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Age of Empires III review

Verdict:

Stunning graphics and excellent variety of unit types but still just another RTS game.

Review Date: 10 May 2007

Price when reviewed: (£34.03 ex VAT)

Reviewed By: Mike Hirschkorn

Our Rating 3 stars out of 5

Alongside Warcraft and Command & Conquer, the Age of Empires series has been one of the defining games in the RTS (real-time strategy) genre. In this, the third in the series, the action moves to the Americas.

You take on the role of one of eight conquering European nations (British, Spanish or Ottoman, for example), tasked with building an army and vanquishing the enemy. You start with a handful of peasants, whom you must task with resource gathering. Collect enough lumber, food and money, and you can start building up your base using barracks, stables, trading posts and docks. In turn, you use these buildings to train troops such as musketeers and pikemen, trade resources with the natives, and build warships.

As you gain money and experience, you can progress through the five 'Ages': Discovery, Colonial, Fortress, Industrial and Imperial. With each age comes a new selection of building types you can construct and, consequently, create more powerful military units and acquire more valuable technologies.

The single-player campaign follows a relatively engaging story of the family of a Scottish knight called Morgan Black. The 24 missions of the campaign are divided into three acts, each following a different generation of the Black family. The missions are threaded together with graphically impressive cutscenes, but, of course, ultimately the campaign is just a series of battles that must be won to progress.

Once you've completed the campaign, you may want to try out a single-player skirmish. Select a nation to represent, then go head to head with a computer opponent. You can either play in Supremacy mode, in which you start with no resources and must build up your civilization before you can take on the enemy; or if you want to get straight into the action, Deathmatch mode starts you off with a stockpile of resources and an army already in place.

Both skirmish modes are also available in multiplayer games, which can be played over a local network or on the Internet using GameRanger. Frustratingly, cross-platform multiplayer games are not supported.

This all sounds interesting enough so far, but not exactly surprising, right? And that's where our problem with Age of Empires III lies. There's nothing wrong with it; indeed there's a lot right with it, such as truly amazing 3D graphics, absorbing gameplay, and a dazzling array of different unit and building types for a real variety of battles. It's just that there's nothing really new here. Yes, the historical setting is different, and yes, it looks very nice, but other than that, it's all been done before.

To be fair to Age of Empires III's developer, Ensemble Studios, it has introduced some new features in an attempt to spice things up a bit. Each civilization has its home city - so, for example, if you're playing the part of Britain, yours will be London. You can toggle between the main game and your home city at any time, and as you gain experience in the battlefield, you can grow your city. This, in turn, allows you to send an ever-increasing array of shipments to support your colony. Shipments can be as simple as additional resources, or a battalion of specialist troops, or a new technology. But sending shipments uses a confusing system of cards sorted into decks, and we felt the whole home city idea could have been better integrated into the game, especially considering how important it is strategically.

Other than that, a search through the developer's list of new features reveals the following: improved graphical environment - scenery and action rendered with lifelike detail; and real-world physics engine - cannon balls bounce over infantry, and damaged buildings crumble to pieces. Which kind of proves our point.

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