It wasn't built in a day you know

Rome AD92 logo

MILLENIUM * £29.99 * 1 meg * Mouse * Out November

So what do we know about the Romans then? Well, they're Italian, which can't be a good start. They built straight roads, which sadly today see much less of hurtling chariots pulled by fiery steed than they do sad blokes in knee-length jumpers and cagoules carrying a Karimor rucksack and a flask of chicken soup.
Enough of these inconsequentialities though, what about our Rome, and all this "pathway to power" business?

As you may or may not be aware - and since the intelligence of the average exceeds my own by approximately 400 percent, you probably are - the Romans of old were a very different bunch from the leather trouser brigade inhabiting the Italian capital today. For a start ye olde Romans weren't afraid to stand and fight. In fact they loved a good scrap, and noe of this girly punch and kick business either.

If a Roman boy hadn't ripped out the throats of a dozen peasants by the time he was nine, he was considered effeminate and banished to a life of digging irrigation channels on the banks of the river Euphrates, where his ancestors would later form the armies of genial dictator Saddam Hussein. Yes indeed, they were a bit on the violent side were the Romans.

As you may have gathered, the story is set in AD92 - you are Hector, a humble and lowly slave, going about your humble and lowly business in the land of Herculaneum.
Your aspirations are great however - you envisage a day in the future when lavatory cleaning and cockroach squishing will seem but a distant memory. You foresee a time when all society will revere your name and bow down in awe and reverence at your noble feet moaning "Hector... Hector..."
One day... soon... you will be Emperor of Rome! Well that's the theory anyway, but there's a long way to go before then.

Life of Herculaneum is getting a little too hot to handle. The volcano overlooking the town is beginning to bubble and it's probably best that you get out before it blows its top.
Rome's not far as the crow flies, but the only way there is by sea, and who's going to let a smelly low-life such as yourself on board their majestic vessel?

What to do then? Well, you could always build a one-man raft out of sandal straps and discarded matchsticks, or hollow out a mountain sheep and fill it with helium... or swim. Or something.
Unfortunately these options aren't available, so somewhat worryingly, a little bit of brainpower is required if you intend to avoid ending up as a trainee fossil underneath several billion tons of lava.

The graphics are presented in Populous-like fashion, ie a 3D angled square showing Hector's immediate vicinity, with a map of the whole area just a mouse-click away.

Click on an area of the map screen and Hector will make his way straight there, eliminating the laborious stop/start procedure on the play screen that I undertook for at least an hour (well it was Friday).

Everyone in the game, as Millennium proudly point out, has a mind of their own, and there're little blokes and girlies running about hither and yonzil over the place. Any of these may have items or information that will come in useful, so why not loosen the old sandals and socialise a while?

Gameplay is very simple - the basic idea is to ask questions, eavesdrop on conversations and generally find out what's what.
Unlike most games of this genre, you don't necessarily have to relentlessly badger everyone to obtain information. Some kindly folk will offer words of wisdom out of the goodness of their hearts. On the other hand though, some gentlefolk may approach you openly, all smiles and neatly pressed togas, and proceed to hack you to bits with long handled daggers or other such period instruments. Nice.

Another thing worth remembering, especially in the later levels, is that you'll need plenty of cash - after all, no-one's going to respect a budding emperor-to-be if he's wearing Jesus creepers and begs for crusts of bread. I mean you don't see the Queen rooting in bins do you? Mind you, have you see the state of her mum's teeth?

If and when you must muster your way out of Herculaneum, it's over to Rome for more of the same. The game has six levels in total, and it's a matter of buying or blagging whatever you need to keep you in with the nobs.

As I've mentioned, everyone has a mind of their own, one of the ebst features of the game are the muttered comments or dubious snippets of conversation you can hear (well read, actually) as Hector passes by.
"I must remember to buy some grapes for the orgy."
"Come and buy some flesh... nubile young girls..."
Sound like your kind of game? It's OK, the wife's downstairs with the kids - she thinks you're "working" in the attic - go on you sad man, treat yourself!

