Pax Romana, a real-time strategy game developed by Galiléa Multimédia, covers a large amount of time -- roughly three hundred years of Roman history. A historically accurate military, economic, and political model was developed for the game, allowing for a wide variety of historical content including military movements, political schemes, and complex conspiracies. Pax Romana may be played in either "Strategic" or "Political" modes.
The "Strategic" mode is designed as a conventional "Expand and Conquer" contest, while in "Political" mode, each character is a Roman politician and a large part of gameplay focuses on the internal conflicts that plague such officials. Players can use secret tricks designed to gain favor from Rome's political elite, or to hold back their opponents. By influencing the agendas of various Roman politicians, players can obtain the supreme position of power as Emperor of Rome.
Hundreds of characters, some based on historical figures, are available to place in strategic military or political positions. For example, a character such as Cicero would be better suited for a political role than commanding an army. Players can also match wits against up to five of their friends in various multiplayer modes as the fate of one of the greatest civilizations hangs in the balance.
Premised on the same game concepts as the critically acclaimed Europa Universalis, Pax Romana is a real-time 2D strategy game set in ancient Rome that requires careful management of political, economic, and military components. Sporting a map of Europe and northern Africa that's broken into hundreds of regions, the goal is to keep the Roman empire from crumbling, accumulate victory points through missions, and beat other players to a "Sudden Death" victory through faction survival. All of this is split between two play modes: strategic and political.
The strategic game is remarkably similar to Paradox's Europa Universalis. Military units are jockeyed between regions by left-clicking stacks and right-clicking their destinations; trade routes are established by managing imports and exports based on supply and demand economics; diplomacy is a delicate dance of alliances and bribes; and warfare uses familiar siege and assault characteristics that require careful attention to lines of supply and blockade tactics. As a strategic game, Pax Romana's only shortcoming is its tepid computer AI, a problem that also plagued Europa Universalis at release (and was later addressed through patches).
Where Pax Romana goes boldly wrong is its thorny political game, grafted lovingly onto the strategic system, but so deeply inexplicable at times that establishing a firm command of the mechanics feels like cramming for the MCAT with Cliff Notes. The political game is split into six factions competing for power in the Roman Senate. Each faction leader controls senators, equites (businessmen), and gold, and manipulates ratings like popularity, administration points, and votes to build a political agenda and gain influence. Much of the Roman Senate is modeled in fine detail, from the Consul Office (allows political proposals for military and diplomatic ends) and Hemicycle (where voting sessions are held), to the Domus (advisors) and an array of Roman buildings (baths, taverna, Temple of Vesta, bank, etc.) where everything from chariot races to consulting the gods takes place.
All told, it's simply too much to manage on top of the entire strategic game still clicking merrily along in the background. It's not that the systems themselves are poorly modeled, just that the interface to those systems is a daunting blizzard of buttons and sub-menus with nearly zero structural overlap tying it all together. And in a nod toward the ridiculous, you're actually on a timer in the forum. This makes no sense in solo play, and makes the already cumbersome logistics even more frustrating to slog through.
Other negatives include barren 2D graphics marred further by neon color schemes and jagged low-res regional boundaries. The sound effects work fine and the music is occasionally rousing, albeit predictable. Multiplayer uses no special matchmaking services, relying on individuals to set up one-on-one client/host games, so it's back to online ladders and forums if you want to scare up an opponent. There's a long tutorial filled with typos that barely skims the surface of game logistics while subjecting the player to a barrage of overlapping non-closable windows and blurry fonts that illustrate just how unsympathetic the interface can be. On a positive note, the game appears to be bug-free, except that my game tended to crash to the desktop when the game's speed was set to maximum.
If there's a lesson to be learned from Pax Romana, it's this: give us all the finger-licking detail you can pack in, but don't ruin it with a poorly conceived interface. It sunk Master of Orion III, and it sinks Pax Romana in the final analysis.
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