I am an angry gamer.
Complaining about stuff that sucks is part of Gamerhood, but I had a theory. And it was a good theory, based on logic and good things like that. The theory was that truly bad games don't make it to market anymore, because there are just too many layers of approval, too many technological advances, and too many people to satisfy to let truly egregious crap get through.
Well, The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome utterly destroys my theory. It looks, sounds and plays like a game that would have been mediocre ten years ago were it not so horribly full of nuisance-level bugs and design flaws. This piece of junk quasi-real-time strategy game makes bloody encounters including spear throwers, legionaries, war elephants and Celts in full body paint... utterly boring. The whole of HC: GboR plays like the little land combat mini-games in the Sid Meier's Pirates! Remake, albeit at a snail's pace.
The concept is self-explanatory: The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome is about - duh -- Rome's great battles. But before you get into that, the technical troubles with this title begin with the pre-game credits splash screens. Clicking the mouse while this screen is up causes both sound and video to briefly stall. This isn't a big deal on its own, but it symbolically completes the relentless streak of WTF in a game wherein nothing works the way it should. When you get into the game itself, from top to bottom it's suckus maximus.
The video cut scenes are decent enough, if mildly cheesy, much like the good documentaries for which The History Channel is known. But the menu screen is somewhere between pedestrian and ugly. And you know those horrible polygon monstrosities we thought were cool-looking digital people back in the mid- 1990s? The ones that looked like faces painted on sacks full of broken glass mounted on one of those lawn characters whose legs spin in the wind? The things that are completely and embarrassingly substandard now? Yep, that's what your army is composed of. The environments look decent enough, but it's frustrating to see these big sweeping landscapes surrounding a playable battlefield that's a tiny 20 X 20 tile chessboard-like square.
The sound loops are equally limited -- pathetically short and consisting of things like galloping hooves, blowing horns, clashing swords... things that should be tied to gameplay, but aren't. Even when the game is paused the sounds of war continue in what is at best a five-minute loop. This is distracting as hell, and makes you think that something much more exciting is going on while the little broken-glass-headed lawn ornaments are slowly shambling toward each other like cantankerous senior citizens.
Adding to this confusion is an interface as bug-ridden as the syphilitic French army that besieged Naples. While friendly units use a standardized naming system to distinguish between types of infantry, calvary, and skirmishers, your opponent's armies use idiotic pseudonyms - things like 'boys' that look like grown men, and 'berserkers' who don't, in fact, berserk. The intent here is to make things more 'historically accurate', but there's a game bug that confuses the rollover information, so the player's units get labelled like the comparable enemy troops. It's confusing, annoying, and so obvious that someone should have caught it. Apparently developer Slitherine Strategies didn't want to pay for dedicated game testers, so they relied instead on beta feedback from a fan community they do not have.
My biggest general gameplay complaint, glitches aside, is that this game is real-time strategy in name only. This would be fine if the game drew on turn-based strategy's emphasis on plotting things out in advance, but the terrain map is just too small and the unit options too limited to really do much of anything.
The process of levelling up and acquiring new units is also a disappointing chore. The game allows a maximum of 20 units on the battlefield at any one time, and only allows you 24 units overall, so in order to get shiny new units you have to disband older ones. However, as the game progresses, inexperienced units are useless, especially in scenarios where you must limit your casualties. So those newer units sit on the sidelines, do nothing, and gain no XP. The excitement of finally being able to recruit proper legionaries or archers is tarnished with the realization that these units can, in practice, do squat.
There are other things I could remark upon regarding faults with The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome, but I think you get the idea that it's utter crap. Initially I was going to go easier in my opinion of the game, because I assumed it was a glorified study aid designed primarily to impart information. But it fails on that point too! The information is delivered in a way that requires no retention or interaction, so all the tid-bits about Cisalpine Gaul and Hannibal vanish into the synaptic ether soon after you finish playing. This game literally can't do anything right. Maybe I should have skipped writing a detailed review and just stated my opinion thusly:
Great Battles of Rome = Epic Fail.
Credo quia absurdum.