I wasn't particularly enamoured by the graphics at first - admittedly there is plenty of colour, but all the sprites are very small and there's little variety in movement. However, this isn't a teeny platform romp - if I wanted stunning visuals with plenty of quacks, hoots and wibbles I'd be playing Zool (which I do, frequently, but that's not the point).

So what is the point then Paul? Well, the point is this - there's so much going on in the actual game that grpahics in this situation aren't that important.
Besides, the digitised pics within the game (not just stills either) are good enough to keep even a moaner like me happy. And anyway, I've decided that I do like the graphics now after all.

Now the sound is another matter. Twice I've asked Ben to check the audio leads, and I've even put my glasses on to make sure it's an Amiga and not an ST I'm using.
Spot effects are reasonably good, but are just too few and far between to make an impact on the game. The intro tune is very... erm, Roman, but again is in no real danger of bring a tear to the eye.

So would I buy it then? No, I can play it here for free so I'd have to be daft wouldn't I? So should you buy it then?
Well it's not for me to say, but if you're an RPG fan who wishes the programmers wouldn't get so serious, or an adventurer/shoot-'em-upper looking for something that little bit more challenging ut which preferably won't take a degree in physics and a fortnight studying the manual to get into, then you'll be dead cuffed with Rome. Probably.



Rome AD92 logo

It's the history of Rome we're concerned with here. Well, two or three days of its history, sometime in May '92. You are but a poor slave called Hector, but you desire wealth, fame and fortune, and particularly that natty toga 'n' sandals combination. Through a series of six conveniently bite-sized adventurettes, the idea of the game is to battle your way from the bottom to the very apex of Roman society using any means possible.

Roman AD92 uses the same graphical style and control method as Millennium's earlier adventure, Robin Hood. The game world is presented in 3D with the inhabitants wandering about talking, killing, having baths and pretty much doing their own thing. You can wander freely almost anywhere, talk to other people, find objects, have a bit of a rest, or do whatever you like, within the main goal of finishing the quest.

Hector is controlled with the multi-purpose toolbox by the side of the screen. As well as displaying the map, this has options for using objects and talking to other characters. Once you've found out who the character is using the info box, you can chat to them, as what they're doing or just get straight to the point and steal their money. A 'Do' option covers any other things which may be possible at that point like apologising profusely for demanding money from a man with a knife.

Romani ite domum
As mentioned, six sb-plots make up the game. Just to add that special touch of 'What am I doing here?', you aren't given specific instructions as to what you're meant to be doing in any of them. So in the first section set in the quaint fishing village of Herculaneum, you're given the job of delivering a message to the consul in the far west of the town.

That's easily enough done with the aid of the map, but then you find yourself wandering about doing nothing in particular. Until Mount Vesuvius erupts and the whole town heads for the boats.

That's when you find out that although you've got enough money to pay the boatman, he won't let you aboard because you're just a slave. Cue floods of lava, a nice piccy of you being cooked and the 'Game Over' message. At least then you know your job is to convince the boatsman that you're more than a slave.

The gaul of it
The first scenario is actually quite simple, though even that can be completed incompletely, if you see what I mean. When you leave, you should be carrying enough money to help when you reach Rome; if not, things get harder. The plot thickens even more later on, until eventually it stiffens up altogether and you have to throw it out.

The thing that separates Rome AD92 from Robin Hood the most (apart from 12 months) is that Rome AD92 is funny. Although the plot is fairly serious there's a thread of sarcasm and irony running through the game, not to mention a sprinkling of slapstick and a long thin cost of self-mockery.

The names are straight out of Up Pompei: the two consuls of Rome are called Seganus Megadrivus and Nintendus Gameboiis. What a great gag. The lawyer is called Habeus Corups, and there's a weapon seller called Mafioso.

