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Old 01-04-2006, 02:21 PM   #1
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Exclamation [PC Game Review] Age of Empires III

I think the first thing that comes to mind, when trying to play this game, is a well-favoured expression of a dearly departed engineer that I'm sure my computer has clicked and whirred at me several times: "I just can't do it, Cap'n, I doont have the power!"

So, needless to say, AOEIII is graphics-intensive.

So I'll start with gameplay. Pros and Cons. Superficially, the game is gorgeous and intriguing; this instalment of the popular franchise is a departure from the previous two, which focused on the development of ancient civilizations. AOEIII, I think, is much more true to its name; you play one of six or seven European imperial powers in a bid for imperial supremacy in a general pre-20th century time period. (i'll come back to that later as one of my beefs. But for now...)

Each empire, as was seen in the popular AOE mirror Rise of Nations, has its own particular strengths technologically and economically. This, i think, lends a LOT more to the uniqueness of the various empires and moreover toward tactics and gameplay flavour, rather than the previous two instalments of AOE, which saw essentially the same military units throughout each empire with few notable distinctions for special units.

What is interesting, moreover, is that the game actually treats you as though you were an imperial colony, instead of just a settlement trying to win out on its own. In skirmish mode you select an empire (when I first played, i chose the Russians), at which point you're presented with the name of your imperial capitol (in this case, Saint Petersburg), and the name of your Explorer. (which varies among a wide selection of real historical figures in exploration from each nation. For example, France can give you, at random, Jacques Cartier or Jean Radisson, among others). You can change them and give your explorer and city their own respective names, or leave them be.

Thereafter is where Scotty starts screaming his famous phrase. And it's also where I fell in love with the game. Your backdrop changes from a map of some sort, to a game engine-driven image of your capitol city, with important real-world structures in the background that serve as centers of administration, religion, trade, economy (yes, this is separate), and military. Citizens, in period ethnic/national attire, walk the snowy streets and snow falls from the top of the screen in reckless particulate abandon. It was gorgeous. Though, until I got a new video card, it was awful.

The game, by this example alone, proved itself to be a graphics monster. Based on nVidia video technology, Ensemble tried to make this look as realistic as possible with graphics options tailored for beauty. I think what impressed me most was the geological texture detail (cobblestone streets, snow drifts, grass), and the shading engine; with this and water reflections turned on, the game WILL make the water's surface reflect whatever's on it or near it. Problem is, unless Chuck Norris himself built your computer, you're gonna be bereft of this. Jackie Chan built my computer, so no go for me. It was still pretty in its choppiness though.

Onto gameplay...

Alright, you know the drill. Take them settlers and mine, chop, and hunt like hell. So I click on my settler. Oh my god, they're not men in togas. Oh my god, they're men AND women in period dress. Oh my god, they're speaking Russian. Awesome.

That much of the resource-gathering is unchanged, with the notable (and pleasant) exception that your settlers produce the resource wherever they are, and don't have to carry it to a goddamn granary or elsewhere. They start chopping wood, and you get wood without waiting for them to walk back. Makes for faster construction this way, thankfully, and no worry of pathing issues on the way back.

Now here's where the feeling of imperialism comes in! In the middle of your taskbar thingy you'll see a picture of your nation's flag (which, ALSO cool, flies from the top of every major building) with a green progress bar above it. When that charges up, you can click on it to go back to your capitol city, and choose to send resources or manpower, offered up on a click-buy basis from a deck of cards you can build yourself. Some you can send infinite times (like 300 food), or once (like 10 archers). This is incredibly helpful, i think, and really helps to build the feeling of empire in the game.

Also, as with any imperial venture, there's those natives.

Natives, who are generally geographically and historically correct (for example, settling in the Great Plains of midwestern Canada and the US will bring you into contact with the Plains Cree and Blackfoot), operate trading posts that you can control, at which trade caravans will stop, and allow you to trade cheaper goods and acquire goods as well. Really neat.

From there, build, mine, destroy, win. You know the drill. However, as I am want to do, I have some real problems with this game.

- the game is gorgeous. Ensemble went to exquisite detail in making a very, very nice looking game with equally good gameplay. They made great and wide use of particles, in snow, rain, falling leaves, blood spray, smoke from buildings and weaponry, smoke tracers in the air from barreled projectile weapons, and a host of other things. Also, unit animation. In the 'Discovery Age' (where you start), when someone fires a musket or cannon, you SEE THEM scrub it out and reload it before firing again. Same thing with south american natives; you WATCH them put another dart in that blow dart thingy. It's gorgeous. Oh, footprints!

