Star Trek: Judgement Rites – Review

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (1992) was a commercial success and highly praised by critics on MS-DOS. Star Trek fans everywhere were treated to the reunion of the original cast with episodic-type missions that contained all the atmosphere and charm of the television series. A sequel would be released a year later. Would it achieve the same success as its predecessor?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Star Trek: Judgement Rites is a single-player point and click game developed by Interplay Productions and released for MS-DOS in 1993. A version would be developed by Mac OS and released on the Mac in 1995. I chose to review the PC version downloaded from Steam.

Judgement Rites picks up directly after the final mission of 25th Anniversary. Once again you take command of the USS Enterprise bridge crew and are instantly thrown into a scenario that could spell disaster for the Federation. There are eight missions or “episodes” for you to complete with the emphasis on brains over brawn. The main story arc consists of the crew becoming aware that the missions they are embarking on seem to have been created by a superior race of aliens who are testing the Federation’s suitability for contact.

Captain’s Log…(screenshot taken by the author)

During each mission, Kirk, Spock and Mccoy beam to a planet or another spaceship. They are joined by a fourth member of the crew whose speciality is needed for that particular mission. In 25th Anniversary, the focus was very much of Kirk, Spock and McCoy but this game also allots time to other characters such as Uhura and Scotty, allowing them to come to the fore and shine.

The original cast all return to voice their characters which, naturally, makes you feel as if you are playing an episode from the Original series. The game just wouldn’t be the same without the dulcet yet unemotional tones of Spock, or the comedic bickering of Spock and McCoy that we know so well from the television series.

The missions and story are more complex than 25th Anniversary. The game really tests your problem solving skills (screenshot taken by the author)

The gameplay is identical to 25th Anniversary. You use the cursor to direct your characters to interact with objects and characters. When speaking to other characters, there are times when you have the option to choose a diplomatic or terse response. This will directly affect your end of mission score. If your end of mission score is too low, you will be ordered back to Starfleet Academy to retrain, ending the game so save multiple games and save often.

Once again, the vibrancy of the colours and the detail of the sprites and background are very pleasing to the eye. Apparently, Judgement Rites had sharper graphics and SFX than 25th Anniversary, but after comparison I can’t say I noticed it really. Maybe the backgrounds were more detailed but the improvements maybe so subtle as to go undetected by my aging eyes.

There are a few differences between Judgement Rites and 25th Anniversary. Firstly, 25th Anniversary focussed on individual missions much like the TV show. Judgement Rites sees most of the missions follow a story arc throughout the game. Also, unlike 25th Anniversary, you do not have to fight in a starship battle which I was a little bit disappointed in. After all, we all love a good starship battle don’t we?

I found this game harder and the missions more complex than 25th Anniversary, especially the mission called “Through This Be Madness…”. I felt that the puzzles were harder and there was greater depth to the material of each mission.

A character from the Original series makes an appearance and no it’s not Harry Mudd (screenshot taken by the author)

I first played this game almost 20 years ago. If memory serves, the voices of the original cast were not available then. I can’t remember if the issue was my computer or not but according to my research, the voices of the cast were only available on the CD-ROM versions. I wish more of these games were created as they are so much fun, and not just for Star Trek fans. I’m sure point and click fans would also enjoy the challenge of the game.

Together, 25th Anniversary and Judgement Rites feel like the final season of the Original series that the crew and fans deserved. With the passing of DeForrest Kelly, James Doohan and Leonard Nimoy, games revolving around the Original series are incredibly unlikely.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but I did need to use a walk through several times. Much more than I did with 25th Anniversary.

What the critics said:

Electronic Entertainment: “Judgement Rites captures the feel of the original show, down to the nuances of the dialog. Other than Kirk, though, the characters in the game aren’t used to their fullest potential, so there’s room for improvement. Overall 9/10.[1]

Awards:

Game of the Month – Electronic Entertainment (March 1994)[2]

My verdict:

“Complex and challenging puzzles, fantastic dialog true to the TV show, bright colourful graphics and excellent SFX. There is more depth to the peripheral characters although, it is still the Kirk, Spock and McCoy show. Pity about the lack space battles though.”