As they wander about, the other characters come up with some precious comments, and at one point you wander into a meeting of the Senate who are discussing a flyover on the Appian Way. Alright, it's not rib-tickling, but the humour gives the game much more humanity. The section in the manual on the history of Rome is genuinely funny.

Thanks to Uncle Remus
The graphics are detailed, much more so than, say, Populous 2 (which Rome AD92 resembles now and again). The music and samples aren't outstanding, although they work fine. Unfortunately, the font in the speech bubbles is hard to read and the characters are tiny. Occasionally, positioning Hector is fiddly; he heads for the destination and suddenly veers off on his own, ending up walking round in circles, which is good for a laugh.

Rome AD92 has a lot to offer. It's not too difficult, but then again (almost spookily) it's not too easy either. The graphics are impressive, the gameplay's laced with a deadly humour, but it's definitely a one-play-only game -when it's done, it's done. A lot like the Roman Empire, itself really.



Vom Sklaven zum Imperator

Rome AD92 logo

Alle Wege führen nach Rom, das wissen auch die Jungs von Millennium. Und weil grüne Witwentröster hier fehl am Platze wären, dreht sich bei ihrem Nachfolger zu "Robin Hood" alles um Hector, einen Sklaven mit Drang zum Höheren...

Doch Rom ist weit, zumal wenn man in Herculaneum wohnt, einer Stadt am Fuße des Vesuv. Noch dazu ist diese Gegend neben Pompej eine der ungesündesten im gesamten Römischen Kaiserreich, denn was der kurz bevorstehende Vulkanausbruch alles anrichten wird, läßt sich schließlich in jedem Geschichtsbuch nachlesen.

Sollte es hingegen gelingen, das nur von der See aus zugängliche Städtchen rechtzeitig zu verlassen und im Chaos der Katastrophe vorher noch schnell ein paar reiche, degenerierte Römer auszurauben, dann wäre das doch die Chance für einen karrieregeilen Sklaven wie unseren Hector! Damit ist auch schon die Aufgabenstellung des ersten der insgesamt sechs Szenarien grob umrissen; später darf der Held z.B. als Heerführer in England und Ägypten fighten oder gar in Rom um den Job des Imperators rangeln.

Wer auf Schubladen steht, sollte das Game in der für Mixturen aus Adventure und Strategie reservierten ablegen, wer sich hingegen mehr fürs Spieling interessiert, der Stelle sich eine "Populous"-Landschaft mit isometrischem Blickwinkel vor, wie sie bereits bei "Robin Hood" verwendet wurde. Hector, ein kleines, braun gewandetes Wuselmännchen mit witzigen Animationen, wird nun per Mausklick quer durch den gefällig gezeichneten und Bild für Bild mitscrollenden Villenort gescheucht.

Für längere Fußmärsche läßt sich auf einer gelungenen Überblickskarte das Ziel einstellen, und schon macht sich der Bursche auf die Sandalen - ganz so, wie man das noch vom Sherwood Forest her kennt.

Trifft Hector unterwegs auf andere Männ- und Fräuleins, kann er ein (in der Verkaufsversion deutsches) Gespräch von Zaun brechen, das sich freilich auf die drei Anweisungen Grüßen, Fragen und Drohen beschränkt, woaus der Rechner dann einen passenden Satz bastelt. Herumliegende Objekte können genommen werden, falls das ständig aktualisierte Handlungsmenü so etwas erlaubt, und wer ein paar Sesterzen in der Toga hat, darf sich gar 'nen Keks kaufen - oder auch nützlichere Dinge.

Die weitgehend selbsterklärenden Menüs (für die strategischen Parts gibt es ein eigenes "Steuerpult") legen dem flüchtigen Ex-Untertan jedenfalls kaum Schwierigkeiten in den Weg, und auch sonst zählt die Hectoriade wenigstens anfänglich zu den Historienschinken mit moderatem Schwierigkeitsgrad.

