Beware the Ides of March.
Someday, the United States will fall apart and disappear into the history books, or whatever it is they use instead of books in the future. Hyper-Books. We’ve had a pretty good run - 200 years is nothing to sneeze at - and we haven’t had a civil war in ages, but nothing lasts forever. Besides, all great empires have eventually fallen. Someday, the children of the Pan-Galactic Quorum will groan at having to memorize the names of obscure 20th century nations before they were all annexed by the global armies of Uruguay.
And until that day comes, I hope we all get to play better games than Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War. Midway’s latest action / strategy hybrid is so broken, you’ll finally understand exactly why those ancient civilizations collapsed.
[image1]Based loosely on the empires of the Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Egyptians, Rise & Fall features two campaigns following the exploits of either Alexander the Great or Cleopatra. The totally imaginary exploits, that is. This is not Rome: Total War, and there are no attempts at authenticity. Real historical figures like Ramses are mixed in with legends like Achilles to supply the game with heroes. But hey, in real life, Cleopatra married two of her brothers and probably never saw a live battle. How boring (and disturbing) a game would that be?
Like its name, Rise & Fall is split almost equally into two parts - action and strategy - but neither rises to the occasion. Half your time is spent using a top-down view, commanding armies in typical real-time strategy gameplay, while the other half is spent in the boots of your hero as you control them directly like a third-person action game. Some levels force you to play only one way, but for most of the game, you can switch back and forth at will.
The strategy stuff is as standard as it gets. There are only two resources, gold and wood, which you use to build your bases and armies. There aren’t very many buildings or upgrades and you cannot build walls, so it’s really just a production base. The A.I. is generally content to sit back and wait for you to attack, which makes every map the same: build the biggest army you can, then attack and win.
One area in which Rise & Fall scores a few points is its naval combat. Rather than being icons, ships are full-sized behemoths, and you can march your armies right up on deck where they’ll fight it out if you grapple with another ship.
[image2]Another small addition is the notion of “glory,” which you get for killing enemies and destroying their buildings. Unit upgrades, hero upgrades, and “advisors” who dole out bonuses are all bought using glory. I’m not sure it counts as a resource, but it counts as something.
But otherwise, the RTS mechanics are bad and boring, giving way to the hero mode. To either kill time while waiting for your army to grow or to turn the tide of a battle, you can dive into a hero and kick some ass personally. It’s more like superhero mode, actually, because you’re pretty much a wrecking ball of unstoppable destruction. The only thing mitigating your divine acts of brutality is a stamina meter, which you can recharge by finding power-ups on the map, but because of the lousy A.I. and the wildly overpowered archery, you’ll be able to rack up literally thousands of personal kills and devastate whole armies before you even break a sweat.
In fact, the heroics are so ridiculous, it breaks the whole game. Before bothering to haul in an army to attack an enemy position, you can just run over to it personally and as long as you don’t get really close, you can stand there in plain sight and snipe every soldier on the field with your bow. The rickety A.I. adheres so firmly to its need to fill every hole in a squad that units will actually get in line and die one by one so that you don’t even have to move your mouse. Riveting gameplay, it ain’t.
And while that’s annoying, it’s nothing next to the smorgasbord of bugs. Units constantly get stuck on terrain features and there’s no way to destroy a friendly unit, so they just keep walking in place until the end of the level. Other units will walk right past obvious targets, intent on who knows what, while still others will just march right in front of you towards your army as you cut them down one by one with your sword. Or how about this sweet screenshot of me being defeated by my own victory? Or this one where I sunk an enemy galley, but their oarsmen just kept rowing in midair? I have a whole folder filled with these things.
But you wouldn’t want to see those, as the graphics are pretty bad. Units and terrain are brightly colored and lively, but the models are fairly primitive and the framerate can stutter. There is some noticeable pop-up even on a good rig, looking positively bizarre in strategy mode as enemy catapults wink in and out of existence. And for some strange reason, everyone in the game (even Cleopatra) stands and walks like Stretch Armstrong.
[image3]The audio is as lackluster as the visuals. The voice acting is mediocre and the clangs of battle are there, but they don’t vaguely approach the thunder of clashing armies delivered in games like Rome or Battle for Middle Earth II. Also, the sound of an archery unit being produced is that of an arrow thudding home, and it can inexplicably be heard globally, so when you’re off scouting, you keep thinking you just got shot at.
And maybe you did, if you’re playing multiplayer. Unfortunately, that’s not any better. While your opponent gets smarter, your units don't, so they just stand around getting killed by the enemy hero unless you micromanage them. There is an interesting attempt at a new type of team multiplayer in which one person controls the hero and another manages the strategy, but this always just ends up as a hero duel, after which the victor is free to snipe away your whole army without having to worry about retribution.
Critics like GR, however, don’t let people get off so easy. I’ll give the devs credit for attempting something new, and you can see where they were headed during brief moments of fun as you zoom in and out between modes during a big battle, simultaneously ordering and assisting your troops. But they focused so much on this dual-pronged gameplay that they forgot to add A.I., stability and good delivery, falling far, far short of their goal in this half-baked game. In that distant future, Rise & Fall won’t even be a footnote in the history Hyper-Books.