Rating:


[1] Olafson, P., ‘Game of the Month – Star Trek: Judgement Rites’. Electronic Entertainment. (March 1994). :80-1.

[2] Ibid,. :80-1.

Comix Zone – Review

By 1995, the lives of the 16-bit consoles such as the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were coming to an end. However, Sega still had a few tricks up their sleeve before ceasing production of Mega Drive games.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Comix Zone is a single-player beat ‘em up developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive and PC (North America) in 1995, and for the PC (Europe) in 1996. Later releases include:

Game Boy Advance (2002)

PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable as part of the Sega Mega Drive Collection (2007)

Wii Virtual Console (2009)

Xbox Live Arcade (2009)

PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009)

iOS as part of the Sega Forever collection (2017)

Android as part of the Sega Forever collection (2017)

The manual contains a black and white comic strip offering a more in-depth backstory the game:

General Alissa Cyan and Topol are fighting an army of monsters abs in dire need of rescuing. Sadly, Topol is killed before they can be rescued. Later, back in HQ, Cyan is arguing with the emperor, urging him to provide her with back-up to help take down the evil Mortus and his renegade army. As the emperor explains his reluctance to agree to her request, messengers inform them that another army of mutants is attacking Tibet City and that a “Doomsday Device” has been located near New Zealand. General Cyan decides that enough is enough. They need a “special operative” to help them defeat Mortus.

Sketch Turner is a comic strip artist (and freelance rock musician) who lives in New York City with his pet rat, Roadkill. One evening, whilst working hard at his desk, he is drawn into his comic strip where General Cyan explains that if they cannot stop Mortus, his form will become real, and he will be able to conquer the Earth.

Speech bubbles appear regularly throughout the game (Screenshot taken by the author)

The array of attacks and movements you can perform is quite impressive for a Mega Drive beat ‘em up. However, even though there are multiple punches, kicks, jump attacks and even throws, there is very little finesse to the fighting. It quickly becomes a button masher.

Along the way, you are joined by your pet rat, Roadkill who can help attack the baddies, assist in solving puzzles (I use this term very lightly), and can even sniff out power-ups.

One nice innovation is that there are occasions in the game where you need to decide which direction to go next. Once you decide, you cannot backtrack. One of the paths is more difficult than the other and can offer better power-ups.

However, one gripe I have with this game is how easy it is to lose energy. Punching crates, doors etc. that you need to break for power-ups or to progress makes you lose energy, which I think is a bit dumb considering the lack of ways there are to regain your health.

Tip:

Don’t be afraid to use your power-ups because when you finish the level, you will lose them anyway.

I use the term “puzzle” lightly, but there are occasions when you need to use your loaf (Screenshot taken by the author)

The levels are designed in a the style of a comic strip which I thought was ingenious when it was released. The graphics are fantastic, and the game blew me away when I first saw it all those years ago. The sprites and backgrounds are very detailed and colourful, and sprite animations look fab. I love how the baddies are drawn by and artists hand rather than just appear on the screen, adding to the authenticity that you are in a comic strip.

Throughout the game, there is a running commentary. Either General Cyan gives you instructions, or speech bubbles appear as your character and the baddies engage in repartee. When engaging in fighting, “wacks” and “pows” appear again adding to the comic strip feel. Another nice touch, comes when there are times that you can kick you enemies through the comic border into the next scene. It look quite dramatic!

The music lets this game down. I found it dull and easily forgettable.

The above mentioned ‘choose your path’ feature and the fact that there are two endings, adds some replay value to the game. Sadly, there is only one difficulty setting.

Did I Complete the Game?

No, I could not get past the boss at the end of Episode 2. This game is very hard!