Zahlreiche chice Zwischengrafiken bringen optischen Pep ins Iso-Reich, dazu kommen pseudo-zeitgenössige Musikstücke und recht vielfältige Sound-FX wie Schafblöken etc.. Wenn die reine Freude aber letzten Endes doch nicht ganz porentief rein ist, dann wohl deshalb, weil man Hector alles in allem doch ein paar Handlungsmöglichkeiten mehr gewünscht hätte - aber auch so garantiert Millenniums Sklaventreiberei viel Kurzweil auf dem Weg nach Rom. (jn)



Rome AD92 logo

If you started as a slave in AD78, do you think you could take the place of the Emperor Domitian?

From what I've heard life as a leader of the mighty Roman empire was a good way short of perfect. Let's face it, all they did all day was plunder and pillage and then spend the night relaxing by the pool with wine, women, and, er, some more wine and women.

The only shortcoming in this ideal career was that they did tend to suffer from the habit of getting bumped off by disgruntled citizens every time something went wrong. Even though it was rather short-lived, it was still a position that just about everyone wanted. Even the slaves fancied a bash, and that's where you come in.

You are (or rather, the character you control is, seeing as you weren't around when the Romans were kicking some serious European butt), Hector. Hector is the lowest of the low. His nickname is Doormat because everyone walks all over him, in fact he's even lower than a Staff Writer on AMIGA POWER. (And don't you forget it. - Ed).

This guy has been a slave all his life (also like a Staff Writer on AMIGA POWER, strangely enough) but is suffering from delusions of grandeur (just like...) (Snip! - Ed.) Hector wants to become the Emperor of Rome. A nice dream maybe, but this guy is serious and he'll need more than a little luck.

The general idea is that you complete six quests which represent the transition form low-life scumbag slave to regal Emperor. To give you a general idea, at the start you're based in Herculaneum, which just happens to be situated under a certain volcano that's about to erupt. You have to escape from here and go to Rome, save the Emperor from assassination, lead an army, conquer the world and become Emperor yourself. From imminent death in chains to ruler of most of the civilised world, eh? No problem...

Before we go any further I would like to commend Millennium on a completely new, revolutionary idea. Interesting and funny manuals for their adventures! What a crazy idea, it might just work. It was a most entertaining read. Unfortunately, it's a lot more entertaining than the game.

Taking a look at these screenshots, you could be forgiven for thinking this is just a reworking of Robin Hood, the other Millennium game that used this graphics system. Well if it works once why not use it again, y'know?

Of course, this means we have to put up with microscopic characters and jerky screen movement. But the strength of games like this lies in the gameplay, or so I've been told.

Saying that, not all the graphics are bad. The buildings on screen can be quite ornately detailed at times, especially when you start reaching the higher levels, and there are loads of static screens that appear when something major happens, like an announcement in Rome or when you finish a level, or more importantly when you die (which will happen a lot at the start).

What adventures are all about, of course, is exploring. You can take your time to explore the land thoroughly and check out all the buildings and people if you like, but each stage of Rome AD92 is timed. The first stage is limited by a volcano erupting, the second by an assassination etc. This means all you have to do is learn the important places and items, get them and finish the stage, so trial and error will solve the game faster than brain power. This may not be a bad thing for new players but most people will be able to solve the puzzles straight away.

Playing through the levels, you'll notice something else creeping into your mind. Rome AD92 suffers from 'Ohmygodwhenissomethinginterestinggoingtohappen' (said while yawning exaggeratedly) syndrome - you can wander around locations for days without having the foggiest idea about what's going on.

Talking to people is suggested as a good way to suss out what's happening. This doesn't work since most of the people seem to be as thick as two short planks. Ask them for information and the best you'll get is "I'm out for a walk." Thanks a lot.

The gameplay soon gets very repetitive, and mistakes aren't easily forgiven either. There's a classic example right at the start - you deliver a message and get paid for it. The amount you get paid is enough to save your life and the island. But, if you do take the chance to leave, you can't do anything at all on the next level because you don't have enough money, and there's no way of going back to get any.

