Review by p1r4t8r

"It's back to the stone age for this prehistoric strategy sim"

Reading the title line you would probably assume that I hate this game, but that is not the case. Unlike many strategy games these days, this game is not about modern warfare, or futuristic battles; it is about the past, about the events in history that have shaped our world. It is about the epic battles and struggles of various empires, and how they came to strength.
It's like a history lesson, only fun!

'Age of Empires' draws upon real life battles and conflicts for its story line. While none of the missions are connected they are inspired by real events.
Before each mission you are given a historical overview of the particular mission, and what the purpose of it was. This serves as a briefing before each mission, and gives you an overview of your objectives.
After each mission you are given another piece of historical information on the mission, and how successful it was. The way the game gives you the historical back ground is great, as it makes the gameplay just that little bit more involving. Definitely well implemented.
Story: 10

The graphics in 'Age of Empires' were for the time great, and have aged well. A top down view is used to good effect, allowing you to see everything that goes on. All the buildings and units are rendered in two dimensions.
The units are all well detailed, and you can make out even the most minute of details, such as what the unit is holding or doing. The animation is not as good, as some of the units don't have many frames of animation causing them to look rather odd when moving, such as the boats. This does not happen for every unit though, as the animation on the villagers as they chop wood or mine gold is excellent. A bit of a mixed bag in that area.
There are a few resolutions to chose from which is a good touch, you can have a resolution of up to 1024 x 768 although at this resolution on smaller monitors things get a bit harder to see.
The ground is well textured, and will vary from forest regions to deserts complete with palm trees, and include the sorts of fauna you would expect to see in the respective areas, such as lions and elephants.
I did have a slight problem with some of the units such as the catapults, which featured very poor weapon effects that were little more than just a cloud of gray.
Otherwise, the graphics do the job, and while not the best seen in this genre, they aren't that bad at all.
Graphics: 7

The sound effects featured in 'Age of Empires' are to a very high standard, as is the music.
When you click on a villager or tell them to do something they will say an acknowledgement to you in their native tongue, which is a great touch, even if you have no idea what they are actually saying.
Each unit will say something different, which added a fair bit of variety to the sound effect.
Notification sounds are played throughout the game when your units are under attack. This feature was at first handy, but after a while also a bit tiresome. The sound while helpful also became rather tiresome as every time a unit is attacked the trumpet sound is played, and considering how often your units get attacked I was ready to turn the sound effect off altogether.
The music featured is a mix of tribal style drumbeats, provided by the band 'Motor Ace.' These tunes were only short, and played on a constant loop. While at first they fitted the theme of the game well, they soon started to become rather repetitious to the point where I just turned the music off and put on my own CD. You won't believe how inspiring 'Age of Empires' is when you have 'Fear Factory' playing in the background!
Sound: 8

'Age of Empires' is more of a resource management game than an all out combat strategy simulation. While there are plenty of battles within the game, they are not the focus of the game.
You start off with a small nomadic tribe, consisting of usually just a few villagers. From there you are able to harvest wood, pick berries or hunt native animals for food, and mine stone and gold.
Wood is used to make buildings, boats, and some units such as archers with. The food is used to make other units with, and stone and gold has various uses for more advanced structures and units.
Making sure that you keep a good balance of resources is important, as some resources, such as stone and gold are limited within each map. This causes the start of each map to be a rush for control over the resources, which can prove rather interesting against human opponents.
Your standard villager units become the most valuable units on the map, as they are the ones that collect resources and build up your empire. They can chop down trees for wood, mine for stone and gold and pick berries or hunt wildlife for food.
You can also build docks that allow you to make fishing boats, trade and transport ships as well as war ships.
There is the option to upgrade your village to the Stone, Tool and finally Bronze Age, which allow for better units and buildings to be made throughout the game. To advance an age you need to have a certain amount of resources and buildings from the current age. Each time you upgrade to a different age your buildings will change, looking often more advanced.
The military units you get to choose from are great, from your standard barbarians to archer, horseback rider, elephant archers, catapults, priests, swordsmen, the list goes on and on. Probably the most innovative of these units is the priest, who has the unique ability to convert enemy units and buildings, and heal wounded units. This was also a problem for 'Age of Empires' as I found that a couple of priests and some cavalry defending them was all it took to overthrow an enemy village. In an effort to balance this the developers have made the priests more expensive to produce, and also rather weak, with only a small amount of hit points. They are also slow moving, have no means of attack, and can only convert an enemy unit every so often, when they have enough 'faith' points.
The priests are still rather cheap units to use; no matter how balanced the developers have tried to make them, which is a bit of a pity.
There is a diplomacy system within 'Age of Empires' although it is nothing spectacular. You can chose to be allied, neutral or enemy to however many other tribes you are fighting. This does little good beyond your units not attacking the others. The 'allied' tribe's units will still attack you on occasion, and your units will just stand there and watch on.
Which leads me to the next big problem with 'Age of Empires,' the AI. The units are rather stupid, and will do some of the most stupid things. For example, a villager will get attacked and he will just stand there and occasionally run off. Rarely will they actually fight back. The same goes for fishing boats that will often just sit there and get attacked until they get destroyed. Other times units will chose to take the longest path to a point on the map, that will often take them straight through enemy territory. It's not all bad though, priests will heal wounded units around them without being asked, soldiers will pursue enemy units until the enemy is killed or they are, and the weakest enemies are the first to be targeted when in combat. The worst problem with the AI though is on maps with the different tribes on separate islands, as the other tribes will rarely send out transport ships to attack you.
Sadly, the biggest flaw of 'Age of Empires' is that there are only a few missions. Luckily this is rectified somewhat by the random mission generator that will make a random map once you have chosen a few settings. 'Age of Empires' also has a fully featured editor that allows you to make your own maps that can be played later on against the computer or against human opponents.
The last problem with 'Age of Empires' is the population limit. You can only have a maximum of 50 units including villagers and boats. While more units can be converted by the priest the limit on units is a disappointment, and does hold back a lot of potential gameplay.
Gameplay: 9
Life Span: 8

+ Varied gameplay
+ Sound effects
+ Historical information
+ Many different units
+ Different 'Ages'

- Population limit
- Repetitious music
- AI

'Age of Empires' is perhaps one of the better strategy games available today, no matter how old it is. With the third game in the series 'Age of Mythology' out now, it's good to go back and see the very start of the series, to one of the most brilliant strategy games ever.
The expansion pack, 'Rise of Rome' is also available, which adds even more scenarios and units to this classic game.
Highly recommended.
Overall: 9

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/13/02, Updated 12/13/02

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