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Rome at War Volume 58 Number 2, March/April 2005
by Mike Burns

[image] That's gotta hurt: House of Scipii soldiers endure an elephant charge by an army from Carthage. (© Activision) [LARGER IMAGE]

A strategy game of war and conquest in the ancient world, Rome: Total War (Activision:; $49.99) is an excellent successor to Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War, Activision's previous PC-computer games that brought alive conflicts of the past. It's an impressive game: easy to learn, exciting, and addictive, and despite the war theme, is rated T (suitable for teens).

Set during Rome's rise to power in the Mediterranean from 270 B.C. to A.D. 14, players control one of three real Roman families or factions--the Julii, Brutii, or Scipii--and are tasked with subjugating cities and provinces. The first phase of the game is a strategic campaign in which you manage armies and resources on a large-scale map, making alliances, recruiting and training troops, and increasing wealth through the development of cities and trade. The second phase is battle. Armies commanded by characters from your family are deployed and maneuvered to fight fast-paced and exciting battles in real time, with amazing 3-D graphics depicting thousands of infantry and cavalry. (The History Channel uses the game's cutting-edge graphics engine to animate its series Time Commanders.) The atmospheric music, sounds of clashing weapons, and even inspirational speeches from your generals sweep you into the action.

The game has a tremendous amount of historical and archaeological detail on the armies of the period, and even obscure weapons appear, such as flaming pigs (used by the Romans to frighten elephants). You don't have to be an expert in military archaeology to understand or enjoy the game, although having some knowledge will help you make more effective use of your troops. One of the few criticisms I have is that initially you are not able to play as the various non-Roman kingdoms, such as Macedon, Carthage, Egypt, or Gaul. These factions must first be vanquished in the campaign segment of the game before they can be played in the battle. But whether you choose to be Caesar or Hannibal, you will find Rome: Total War a challenging and interesting game.

Mike Burns is a military archaeologist specializing in the armies of early Italy and former army Ranger.

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© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America