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This is a very original game. Sure, it’s basically a side-scroller, but the comic look and frame concept works very well. Also, the graphics are very colorfuI, especially for the Genesis. There isn’t any exceptional fighting, but the look of the game carries it. The only drawback is the fact that you can get hit a lot, so you die a bit too often. Still, it has a fresh look to it, with a very original way of traversing to the next level. Comix Zone is a definite must-try. Overall 7.875/10.[1]

Next Generation: “A very cool idea for a game that wasn’t executed properly, Comix Zone is better than most. Overall 3/5.”[2]

My Verdict: “A fun concept for a game that still looks very cool today. Let down by the music and the repetitive nature of the fighting, this game just falls short of what could have potentially been a legendary game. It is also incredibly difficult.”

My Rating:

What are your memories of Comix Zone? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Comix Zone’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (August 1995). Issue 73:35. (https://archive.org/details/Electronic_Gaming_Monthly_073_August_1995_U/page/n33/mode/2up Accessed 15th April 2021).

[2] ‘Rating Genesis – Comix Zone’. Next Generation. (August 1995). Issue 8:75. (https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-008/page/n75/mode/2up Accessed 15th April 2021).

Metal Gear Solid – Review

Every now and then, a video game comes along that defines a generation. The game in question is always innovative and pushes the boundaries of what we thought was possible from a video game. These are the games that are burned into the brains of gamers everywhere. We’ve all heard of them, we’ve all played them, we’ve all loved them! In the late 70s it was Space Invaders, in the 80s it was Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. In the early 90s it was The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past and Sonic the Hedgehog. In 1998 it was Metal Gear Solid!

Title screen (Screenshot take by the author)

Metal Gear Solid (MGS) is a stealth game, billed as tactical espionage action. It was developed and published by Konami and released on the PlayStation in 1998 and for the PC in 2000. I used to own this game for the PlayStation all those years ago. However, for this review, I played the version found on the PlayStation Mini Classic.

Set in the year 2005, six years after the events of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990), a genetically enhanced special forces unit known as FOXHOUND has gone rogue and taken control of an island off the coast of Alaska. Why? Because the island contains a nuclear weapons disposal facility, meaning there are nuclear warheads present. Once they commandeer the facility, FOXHOUND threaten the US government with Metal Gear REX, a mecha capable of wielding and using nuclear weapons. To prevent nuclear weapons from being fired at the US, FOXHOUND demand the return of the remains of their deceased leader Big Boss as well as $1 billion within 24 hours.

Veteran Solid Snake is forced out of retirement by his former commanding officer and ordered to infiltrate the island and stop FOXHOUND.

The map allows you to see the line of sight of the enemy soldiers and security cameras, allowing you to evade detection (Screenshot take by the author)

The object of the game is to use stealth. Your mantra should be discretion is the better part of valour.

You take control of Snake as soon as he has entered the facility. To help navigate your way through the facility, you have a map in the top right hand of the screen that shows you where soldiers and security cameras are located. It also shows you their line of sight allowing you to evade notice. This is particularly handy because the game is played mostly from an almost top down view. There are only a few occasions when the angle changes: if you are crawling through a tunnel or under something, if you are pressed against a wall in an attempt to peer around it, or if you are using binoculars or a sight on a rifle or missile launcher.

A smart feature I was impressed with is the ability to knock down on walls and crates to get the attention of a nearby guard who will approach the sound. This allows you to slip by undetected.

Should you be detected, the music will change to a dramatic theme, your map will turn red and a countdown will begin once you have moved out of the enemy’s line of sight. Once the timer reaches zero, the map turns yellow and begins another countdown. You must continue to stay out of the enemies’ line of sight else they will spot you again and your map will turn red. Once the yellow timer reaches zero the enemy stop chasing you and you can use the map again to see where the enemy are located.

