Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Stainless Steel Studios/Midway
Release Date: June 13, 2006
Imagine taking everything you like to eat and putting it into one meal: tacos, hamburgers, steak, ice cream, and peach cobbler. Now, close your eyes and think about that feast.
Go ahead, I'll wait.
Back? Good, because just as you are about to receive your delicious meal, a down-on-his-luck barber decides to give up his chosen profession by throwing all of his razor blades out of his shop window and into your delicately prepared food. This little thought experiment is Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War in a nutshell; it's an amazing idea that didn't work out quite so well in execution, resulting in disappointment.
This offering had problems before even reaching store shelves, with developer Stainless Steel Studios dissolving before the game was finished. However, the unfinished product did find a home at Midway, who tried to deliver a game that blends historical real-time strategy with the ability to command some of history's greatest warriors and go on a hack-and-slash rampage.
There are some good things about Rise and Fall. The ability to take control of figures such as Achilles and Alexander the Great is an exceptional idea, and with a little more depth, it would have been simply splendid. Alas, the fighting is anything but exciting, with little more than a few different attacks and a couple of abilities at the higher levels. It boggles the mind that with all the examples of good action games, Midway could not make a more interesting experience. Unfortunately, the fighting system is integral to gameplay, but at least you can choose from one of two heroes in skirmishes and multiplayer.
The RTS portion suffers similar problems. First off, there are basically three resources used for production: gold, wood, and glory. Gold and wood are straightforward enough, but to gain glory, you must do things like kill enemies or construct buildings. Glory allows you to level up your hero and lets you take direct control of him; you can also use this valuable resource to recruit certain professionals who have no representation in the course of play. They do, however, give you small bonuses for things such as unit hit points or production speed, so basically it is like researching technology in any other RTS.
Let's talk about units. Here, you have your basic fare: peasants, archers, cavalry, and infantry. There are a couple of fun ones, like elephants or catapults, but for the most part, they isn't anything here that we haven't seen before. The idea behind different unit types is the rock-paper-scissors model, where certain units are better against certain enemies.
With the exception of the naval combat, the unit selection has parallels with the rest of the game – not enough depth. The use of ships is the only thing that really sets apart Rise and Fall from any other RTS title currently available. Instead of disproportionately small units, these ships are large structures that units can board and fight from. You can actually ram and board other ships, making it one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. Ships also act as a portable base that produces units so amphibious assaults have a much greater chance of success.
With its mix of historical and mythological storylines, the campaign mode of Rise and Fall is decent at best. Sadly, the historical and mythological themes do not mesh well, and the battles feel much less epic because you are basically throwing a pile of units on top of an opposing pile of units. The horrendous A.I. doesn't make anything better.
Pathfinding in this offering is enough to make most people rip out their hair, and if that weren't enough, the enemy seems to do the exact same thing, regardless of what strategy you are using. The dialogue and pre-rendered cut scenes are also severely below par. This is an example of sloppy work, pure and simple.
The skirmish and multiplayer experiences are much more enjoyable, even though the start of a game is always slow going, with resource management and unnecessarily long build times. Both modes reward adventurous players who aren't afraid to expand quickly. Multiplayer is exceptional at times, but only because you know that the men falling to your blade at an alarming rate are controlled by actual players. So, if you have a lot of patience and can deal with the long amount of time it takes to actually find a game and the limited amount of maps, then it is an enjoyable experience.
Rise and Fall's graphics are generally all right. When zoomed in fully, units are well done with lots of detail, but at the same time, buildings look a bit too blocky, especially when destroying them in hero mode. Compared to the look of other titles on the market, this game sadly comes up rather short. The voice-acting is a bit on the cheesy side, but thankfully, the other sounds in the game are immersive, featuring great music that has become the standard for any titles with even the slightest hint of a Roman army among the content.
Overall, Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War was just satisfactory. Hero mode is a nice distraction from the redundant campaigns, but everything in the game lacks sufficient depth. If one can ignore the horrible A.I., the unoriginal unit and campaign design, and the incredibly simple experience, then it is a decent title. The only thing this game does well is naval combat, and the multiplayer segment is enjoyable, although it's a bit difficult to find a match due to the limited number of players.
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