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Following the huge success of Warcraft 2 and Civilization 2, Ensemble Studio designed a real-time game blending elements of management and strategy with evolving challenges of a civilization, through a period of 12,000 years that stretches over four ages of human history (Stone, Tools, Bronze and Iron ages).
In Age of Empires (AOE), you can either play predefined scenarios, whole campaigns made of interconnected scenarios (an easy Egyptian campaign serving as a useful tutorial), random maps or death matches. Scenario goals are diverse ranging from killing an enemy chief to destroying competitors through converting enemy units or building and keeping a wonder for example. The scenario builder included in the game lets you create randomly generated or custom maps for up to eight players. Multiplaying, even cooperative one, is of course available through a variety of connections such as TCP/IP, LAN, serial, modem and Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone on the Internet.
Most scenarios begin with players having a small band of peasants and a town center on an unknown map. Exploring is thus a prerequisite in order to find food (e.g: berry bushes, herds of antelopes), artefacts and enemy location. Villagers are the most important assets in the early phase of the game because they gather the four different ressources necessary for the advancement of your settlements through the ages. Wood is used for constructing buildings, boats, and some military units; food to increase your population, as well as to train and improve military units, research technology and advance to the next age. While stone is needed for erecting walls and towers, and is sometimes used to research new technologies as well. Gold allows you in later stages to create sophisticated military units, advance to Iron age or pay tribute to other civilizations.
After setting the dificulty level, choosing a civilization is of paramount importance because it determines the kind of tactics to use in order to win. The huge number of civilizations available decisively increase the longevity of AOE.
If you want to follow aggressive tactics, the Yamato civilization allows you to strike hard early in the game before your foes are able to fortiy efficiently. Strong defensive abilities of Babylonians enable you to conduct defensive options. If you play against Egyptians, be prepared to fight impressive waves of chariots. Hittites with well balanced cabilities will be prefered by many players. Besides classical military units, priests when available after erecting temples are important to consider because they can heal your troops as well as convert adversaries to your cause. You do not always fight competitors, diplomacy enables you to make alliances, pay tribute and to set up fruitful trade.
Technology tree is rather complex but logical (a built-in help is always available). There are a dozen buildings and roughly 40 technologies and 40 different unit types. Some of them are only available if you attain a certain age which begins after amassing a certain amount of food and gold and after building two constructions of the current age.
The interface is easy and pleasant to use, simple clicking on units or buildings unveil potential actions. However, shortcuts are unavailable: e.g: if you want to create two priests, you have to click once on a temple, afterwards on a priest icon and repeat the whole process a second time instead of asking you for the number of times you want to repeat it!
Graphics are strikingly beautiful with plains, deserts, rivers, lakes rendered in somptuous SVGA resolution. The landscapes are filled with varied forms of life; vultures hovering into the sky, lions prowling around antelopes, elephants peacefully grazing and fish and whales swimming into the seas. AOE's sounds are plain but functional. New combats are announced by trumpets and a flash on the minimap to attract your attention. Excellent and varied CD music greatly enhances the exciting atmosphere of the game. Some annoying shortcomings do arise however such as the following examples. If a foe passes by, your soldiers will not act until instructed to do so. Similar units from different civilizations appear identical which is a pity given their diverse origins (e.g. Egyptians archers looking like Japanese ones!). Other civilizations never attack each other. However, a disturbing 50 units limit per side was recently overcome, thanks to a patch recently made available on Microsoft Games' web site.
Despite minor defaults, Age of Empires is an exciting real-time game which will stay on your hard disk for a while. It will appeal both to beginners for its easy interface and learning curve as well as hard core players who will truly appreciate the multiplaying options (cooperative gaming being a real bonus!).
Written by Daniel Roth
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Click here to download the demo
100% Microsoft Windows 95 compatible computer system (including compatible
32-bit drivers for CD-ROM drive, video card, sound card and input devices),
Note: 3D graphic accelerator card recommended.
Ensemble Information Systems, Inc.
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