The Punic Wars - A Clash of Two Empires PC CD-ROM
by Excalibur Publishing Limited
Developed by Haemimont Games
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99
It's been a few years ago now since I stumbled on a RTS called Tzar. I say stumbled because I didn't go out to purchase the game but found it in a bargain bin in a local computer store. It was only £5 so I decided to give it a go. I was surprised to find the game was actually a well thought out RTS and looking back it had some pretty impressive features that, at the time, other RTS games hadn't included. Day and night cycles, units with the ability to auto-explore and an AI that actually appeared to think about what it was doing. In fact it's shame it wasn't as popular as it should have been. Tzar was created by Haemimont Games whose latest title is The Punic Wars - A Clash of Two Empires which happens to be the sequel to the popular Celtic Kings which was released in 2002.
As the empire of Rome was on the rise the one power that had to be subdued was that of Carthage. Prior to Rome's dominance Carthage had been the greatest power in the Ancient world and it's influence spread over the Mediterranean countries. Rome sought to end Carthage's dominance though and the battles that ensued were to become known as The Punic Wars. The main focus of the single player game is the Roman campaign and the Carthaginian campaign. The Roman campaign sees Rome attempting to put an end to the power of Carthage where the second campaign covers the fight back by Carthage and includes the famed attack on the Roman empire by Carthage's Hannibal and his armies' crossing of the Alps on war elephants. The game isn't an historical reproduction though and those who are expecting the game to mirror historical events may be a little disappointed although for gameplay purposes this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Aside from the single player campaigns (or adventures as they are called here) you also have a single player random map game against up to 7 AI opponents). Multiplayer allows up to 8 players, which can be a mix of AI and human players, to play against each other online. It's worth mentioning that the AI in The Punic Wars is actually very impressive and doesn't attack without a care. You'll notice the AI hunt for weak spots and attack intelligently, which can be a real challenge on the higher difficulty levels.
The Punic Wars includes four races for you to control. The Romans, Carthaginians, Iberians and Gaul's make up the four. Each race has their own strengths and weaknesses and of course their own specific units such as the Carthaginian War Elephant, Iberian Enchantress, Gaul Viking Lord and the Roman Praetorian. The Punic Wars also has some RPG elements too and your units can increase in level and have items attached (in the case of Heroes) to them, which can give special abilities to their owner. Each Hero unit can have 50 military units attached to them and the other units will benefit from the influence of a Hero. When units are assigned to Heroes you can organise them into one of three formations to further increase their effectiveness in battle. That said though there are times when it would be great to place units, who haven't been attached to a Hero, in formation to increase their effectiveness and to stop the poor performing rabble that they usually become.
Most RTS games these days tend not to go in for a mass amount of resource management and The Punic Wars is no exception to this. In fact the management of resources is kept to a minimum and your priority is simply to make sure a good enough supply of food and gold is on hand to help you maintain and improve your fighting forces. Each unit needs to be fed and initially only has a small amount of food with them. This doesn't cause a problem when your units are in a village or next to an outpost or stronghold but when this isn't the case you'll have to make sure they have access to a food carrying mule (who can carry 1,000 units of food). Failure to supply your units with food will result in their starvation. You don't have to build your bases in The Punic Wars though. You can capture them and claim them as your own. It only takes minimal effort to maintain your resources (in fact it's very easy to setup supply lines from a settlement to a fort for example) and it's not half the problem it usually is in most RTS games. Keeping control of settlements (which house all the crucial buildings) is essential as without them you won't have access to any resources. You can also research upgrades that will further improve your units and offer additional features to the games structures.
Graphically The Punic Wars shows that there is life yet in 2D RTS games. The game may lack the fully rotatable maps and graphical effects of games such as Rise of Nations and Age of Mythology (and the unit animations are not as impressive as in these games) but it has advantages over these titles that help compensate for this. You'll be pleased to know that you can have an enormous number of units on a map at any one time, 5,000 units in fact, which allows for some sensational battles. Maps can be as large as 32,000 x 32,000 pixels in size which again is very impressive. Unlike a lot of RTS games, where the size of the structures are completely disproportionate to the size of the units, The Punic Wars has satisfyingly large structures that are much more realistic in scale. Best of all though is the overhead map that appears when you press the space bar. We've already mentioned that the game maps can be very large, and the overhead map allows you to move and co-ordinate attacks without having to scroll all over the place. It's far more effective than any mini-map or any other such device that has been employed in a RTS to date.
The Punic Wars is fine for deaf gamers. The only area where the game could have been improved in this respect is the campaign cutscenes, which could have been subtitled. However only the Hannibal's Campaign and The Punic Wars adventures have these cutscenes and the cutscenes don't really provide any important information. The responses that you get from your units when you give them orders are also not subtitled but this is no different from every other RTS we've played. Objectives appear onscreen in text and can be recalled by pressing the F8 button to access your notes. The tutorial is also subtitled and conversations between key characters are shown in text. The game manual has been very nicely done and goes into detail about the various races, units and structures you'll find in the game. What I especially like about the manual is that it doesn't assume you have any previous experience of playing a RTS and makes everything easy to understand.
The Punic Wars is definitely a game RTS fans should purchase. It's not quite like any other RTS out there and Haemimont deserve praise for creating something truly unique (I didn't play Celtic Kings so I can't comment on the differences between the games). The game might not have the fancy 3D visuals of recent RTS games but the graphics are sufficient and any game engine that can handle several thousand units at a time without any slowdown has a lot going for it. I would have liked the ability to have put any units into formation, and not just those who were attached to a Hero, as this would have increased their effectiveness. On the whole though The Punic Wars is a very good RTS that fans of the genre should thoroughly enjoy.
Game Rating: 8.1/10
A well balanced RTS that puts the emphasis on keeping your military units well supplied. The games overhead map is excellent and allows you to see the whole map, and keep track of your units, without have to constantly scroll around.
The brief campaign cutscenes are not subtitled but aside from this omission the rest of the game is fine. The game manual is actually useful too, which makes a nice change.