Once you realise what you have to do to get this extra cash you get very little time to do it, and if you do it on the higher levels you get killed for it. Quirks like this in the gameplay can put a lot of people off - if it wasn't for the fact that I'm being paid to play it I certainly would given up.

It's a shame, because when you start playing it's quite fun. Running around mugging people in Herculaneum for money or playing dice in Rome to earn enough to get a slave of your own, or even the fights when you get an army - all top stuff. After a few hours though, you realise there just isn't enough to the game to make you want to stick with it. With a few more elements it could have been so much better. But there aren't, so it isn't.

Yes, it's a challenge to become the Emperor of Rome all right. Some of this challenge is in the game but most of its comes form trying to keep your interest going long enough to complete it. With little action it won't appeal to arcade nuts, but it isn't a strong or deep enough game to attract all the strategy fans either.

Millennium have tried hard to make it appealing by adding a lot of humour (and it is funny) and making it easy to control. With these two factors and some interesting gameplay it would have been a killer game but as it stands this is a wimpish slap on the wrist when it could have been a knockout.


Rome AD92

Rome AD92
1. This is the house of Segamus Megadrivus, that name rings a bell.

Rome AD92
2. Slaves don't get anywhere so go to the baths and steal some gentleman's clothes. People respect the way you look.

Rome AD92
3. Home sweet home. This is where your master gives you your first task. Fail this and you there ain't no way you're ever gonna make it to Emperor.

Rome AD92
4. The weapons salesman, now how can we threaten people if we don't have a weapon? I know, let's buy a dagger.

Rome AD92
5. This is your only way out, it's not cheap and you will need some spare money for when you reach Rome so mug some people first.

Rome AD92
6. Buy some lucky dice from this guy and then mug him for your money back plus interest.



Rome AD92 logo

Our very own Little Caesar, Mark Patterson, has spent a lot of time giving orders. So we decided to send him back to... Rome A.D. 92.

MEET A SCRUBBER AT THE BATHS
Life was never easy in Roman times. You had either been conquered by them, were working for them or, in Hector's case, a slave to them. Hector is a slave with ambition though. He believes the gods are smiling on him, and that he is going to go places. In fact, all the time he is actually starring in a computer game where you control his actions.

The aim, quite simply, is to help Hector climb the lengthy Roman social ladder from the position of slave, right at the bottom, to emperor at the precarious top. The first step on this pathway to success is escaping the eruption of Vesuvius, which just happens to be right next to the hamlet where he lives. This is where his break comes as he's separated from the household that owns him. Before leaving he has to collect as many items as possible which will aid him in the game's next six stages.

The trick here is finding the one road that leads from the town. Do this by tracking down key characters and asking questions. To begin with you can only question or threaten people and be warned, nobody takes kindly at someone from the lower classes threatening to cut their head off. This can be a bit limiting, as nearly everyone gives you the same answer until you find the person or item they're telling you about.

ET TU BRUTUS
If he survives eruption, Hector travels on to Rome. There he finds about a plot to kill the Emperor, and being a good citizen he decides to grass-up the conspirators. The problem here is trying to get into the Emperor's heavily guarded palace to tell him. Again, the best way to proceed is to chat to the locals who will direct Hector to colourful taverns and people who might just know a way into the Emperor's retreat.

Should he succeed in this the game really gets going. The Emperor, who believes dying is just something that happens to the plebs, is hugely grateful to Hector and rewards him with the command of his armies in Britain. Once there he has the unenviable task of subduing the Britons. The key to dominating the isle is capturing the British War Standard because they can't fight without it. The Romans also depend on their own standard, and if that falls to the Brits it's game over.

THE ROMANS ARE COMING
To begin with the Brits, they don't know that the Romans are coming, so Hector has a few minutes to make his plans and settle his men. The best way to proceed is by building a fort where the soldiers can rest and sharpen their pilums. It also pays to have popped into a temple in the previous stage for a bit of chat with the gods. This gives the Roman armies a slightly unfair advantage in battle, as they now fight that little bit fiercer.

