you can deal with them. Some seek Roman protection and will willingly become vassal states. Others would rather die than submit to the Roman yoke.

The game has definitely succeeded in capturing the Roman spirit. In true Roman fashion, diplomacy is a very limited part of the game. Most foreign leaders don’t take your efforts at alliances seriously. Oh well, you’ll just have to conquer them the old-fashioned way. There is also a limit on the number of legions that can be raised, so that you never seem to have enough. With resources spread so thin, just like in the real Roman Empire, a fair amount of strategy involved in deciding where to place your legions in order to effectively defend such huge borders.

These are Centurion’s strong points. However the gameplay suffers due to its unevenness and the fact that there are so many parts of the game that are simply underdeveloped and don’t live up to expectations. Because of this lack of balance many things that could have turned out to be very cool are in fact irrelevant to the overall strategy. For example, there is the ability to build ships and engage in naval combat. However there are only two island regions in the game so you barely need to use the ships at all. An enemy’s fleet is dissolved if you defeat their army on land, so it is possible to get away with never having to engage in a single sea battle. Another supposed part of the game is that you have to keep your citizens happy. The Italian citizens frequently “grow restless” and demand gladiatorial games. I ignored them for the entire game and nothing bad happened.

The gladiatorial games and chariot races could have been a nice action-oriented diversion from the strategic side of things, but instead they are quite lackluster. The gladiator fights use standard keypad moves for dodging, attacking and moving. Your movements are restricted to forward and back along a horizontal line. The animation is bland and not exciting in the least, and it is very easy to beat your opponent. The chariot racing is done in an annoying overhead view where you can’t see what’s coming up ahead of you. Again, neither of these things seemed to matter much in the grand scheme of things because I lost every chariot race and still managed to become Caesar.

During battles you can control your troops’ starting formation and how they are deployed. However you must choose from a preset list of formations and can’t arrange your troops personally. Graphics, which were ok everywhere else, are horrendous during the battles. Your soldiers are represented as little stick-figures running around with little stick-like weapons.

Because of its lack of depth you can easily finish this game in a couple of hours. Hardcore strategy fans will find Centurion disappointingly short and unsophisticated and will miss the lack of micromanagement options. However Centurion does provide a quick and potentially educational romp through the Roman Empire and an easy conquest. Recommended for casual gamers. Classicists may also get a kick out of it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 08/18/02, Updated 05/06/03

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