- They included all the major european imperial powers from across about 300 years of history, including historical figures in the form of explorers and heads of state, as well as period dress and architecture for each empire as they progress through the ages.

- I love the idea of having a deck of cards to gain supplies from home. It's really inventive.

- The landscape. Individual trees are still rendered, and are full models (with 2d foliage, of course), but dips and rents in the ground, rock outcroppings, shrubs and the like about, as well as sand dunes and snowdrifts. Everything looks a LOT more natural, which adds to the general feeling of the game.

- progression. it takes a lot of work to go from age to age, but much like Sid Meier's Civ games, you get to make choices that sort of have an impact on your culture. At each age you get to choose a school of thought and idea that reflects your colony; for example, at reaching the Colonial Age (second age) for Russia, i have a choice of The Bishop or The Naturalist, and either one will give me a different boost of resources or manpower. I think it's a neat idea to try and build that in, even if it doesnt directly impact the game.

- gorgeous. The unit and structure models are incredibly and exquisitely detailed, with natural movement and little surprises that are always pleasant (for example, female settlers wear dresses that foof about when they walk)

- excellent sound; the loading screen music has that old-world orchestral bravado that just adds another small level of richness to the game. Characters from each empire speak in their native tongue when selected or ordered about, and the sound effects are very clean.

- it's just fun to play. The single-player campaign is based on real historical events, as much as records allow.

however..... CONS!

- in previous instalments of AOE, holding down the right mouse button with no units or buildings selected allowed you to whip around the map at the control of mouse movement, instead of using the keypad or moving the cursor to the side of the screen. Not the case here; really friggin annoying to look around.

- someone hire them a historian, please? Honestly, i'm only a third year history major, but I could've made some serious cash, I think, correcting these people. a) in the skirmish loading screen, you see a north american map in the background, with geographical divisions of the general regions of the Yukon, the Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and so on. It also has one of New England. New England was below the St Lawrence, and did NOT include all of Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. Even after the French defeat at Quebec City, it was still referred to as Upper and Lower Canada, later as British North America. So there's one thing.

- This is a nitpick. Well, a BIG one to me. The default Russian capitol city is Saint Petersburg. St Basil's Cathedral is NOT in Saint Petersburg, and is NAMED as being in the background as your religious center. I'd get into an entire discussion on the social and international historical background of St Petersburg architecture, but i won't. Get them a map. I'm sure there are other historical errors, but i haven't played enough of the game to find them. Yet.

- Something else that'd be nice is something stolen from Rise of Nations; Free Explore mode for your explorer. It's a bit of a pain running him around everywhere yourself.

- The minimap could use work; depending on your colour, you really can't tell where anyone is at a glance.

- the GRAPHICS LOAD. holy crap. Here's what i'm using:

P-4 3.0e first generation Intel Prescott with hyperthreading (o/c'd to 3200 kHz regularly)
512mb DDR-3something RAM
3D Fuzion GeForce 5500 256mb video card (laur, you can have the old Radeon back, lol)
not sure how fast my HDD is.

yeah, she's not the fastest hunk o junk in the galaxy, but it isn't slow. The game is gorgeous, don't get me wrong, and has enough scaling features to make it playable on almost any modern machine, but what do they expect for this thing to run perfectly? Then again, it might be a game issue too; there's no patch yet.

that's pretty much it. In total, i'd honestly recommend this game for anyone who enjoys the genre. More to come as research allows!

"For in that we are both especially daring and especially thorough in calculating what we attempt, we can truly be distinguished from other men, for whom ignorance is boldness but calculation brings hesitancy. Rightly would they be judged strongest in spirit who recognize both dangers and pleasures with utmost clarity and are on neither count deterred from risks."

- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War: 2.40, "The Funeral Oration of Perikles" (431 BCE)

Last edited by Raiyven; 01-04-2006 at 02:25 PM.
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Old 01-04-2006, 03:18 PM   #2
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I had watched the development of this game. I know I will have to have a much more powerful processor than I do now to run it even though my video card can handle it. Currently I am playing another new game, X3 Reunion, that has my CPU running out of breath some times.

"Republican Ideology advanced the concept of 'civic virtue' - the idea that democracy depended on the unselfish commitment of each citizen to the public good." from The Brief American Pageant 6st edition
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