The codec allows you to communicate with mission control. They will either offer tips on how to procede or will contact you when the story is progressing (Screenshot take by the author)

You also have a codec, a communication device that allows you to speak to team members back at mission control. The people you communicate with will give you hints and tips on how to proceed. They will also contact you when the story progresses.

As the game progresses, you will trigger many cutscenes that will help story along and offer you more information. These cutscenes really draw you in. It’s the first game I played when I really felt like I was actively participating in a movie.

MGS really was a novel and innovative game when it was released. So much so that a training mode was needed. This could be found in VR Training Mode which allows you to get to grips with the controls and teachs you how to evade capture. It was very useful for gamers like myself who had hitherto been used to simple platform and sport games.

The cutscenes looked great for 1998, and really helped immerse you inot the story (Screenshot take by the author)

I remember when this game came out. A friend of mine bought it and lent it to me after he’d completed it. I was amazed! The graphics looked great for the time and the game felt eerily realistic.

The storyline is full of twists and turns and I still don’t think I fully understand what was going on. It will certainly have you reading up more about the game trying to make heads and tails of it.

The controls and camera angles take some getting used to. The almost top down perspective, even when firing your gun or rifle, make it difficult to see where the enemy is if they are not on screen which is very frustrating. The left joystick is used for aiming but takes practice to become accurate with it.

MGS really was imaginative in many ways. It broke the fourth wall on several occasions which, as a younger gamer, really freaked me out. Naturally, I won’t spoil it for you here but all I will say is that when fighting Psycho Mantis, you really DO need to think outside the box to defeat him.

MSG has several nice little touches too. For example, when it’s cold, you will see the breath from the sprites and when you are walking on snow, the guards will spot your footsteps. Also, when walking on some surfaces, if you run, you will create loud footsteps which will also alert the guards to your presence.

The over head angle can become frustrating as it is very limiting, particularly for a game where you really need to see your surroundings (Screenshot take by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, but only on the easiest setting.

What the critics said:

Computer and Video Games: “Metalgear is distinctive in that the game is woven around the story, rather than the opposite way around. The story sections are all portrayed using polygons, but look as slick as any FMV. Occasionally it’s quite funny – the wobbly bum close-ups in the prison block should raise a titter – but it’s always gripping. Overall 9/10.[1]

Gamepro: “However, Metal Gear’s solid works get slowed by a few wrenches. An inconsistent frame rate occasionally stalls the eye-catching graphics. Especially annoying are instances where you zoom in with binoculars or the rifle scope, and the graphics slow to a crawl while you pan back and forth. Another annoyance is in the early stages of the game, as you’re constantly interrupted with advice from your team that’s all listed in the instruction manual. Yet, even with its minor and distracting faults, Solid is this season’s top offering and one game no self-respecting gamer should be without. Forget fast-food action titles with rehashed formulas that never worked; Metal Gear Solid elevates video gaming to high art. Overall 5/5[2]

Game Revolution: “Let’s face it – the hype surrounding Metal Gear Solid would be hard for any game to match. It won numerous awards after E3, and deserved most of them. In the end, we have a great game, one of the best for the system. But its diminished length and excessive no-interactive plot hold it back from truly reaching the highest plateau. Still, this is a must have for any PSX library and a ton of fun. Overall A-.[3]

Gamespot: “Five years from now, when we look back upon Metal Gear Solid, what will we see? The game definitely is revolutionary in many ways. It breaks new ground in gameplay and truly brings the video game one step closer to the realm of movies. It is, without a doubt, a landmark game. But the extreme ease with which it can be mastered and the game’s insultingly short length keep it from perfection. Plus, do we really want games that are more like movies? If Hideo Kojima, the game’s producer, was so set on this type of cinematic experience, he should really be making movies instead of games. While Metal Gear Solid currently stands alone, it stands as more of a work of art than as an actual game. It’s definitely worth purchasing, but don’t be surprised if you suddenly get extremely angry when you finish the game the day after you brought it home. Overall 8.5/10.”[4]