Once the British chieftains catch on to the fact their country is being invaded, they rally their men and attack. The game now takes on a wargame element, where you control several divisions, planning their attacks and ordering them to build or rest between skirmishes. The outcome of a battle depends on several things: the strength and number of soldiers on each side, how well rested they are and if they're attacking from a fort.

If you survive the Brits and hand the title deeds of the country over to the Emperor, he gives you plenty of cash and your own villa right in the heart of Rome. From there on it's all a matter of exploiting the Roman political system, which isn't very different from today's for that matter. Hector simply has to lie, bribe, cheat and extort his way to the top. Because of his new-found status in the city, Hector can now buy slaves of his own (including female ones) and frequent such entertainment as the Circus Maximus, which is now willing to admit him as more than a contestant.

The tactics you learned in Britain soon come into play again as Hector is assigned to deal with an uprising in Egypt. Things aren't as easy as before though, the Egyptians are a damn sight more intelligent and devious than the British, and have an unnerving ability to sneak right past the most strategically placed guards. But success here guarantees entrance to the Senate back in Rome.

WHO CAN YOU TRUST?
Life near the top can be dangerous. Not everyone appreciates Hector's rise from serf to member of the Consul, and danger in the form of armed rivals lurk behind every door and corner. At this stage of the game the Emperor is still in power, so what's Hector to do? Wait for him to die, or perhaps speed things up a little?

Hector is a very easy character to control, although he is also very independent and occasionally gets his own ideas if you leave him too long, so he will wander off to a temple or tavern to pass the time. To move him around just click on a specific area and he'll do his best to get there. This includes walking into a lava flow when I sent him to investigate some peculiar happening at the edge of town in the first stage (his last words were 'sizzle ouch'). Communicating with other characters can be a little annoying though.

Because everyone is busy leading their own lives, it is quite difficult holding their attention long enough to ask them about something. They can be stopped in their tracks by getting Hector shout at them, which gives you time to select a topic to question them about. Once that is done they immediately scarper off, usually without leaving you time to ask a follow-up question.

WHAT A PRETTY PICTURE
The scenery graphics are ace throughout the game, although some of the character graphics are very puny. There are some really great pictures and animations that crop up when you complete a task, get into trouble or die, which further add to the game's presentation. The sound is a comparative let down though, but it is passable all the same.

What makes this game really special is the humour. It is like a cross between Up Pompeii and Mel Brooks' History Of The World movie. Characters, such as the not-so-honourable senator Nintendus Gameboiis and Mafioso, the dodgy weapons vendor, crop up from time to time. There are some real corny comments in the dialogue between characters which are best swept under the mat and forgotten about.

It is good fun to sit back occasionally and watch what's going on around you, such as when the volcano erupts and the entire region's population sprint past Hector screaming at him to get a move on.

Rome A.D. 92 is a very novel little game. The plot is excellent and very well executed. One of the things that makes it so playable is the cast of characters. While there are many serfs and normal, boring Joes, there are also plenty of key people who have their own idiosyncrasies. Things are a bit busy at first, but the later stages are great fun. Check this one out if you are looking for something out of the ordinary.


ROMAN AROUND

Rome's history was a particularly violent one when compared to other civilizations. Romulus and Remus, the empire's founders as legend would have it, had a bit of a scrap in their later years which ended with Romulus clubbing his brother to death. As we all know one of the Roman's favorite pastimes was a family trip to the circus, where you could see Kirk Douglas lookalikes performing violent acts with swords. Naturally this has been included in the game, and can play quite an important part in convincing senators to vote for Hector in his election campaign.

ROBINIUM HOODIUS

This game might seem a little familiar to some of you, not surprising really because it uses the same engine as Millennium's previous isometric release Robin Hood. Games such as the Lotus series from Gremlin, Archer Maclean's forthcoming pool game and some Ocean platform games also use this technique of 'borrowing' the guts from previous titles then undergoing some small cosmetic changes.