LEAD THE ROMAN LEGIONS TO VICTORY AS YOU CREATE AN EMPIRE AND MAKE HISTORY
HEIDI E. H. AYCOCK
Saddle up your war horse and prepare to invade the province of Gaul. You're on the path of destiny, the road to ruling the known world, the glory-paved route to your place as Ceaser. You're playing Centurion: Defender of Rome.
Even if you don't ordinarily enjoy historical simulations of battles and conquests, you should consider Centurion. And if you're already a fan of electronic war games, you'll be pleased to see where the next generation of these simulations is headed.
Centurion has many strengths and no obvious weaknesses, just like a real leader. The gameplay is multilayered, the interface is excellent, and the graphics make the most of the PC's abilities. And the game is easy to learn at the beginning, even though it becomes more challenging the longer you play.
When you begin the game, you're a new commander of a single legion. You start in Rome, the capital of Italia. The people are rebellious, their courage fierce, and your legion's coffers low. It's time to take over a province. Another day, another invasion.
Using your mouse, click in a new country on the map. You can only move into a province adjacent to the one your legion is in, so your early choices are slim. You can head east for Dalmatia, north for Alpes, or west for Narbonensis. The manual suggests a quick start to Centurion: Begin by occupying Alpes, a land of unremarkable wealth and ordinary strength. Not a daunting foe, but a good opponent to learn on.
Now that you're in Alpes, you must negotiate with the enemy. Offer them an ultimatum, but don't expect their leader to accept. You're word isn't worth much on foreign soil, not as a fledging commander anyway. They'll insist on battle.
Battle is fine; you're up for it. The field of combat shows up on your screen, and you need to pick a formation: Balanced Army, Wedge, Strong Right, or Strong Left. With your formation selected, you see your army facing the enemy. After you've examined the layout of forces, choose a tactic. Each formation has its own list of tactics. Balanced Army, for example, is complemented by the following options: Frontal Assault, Scipio's Defense, Drive a Wedge, Outflank, and Stand Fast.
As soon as you've picked your tactic, the fray begins. You can sit back and watch, or you can send special commands to individual units that are within the general's sphere of influence. There are two ways to find out the size of the general's sphere of influence. You can click on the general to see a dotted circle surrounding the cohorts he can control, or you can click on a cohort to see if he falls within the circle. If a cohort is accessible, a small dot appears in the lower corner of the unit icon. To issue new orders, grab the dot by pointing at it and holding the mouse button. Then change the unit's course by dragging in the new direction.
Once you've conquered nearby lands, create a fleet and rule the sea.
When the battle has ended, you can plunder the holdings of the province. This adds to your budget but subtracts from your popularity. You can also hold games and festivities. This subtracts from your budget but adds to the contentment of your people. Every action has a negative effect and a positive one. Balancing these influences is sometimes harder than winning contests on the battlefield. To end your turn, click on the year icon in the corner of the screen. Everything starts again.
By the end of the first turn, you've only seen a few aspects of this multidimensional game. Centurion isn't just battles and spending money. You can use up a whole year of the game just strengthening your legions, altering tax structures, and building war ships.
These aspects of Centurion are passive; you take these actions by selecting them from menus, and they take effect instantly and automatically. The cost is deducted from your budget, and the strength is added to your legions.
To take a more active role, choose the gladiator show at the Colosseum or the race at Circus Maximus. These two phases of the game add to your reputation and your pocket if you win. They also add interest and variety to the game.
The gladiator show is a typical arcade-style fight. You choose two men, armor clad and trained at various levels. Use the keypad to strike at your opponent, block his blows, and execute some fancy footwork. At the end, you choose thumbs up or thumbs down, granting the loser his life or sentencing him to death. If the crowd agrees with you, your people will revere your name. Otherwise, the struggle for popular support goes against you.
The race is another arcade sequence, with some nice twists. After choosing a chariot, you can indulge in some skullduggery. Bribe a few opponents, invoke the favor of the gods, or hire a physician with a magic potion. All of these options cost money, so be careful not to spend so much on cheating that you have nothing left to bet. When the race begins, use the keypad to whip your horses for speed. Don't be seduced by the swiftness, though; your chariot will break up if you take a curve too quickly.
Once you've earned enough money and power, you can increase your strength by raising new legions, upgrading your infantry to horse troops, and building fleets of ships to battle marauding invaders.
Adding to the game's depth are the difficulty levels. Not only can you choose among four levels, but you can also fine-tune them. For example, you might have mastered the fine art of land battle, but your racing skills still leave you fourth in a field of four. Maybe you haven't even set sail yet. You can choose a higher difficulty level for land battles and a lower one for chariot races and sea battles.
For all its multilayered playing possibilities, Centurion's interface is very easy to learn. A mouse is the best way to control the action, but you can also use cursor keys and special commands. You move your legions by clicking where you want to go and choose your actions from well-designed menus.
Although there are many commands available, they're very easy to find. The menus are organized in a pyramid fashion so that there are only three menus to look through at the top level. Each menu leads to others, but you don't end up with too many menus to search through at any level.
Like the menu structure, the controls in the sea battles, gladiator shows, and the races are very well organized. They are laid out intuitively, so you'll have no trouble remembering them. A gladiator's high strike, for example, is the upper left key on the keypad. That's the direction in which you want to move your gladiator anyway, so it makes sense.
The documentation describes all of Centurion's controls clearly and concisely. You don't have to weed through a Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire–length manual to learn how the game works. You only need to skim through about 40 pages, most of which describe some of the subtleties of the game. A poster-size map of the Roman Empire helps you keep track of your provinces, and a command summary card explains the controls.
As well-designed as the interface, Centurion's graphics are varied and attractive. You'll find several different styles. One, best exemplified by land battles, shows animated images of quarter-inch-high soldiers marching across the field of war. Along with the infantry soldiers, these land battles feature horses that gallop proudly and elephants that roll over and die with what seems like a delayed thud. The chariot races are represented in the same way. The best part is when the pre-Christian paramedics come out with a stretcher and scrape you off the racetrack.
Build prestige and your army's coffers by participating in the chariot race.
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Not all scenes are animated. To start the race, the game shows a detailed setting replete with cheering fans and gleaming white horses. Before the sea battle ensues, you see your ships shining, their sails filled with wind. In VGA, these scenes are stunning.
Even the menus are well drawn and sharp. When you click on a rebellious province, for example, you see a still-life mob scene, angry faces and clenched fists. To add to the game's atmosphere, each province has its own panorama that shows the landscape and climate of the area.
Without a sound card, the bleeps and bloops are annoying. But the game supports Ad Lib and Roland sound boards. Centurion is so well done that it might be a good enough reason to break down and buy one of these boards. If the sound is as good as the rest of the game, it will be well worth your money.
Centurion is visually beautiful, intellectually interesting, and just plain fun. The challenges change and increase in difficulty. At first, you simply win a few land battles, and that's the measure of your success. After a while, though, the people will cry out for races and gladiator shows. Success becomes more elusive; it will take a mixture of individual strength, dexterity, cunning, and judgment to prosper. When the marauding armies invade your hard-won provinces, global strategy becomes a significant factor. And the high seas call out to your fleets of galleons.
Centurion absorbs you into a fascinating past by giving you the tools to explore the world 300 years before the beginning of this millenium. Many simulations aim for the same goal but miss it for one reason or another. The subject matter may be too obscure, the controls too cryptic, or the graphics too static. This game, on the other hand, takes an inherently interesting period in human history and does it justice by making the subject matter accessible to anyone who wants to approach it.
Because it's so easy to approach, Centurion is a game for everyone. If you have children, play this game with them. It will help them see history as something alive with possibilities. If you enjoy reading about history, you'll enjoy wandering through it on your PC just as much. Centurion faithfully recreates the atmosphere of Rome's heydey as well as it represents the mechanics of conquest. All hail!
Centurion: Defender of Rome
IBM PC and compatibles—$49.95
Package includes 42-page manual, command summary card, map of the Roman empire, and three 5¼-inch disks.