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Review: Age of Empires

By: Kirk Hiner

 

Genre: Strategy
Format: CD
Developer: Ensemble Studios, Microsoft
Publisher: MacSoft
Minimum Requirements: 150 MHz 603 PowerPC, System 7.5.3, 32MB RAM, 70MB hard disk space, CD-ROM
Network Feature: Yes
3Dfx Support: No
Retail Price: $49.95
Availability: Out Now

 

Inevitably, on a Saturday afternoon you can find a movie about gladiators. I'm not sure why this is. I don't think one has been made since Charlton Heston started focusing his energy less on prop swords and more on real guns. But apparently he made enough before then to bombast our weekends with burly men in skirts and sandals, riding atop elephants.

In that tradition, MacSoft has now given us Microsoft's (did I just say Microsoft's?) Age of Empires. And why not? When this game came out on the PC, it was hailed as a milestone in computer gaming. Of course, this was back when Microsoft still intimidated everyone but us Mac users, and to give them a negative review at that time would've resulted in broken legs and a trashed apartment. I mean, is it a coincidence that this Microsoft game is called Age of Empires?

But hey, like a father trusting his teenage daughter out on a date with the guys in Kid Rock, so do I trust MacSoft. I got this game, I played it, and it's pretty good. Yeah, it's pretty good.

The premise is simple enough; build an empire. You start with a couple of huts and a few guys in the woods, and end up controlling the entire Phoenician Civilization...whoever they were. But of course, it's not easy. There's an awful lot to manage, and there are a lot of enemies who'd like nothing more than to crush you and the ballista you rode in on. Well, provided you advanced far enough to make a ballista. In order to build your empire, after all, you have to keep on evolving. From the stone age to the tool age to the bronze age to the iron age, the times they are a changin.' If you want to survive, you'd better change right along with them.

A lot of your success in Age of Empires depends upon how quickly you advance from age to age. To do so, you mainly need to construct buildings that take advantage of your current knowledge. And to construct buildings, you need resources. Such is the core of the game. Your villagers must gather the four main resources--food, wood, stone and gold--and use them to build up your properties, provide for your people and trade with other civilizations. The quicker you can do this, the sooner you can arm your civilization and conquer neighboring lands.

In the early levels of the game, I thought Age of Empires was a lot of fun. In fact, it was even relaxing. The scenarios weren't that hard to beat, and the nice graphics and sound were somewhat soothing as my band of hunters scouted the land for prey. Conquering neighboring civilizations was simple enough using basic war strategy, and I enjoyed watching my towns and armies grow.

But then came the Navy. Suddenly my enemies had ships, and I couldn't get a thing accomplished. It was impossible to destroy them from land, and I couldn't get ships of my own built because the enemy would sink my docks before I could complete them. It was only with the help of a rocket launching car (ah, cheat codes) that I was able to complete some of the levels.

I also became extremely annoyed by the AI of my people. In the later levels, when you've got entire cities to run, it would help if some of the citizens could figure a couple of things out there own. But no. They can't even figure out how to walk around trees most of the time, and quite often become easy prey for enemies and animals. Perhaps Age of Babysitters would've been a more appropriate title for this game. In a game as attractive as this, I would have liked to sometimes just sit and watch my people do their work. But with all those resources to manage and soldiers, farmers, priests and builders to control, you're never afforded that opportunity.

Still, this difficulty factor coupled with the amount of time it takes to play out the scenarios means that the game will have a place on your hard drive for a long time to come. Good thing, too, as MacSoft--who are generally very good about bundling the expansion packs in with the first release of the Mac port--left us high and dry this time. They did, however, include a mission editor in case you really want to be God, and with the multiplayer feature, you can take on other gods as well. However, they have to be Mac users; multiplayer games are limited to communication between Macs only.

I sure hope this doesn't mean that Charlton Heston can't play.

 

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December 19, 2014

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