IGN: “I’m in awe. An admittedly ambitious project from the very beginning, Metal Gear Solid has managed to deliver dutifully on all of its promises. From beginning to end, it comes closer to perfection than any other game in PlayStation’s action genre. Beautiful, engrossing, and innovative, it excels in every conceivable category. Overall 9.8/10.[5]

Next Generation: “There are precious few games in this world that end up living up to the hype when they are released – especially when they’ve been hyped as much as this one. However, rest assured that this is a game no player should miss and the best reason to own a PlayStation. Overall 5/5.[6]

Official PlayStation Magazine: “Metal gear Solid is just asking to be teased and dominated, and any gamer wanting to lock horns with the ultimate in plot, action and originality must grab a copy immediately. Overall 10/10.[7]

Arcade: “A brilliant, technically stunning, well thought through release  that’s sure to influence action adventure games for many years. Overall 5/5. [8]

Awards:

PlayStation Game of the Year – Electronic Gaming Monthly 1998 Gamers’ Choice Awards (Editor and Reader’s Choice)

Adventure Game of the Year – Electronic Gaming Monthly 1998 Gamers’ Choice Awards (Editor and Reader’s Choice)

Best Sound Effects – Electronic Gaming Monthly 1998 Gamers’ Choice Awards (Editor and Reader’s Choice)

Best Graphics – Electronic Gaming Monthly 1998 Gamers’ Choice Awards[9] (Editor Choice)

Excellence Award for Interactive Art – 1998 Japan Media Arts Festival[10]

My verdict:

“A truly legendary and ground-breaking game. Fantastic graphics and a fully engrossing storyline that will draw you in and mess with your head. Challenging and inventive boss battles will really test your mettle. You will certainly play through this game more than once!”

Rating:

What are your memories of Metal Gear Solid? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Alex C., (15th Aug 2001). ‘Playstation Reviews – Metal Gear Solid’. Computer and Video Games. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080615233719/http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=8389 Accessed 13th December 2020).

[2] Major Mike, (13th July 2005). ‘Review – Metal Gear Solid’. Gamepro. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080602095023/http://www.gamepro.com/sony/psx/games/reviews/236.shtml Acessed 13th December 2020).

[3]  (10/1/1998). ‘Metal gear Solid – PS’. Game Revolution. (https://web.archive.org/web/20070219011314/http://www.gamerevolution.com/review/sony/metal_gear_solid Accessed 13th December 2020).

[4] Gerstmann, J., (September 25, 1998). ‘Metal Gear Solid Review’. Gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/metal-gear-solid-review/1900-2546002/ Accessed 13th December 2020).

[5] Nelson, R., (22 Oct 1998). ‘Metal gear Solid’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/1998/10/22/metal-gear-solid-6 Accessed 13th December 2020).

[6]  ‘Playstation – Metal Gear Solid’. Next Generation. (December 1998). Issue 48:118-9. (https://archive.org/details/NextGeneration48Dec1998/page/n119/mode/2up accessed 13th December 2020).

[7] Griffiths, D., ‘Play Test – Metal Gear Solid’. OPM. (February 1999). Issue 42:88. (https://archive.org/details/official-uk-playstation-magazine-42/page/n87/mode/2up Accessed 13th December 2020).

[8] Pelley, R.,  ‘New PlayStation Games – Snakecharmer’. Arcade. (December 1998). Issue 1:126. (https://retrocdn.net/images/0/0e/Arcade_UK_01.pdf#page=128 Accessed 13th December 2020).

[9] ‘1998 Gamers’ Choice Awards’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. Issue 117:109-113. (https://retrocdn.net/images/4/4d/EGM_US_117.pdf Accessed 13th December 2020).

[10] ‘1998 Japan Media Arts Festival’. Plaza.bunka.go.jp. (https://archive.vn/gkmXZ Accessed 13th December 2020).

Age of Empires III (Including The War Chiefs and The Asian Dynasties Expansions) – Review

Keeping sequels fresh whilst staying true to the original franchise is a tough challenge for game creators. You can’t change things too much or too quickly without a backlash of disgruntlement from fans, but you also need to be seen as being progressive and innovative. The Age of Empires franchise has always been innovative in the way it has taken the gamer through history and given them control of countless civilisations from around the world. After the success of Age of Empires II and its spin-off, Age of Mythology, what new features would its creators include to keep the franchise fresh whilst still staying true to the originals concepts?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Age of Empires III (AOE III)is a real-time strategy game and the third in the Age of Empires franchise. Developed by Ensemble studios, it was published for PC by Microsoft Games in 2005 (The Mac version was published by Destineer’s MacSoft in 2006). Glu-Mobile published a mobile version in 2009. A remastered version was released in 2020. For this review, I revisited the original PC versions.

AOE III focusses on the European colonisation of the America’s between 1492 and 1876. The story mode focuses on the Black family and their fortunes and failures in North America. The story mode has a similar style to that of Age of Mythology (AOM) where there are cut scenes before and after each mission which progress the story along.

The game is broken into three acts:

Act One: Blood – The first campaign begins in the late 16th century and introduces Knight of Saint John, Morgan Black who must travel from Malta to South America in a bid to prevent the Circle of Ossus from finding the Fountain of Youth.

Morgan Black must travel to South America to prevent the Fountain of Youth from falling into the wrong hands (Screenshot taken by the author)

Act Two: Ice – The second act takes place in the mid-18th century, and sees Morgan’s grandson, John Black and Mohawk companion Kanyenke, ally with General Washington during the Seven Years’ War against the French.

John Black and Kanyenke join forces with George Washington against the French in the Seven Years’ War (Screenshot taken by the author)

Act Three: Steel – The third act takes palce in 1817, and sees Amelia, John’s granddaughter, who is trying to expand her railroad empire, pursue a French prospector to South America where he intends to find the Lake of the Moon and the Fountain of Youth.

Amelia is trying to regain her family’s fortune by building the new railway in the US (Screenshot taken by the author)

Thankfully, AOE III has moved away from the simple mission objectives of “build up your base and destroy the enemy base”. Although there are many missions where that is the end goal, there are also other interesting missions to ensure the game doesn’t become monotonous. An example of this is the Pirate’s Help mission where Morgan must gain 8000 experience points by doing a number of small missions in order to impress a pirate named Lizzie. Another is the Bring Down the Mountain mission in the John Black campaign where you need to use miners to hack down rocks to block mountain passes.

Secondary objectives do very little other than give you extra experience points with which to have more shipments sent from your home city or enables you to add features to your home city. Other than that, they are pretty pointless.

Another improvement is that there is greater differentiation between the civilisations. There are plenty of unique units to each civilisation, encouraging the gamer to try them all in Random Map mode in order to find their preferred units.

Different from AOE II but kept from AOM the gamer has the opportunity to choose how they wish to advance to the next technological age. Each path will offer different improvements and units and it is up to the player to decide which path is best suited for the mission at hand.

Although AOE II had ‘Heroes’, (e.g. Joan of Arc etc.) they fought like every other unit. AOM introduced the concept of a special ability or attack that ‘Heroes’ performed but these were automatic and could not be controlled by the player. AOE III has introduced special attacks that CAN be controlled by the player. ‘Heroes’ such as John Black can either use Hawk Eye – which kills almost all units with one shot, and Eagle Eye which is a powerful shot that damages enemy units in an area. Once used, you have to wait a minute or so before it can be used again. Some ships have a similar special attack where they pepper their intended target with cannon. 

Interestingly, sea battles and the use of ships in general seems to have taken a real backseat in this game. If memory serves, other than the Pirates!, Great Lakes, and Last Stand of the Boneguard missions, you can quite happily do without worrying about a naval presence. Whilst we’re on the subject of ships, they have dramatically increased the number of units each ship can carry. The problem with this is that there is no automatic disembarking button, so you have to manually click the unit’s icon for them to disembark, and when you’re carrying large numbers of troops, this can prove tricky in tight spots.

To make things a bit more challenging, and realistic with regard to technological advancement, Morgan Black’s campaign can’t advance past the Fortress Age, and John Black’s campaign cannot advance past the Industrial Age.

Other new features include:

Gaining experience points – Dotted around each map are several treasures or captured units, mostly protected by human or animal ‘guardians’. Defeating the ‘guardians’ and taking the treasures or rescuing the prisoners will gain you resources, units and/or experience points. These experience points enable the gamer to have shipments of resources, improvements or units sent to your town centre. Killing enemy units also gains experience points.

Build your shipment deck – After every mission you are unable to unlock more improvements for your shipments. This gives you the opportunity to build you own deck of shipments that you prefer to use during missions and Random Map modes. For example, one mission may require artillery, so provided you have unlocked an artillery card, you can swap that card in for another and have a shipment of artillery sent to your town centre.

Trading posts – There are two types of trading posts: The first consists of building a trading post in the village of local tribes. This enables further improvements to your units and resrouces as well as being able to train unique Native American units. The second consists of building trading posts at specific areas along trading routes. These routes regularly have traders travelling along them. At first, all these trading posts do is help gain experience points. As you move through the ages, you can upgrade the way the traders transport their goods, and also which resource you would like to have added to your stockpile.

AOE III has greatly improved graphics from AOEII. They have moved away from the 2D isometric view to a 3D model giving different parts of the screen a slightly different perspective. The buildings are incredibly detailed with animated, realistic looking smoke arising from fires and chimneys. The units are also very detailed, and beautifully illustrated and animated. This goes especially for the artillery, whose artillerymen are a hive of activity carrying, reloading and firing.

I very much enjoyed the story mode and the fact that you follow the same family over a 300 year period. Although fictional, the story is compelling and keeps you from skipping the cutscenes.

I really liked the experience points and shipment system employed in this game as I think it can certainly give you a tactical advantage when you get it right. I love the fact that parts of the buildings are blown off when they are under attack, adding the realism of warfare. Last but not least, AOE III has managed to create a beautiful score to go with the game. These are the types of musical scores that I find myself listening to simply because I enjoy them so much.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have played through this game several times and thoroughly enjoy the missions.

What the critics said:

1up.com: “It’s a rock-solid package, one that tightens every part of the existing game with a facelift worthy of the most talented plastic surgeon. Ensemble has proven no one can beat it at its own game, but neither will it be Age of Empires III the wannabes are aiming at in the coming months. Overall B-“.[1]

Game Revolution: “But no one buys strategy games for the sound effects – they buy them to agonize over tactics and statistics and this is why Age of Empires III is still a recommendable RTS. The steps it has taken in the gameplay department since Age of Empires II are negligible, but at least the new card-based bonus system adds an element of customization and depth to the genre. This result is as detailed as a history book, and about as much fun. Overall 3/5.[2]

Gamespot: “Age of Empires III has some very big shoes to fill, and on top of that, the real-time strategy market has grown hugely competitive due in no small part to Ensemble Studios’ previous accomplishments. This latest game offers a lot of what made Age II so great, and it’s got plenty of depth and lasting appeal, despite how most matches tend to begin and ultimately pan out similarly. Age III does seem surprisingly rough around the edges in some respects, and those expecting the game to revolutionize or even refresh this style of gaming may come away disappointed that their high expectations weren’t met. But those looking for a complex and interesting real-time strategy game with fantastic good looks and some historical flavor will find just what they want in Age of Empires III. Overall 8.2/10.[3]

Gamespy: “Age of Empires III is an absolutely fantastic title with superb graphics and tight gameplay. Single-player or multiplayer, no matter what your skill, you’ll get hours of joy out of this sucker online or off. