Set in 1800, Champion of the Raj places you in command of one of five factions (British, French, Mogul Empire, Maruthras, Sikhs or Gurkhas) vying for control of India.
Territories under your control will generate taxes which can be put towards hiring troops, improving the military, industry or law and order. Hiring troops and improving their weaponry allows players to attack and capture other territories, while investing in industry or law and order can improve the economy and reduce discontent.
Players can also choose to use negotiation to bring new territories into their empire. The result of these negotiations often hinges on winning arcade sequences, an elephant race or a tiger hunt. Arcade sequences also follow major events such as capturing the palace of an enemy empire.
Champion of the Raj is a strategy game set in 19th century India during a time when India was controlled by a number of different regional and foreign factions. A Hindu cult threatens to seize the entire Indian subcontinent and subject its people to madness by trying to destroy India from within. To achieve this, the cult would have to pit the six major factions against each other; once they finish their bloodletting, they would be too weak to stop the cult from taking control of India.
You are the leader of your faction or your faction's interests in India, depending on the character you choose to play as. In order to destroy the cult, you will have to gain control of all of India--the cult's goals are hopeless against an unified India--by either conquering the other factions or convincing them to follow you peacefully. Once India is united under you, you can then turn your full attention to stopping the cult.
The game's storyline has one large plot hole which brings the game's appeal down somewhat. According to the opening sequence, the Viceroy of Britain was captured by a cultist thug, imprisoned, and escaped with the help of a peasant girl. It does not say anything about how the other five factions fit into the story, and they are even introduced to the Viceroy at the end of the sequence. Also, there is no explanation why the factions could not unite from the start and defeat the cult, even if their truce was temporary.
Invading Indian territories or defending your own requires the use of an army, however the computer doesn't always let you take the field if the statistics are well in your favor or really against you. This eliminates the possibility of armchair strategians pulling off spectacular victories in the face of insurmountable odds. If you happen to defeat a territory that contains the palace of one of your rivals, you have the opportunity to seize all of that rival's territories if your character can fight his way through the palace. If not, you just win the territory you captured, and your rival lives on to fight another day.
As the leader or representative of your faction, you receive taxes from your territories, which you may use to invest in one of three categories: military, industry, or law. Investing in military improves the quality of your soldiers, while industry improves the quality of life and amount of taxes you take in. Investing in law means the difference between punishment without trial and an impartial court, and reduces the likelihood of rebellions.
A disappointing feature of Raj are the two mini-games that you play when negotiating with other factions. In one game, you have to participate in an elephant race and outrun three other competitors, who may try dirty tricks during the race. The other game is tiger hunting, where you have to shoot tigers and avoid shooting people that are watching. Winning an elephant race or shooting enough tigers improves your status with a rival faction, while losing risks your relationship and your life. Another mini-game involves dueling against an assassin, which really is just based on rock/paper/scissors and requires a whole lot of luck. If you lose the duel, you lose your life. The controls used in the mini-games aren't very responsive, and they hamper your ability to play.
Champion of the Raj is a difficult game to get in to, due in part to the clunky controls when issuing commands and the lack of information the game provides you about events that occur in India. Sometimes you may lose partial or complete control of the mouse, particularly after playing a mini-game, and a solution for this has not yet been found, other than playing Raj with a keyboard (even though the controls are a lot worse).
Champion of the Raj is a unique strategy game that depicts the competition among the British, Maharajas, Monguls, and Gurkhas to claim India in the 1800s for their own. The accumulate-resources-to-raise-army approach of traditional conquer-thy-neighbor games is presented under the trappings of intriguing culture that you control. For instance, the Maharajas can orchestrate elephant racing to raise money, British colonel commands a powerful army of musketeers, and Mongol khan control the formidable horsemen. Because of these different units and other, more subtle, differences, each race requires unique strategies to win, giving the game considerable replay value. Competent AI and pleasant graphics and animation round off this old game that should appeal to fans of KOEI's Oriental strategy games, as well as anyone looking for a unique premise in strategy game.
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