Praetorians PC Games and Downloads
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Released on 29/09/2006
As a Roman general, you will travel through 24 missions across the desert battlefields of Egypt, the frozen lands of the Barbarian tribes, and to the heart of the Empire itself - Italy.
- Control three different civilisations, each featuring a unique set of troops and war machines
- The terrain and landscape play a major part in the battle. Your enemy will understand each situation's defensive and offensive possibilities - will YOU?
- Compete for the honour of Rome with up to 8 generals over LAN or internet
- From Pyro Studios - the creators of the 'Commandos' series
Jonny Austin goes roman in search of adventure, and uncivilised nations who need beating into an acceptance that aqueducts are the way forward.
Strategy games have been facing the prospect of becoming stale for some time, so it's always a relief when something comes along that tries to do something different. Praetorians, from Pyro Studios (the guys behind the Commandos series) is such a title.
Based primarily on the antics of the ancient Romans, Praetorians does away with most of the resource-management associated with strategy titles and concentrates on the combat, staging epic battles with thousands of troops onscreen at any one time - in this respect its closest relative in the RTS family is probably Creative Assembly's awesome Medieval: Total War.
The Romans in the game come complete with a range of units - Auxiliary Troops serve as the bulk of any army but can easily be put to work building garrisons, defence towers or siege equipment such as ladders and catapults, spearmen provide excellent defence against cavalry (something the Romans were never that clued up on themselves), archers rain arrows (normal or fire-flavoured) upon their foes with pinpoint accuracy and Legionnaires have the ability to form an armoured "turtle" formation, which makes them nearly invulnerable to attack. Later more troop types open up to you, such as Balearic Slingers, Gladiators and of course the Praetorians themselves.
If all that organisation begins to grate and you get the urge for some bloodthirsty combat that isn't quite so rigid and structured then you can also take control of Germanic Barbarian clans, who are much more adept at covering different types of terrain and therefore perfect for taking an army apart piece-by-piece using guerilla tactics. Finally, you can also play as the Egyptians who use science to their advantage while Priests prove useful at putting the fear of the Gods into their fanatical troops. The difference in play styles between the three nations isn’t as much as we would have hoped but it adds some depth to the game.
There's impressive scope for interacting with the background on most of the maps - it really will make a difference. The affect height has on line-of-sight and the accuracy of units with ranged attacks is obvious, and it's lots of fun hiding units in the woods, ready to spring an attack on unwary passers-by. You can of course use scouts to make sure you yourself don't fall victim to this tactic - Eagle Scouts can release their birds to cover large areas but they don't spot enemies hiding in the trees, while Wolf Scouts have a shorter range but their animals can penetrate the undergrowth to see what lurks within. There are also freezing cold levels across Northern Europe and baking hot African levels which will obviously affect your troops in different ways.
Path finding is more impressive than is usual in RTS games, and this allows for some clever use of tactics as you flank your enemy unawares and burst from the forest on either side of them as the main bulk of your army approaches from the front. You can even set certain units to follow others which is especially useful for keeping your column of troops moving as one as you traverse the landscape.
While the AI is pretty robust most of the time it's not uncommon for some incredibly stupid behavior to be displayed. Troops you have carefully positioned hidden atop a hill will sometimes blatantly disobey their commands and charge down upon any enemies they spot, ruining a perfectly good trap, while at other times they'll happily stand around and get pelted by arrows because the enemy is ever so slightly out of their line-of-sight.
Levels follow a somewhat refreshing structure, whereby you'll need to travel across the landscape performing numerous tasks before usually indulging in a mass battle at the end. On the way you can indulge in the one form of resource-collection the game does feature, taking over nearby villagers and "recruiting" young peasants to die for a cause they probably don't believe in.
Praetorians provides a mixed bag in the visuals department - the maps themselves are highly detailed and gorgeous, with an incredible attention to detail as woodland animals scurry from your men and dust is kicked up by their marching feet. However the actual soldiers themselves look quite poor (no doubt a necessity considering how many will be fighting on screen at any one time) and it's frustrating that the camera movement is limited - you can tilt up or down slightly but other than that there's no zoom, and you can't rotate either.
The game features a peer-to-peer multiplayer mode which certainly adds to the longevity, and there's an enjoyable skirmish mode which does an admirable job of supplementing the main campaign mode. Tutorials are available too but are surprisingly tough!
Praetorians pretty much does everything it sets out to do, and is a refreshing addition to the RTS stable. It has some neat features and is certainly fun to play and challenging to boot, but it also suffers from niggles which prevent it from being as good as it could have been. It's a step in the right direction when what we really need is a leap. Nonetheless it covers an area of history we've surprisingly not come across that often in strategy gaming and with Rome: Total War scheduled for much later in the year, Praetorians will find many fans who will revel in crushing their opponents and crying "Vae victis!" in the aftermath.
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