by Eidos Interactive
It came as a surprise to most when the developers of Commandos announced that they were going to create a RTS based on the military campaigns of Julius Caesar. Having created a hugely successful, genre defining game in Commandos, it seemed strange that Pyro Studios would do something as 'ordinary' as a RTS. However after playing the game for almost a week it's obvious that the game isn't merely Warcraft with Legionaires, but a slight different experience than what has gone before.
Praetorians consists of three civilisations, shall we say. There are the Barbarians, the Egyptians and of course the Romans. The game offers a single player campaign, which focuses on Julius Caesar's military achievements from 100BC to 44BC and Pompey The Great 106BC to 48BC, a single player skirmish mode and a multiplayer mode that allows you to play as either of the three civilisations against 7 other rivals over LAN or Internet. There are 24 missions in the single player campaign and this includes four tutorial missions which carefully explain how to play the game. The missions take you to the deserts of Egypt, the icy lands of the Barbarians and of course the lush terrain of the Mediterranean.
There are some key differences between Praetorians and other RTS games such as Age of Mythology and American Conquest. Praetorians has no resource management. There is no reliance on rock, gold or wood in this game and be to totally honest it comes as a breath of fresh air and allows you to concentrate on the battles. Of course just because there is no resource management doesn't mean that you are simply stuck with the units you begin a mission with. In some missions you will get reinforcements but you can also obtain additional units from barracks and villages. If you build a garrison, using the auxiliary infantry to build, next to a village and send one of your generals in there you can recruit troops from that village. The barracks are always inside a fortress. If you control the fortress you can 'build' units at the barracks.
In Praetorians, for the most part, you control troops rather than single units. Generals, scouts and physicians are the exception to this. Clicking on a single unit will highlight the whole troop and controlling troops of auxiliary infantry, Praetorians, Legionaires and Balearic slingers etc., is made easy because of this. Troops can be split, balanced and joined with a single click which makes your life a little bit easier. It is impressive to see that some units have special abilities and secondary attacks which again makes for strategic options. Some units have special formations such as the Legionaires who can assemble in a turtle shape for greater defensive abilities. The troops have stamina bars as well as health bars so you have to keep an eye on how hard you are pushing them. There are also the siege engine units such as the catapult, ballista, battering ram and assault tower which all come into their own when taking part in siege warfare.
Praetorians makes a shockingly good strategic use of the terrain. Flat land, grasslands, forests, slopes and shallow water all add spice to the gameplay. Siege engines and heavy infantry cannot pass through shallow water. Archers are good in forests and to take advantage of the high elevations you can use the hawk scout who can send a hawk into the air to give you an insight into the activities of the surrounding area. Sending infantry into grasslands is also a good thing to do. When they stop moving they will hide in the grass and await any unsuspecting enemies or alternatively if you spot enemies in the long grass you can order your archers to set fire to the grass which is a very effective tactic.
Visually Praetorians looks particularly impressive when it comes to the terrain detail. I was very surprised when I saw how beautiful it looked on the one mission when it began to snow and the trees were swinging in the breeze. Some of you may be disappointed to learn that the maximum resolution is 1024x768 and if you own a large monitor the units could look a little poor. Whilst you can zoom in and out you can't spin the map around but to be honest I didn't find this to be a problem as your units are still highlighted when they are behind an obstacle of some sort.
It was good to see the tutorials given completely in text. The instructions do not progress until you have carried the last ones out. The cutscenes in the game are subtitled which again is very pleasing to see. Actually when you install the game you are given a choice between UK and US subtitles which is a nice touch. The unit confirmation voices that respond to your orders are not subtitled but this doesn't really cause a problem. You can recall you objectives at any time either by pressing the ESC key and selecting objectives or pressing the F9 key. The objectives are listed both briefly and in greater detail in the Chat Log box. The game manual is OK if slightly lacking in depth but the unit chart and the hotkey reference card are most welcome.
Praetorians is one impressive game. My only disappointment is that you cannot give orders whilst the game is paused. It may sound like a simple omission but it is a feature that allows so much more strategical depth to the game and has done wonders for games such as the Total War series and American Conquest and Age of Mythology. It's a feature that allows you to prevent the action from ever getting too much. Of course it doesn't work in multiplayer games but I honestly feel that it adds greatly to the single player game. Still after the many hours of playing Praetorians, if that is the only niggle I have it says a lot for the game.
Game Rating: 9.0/10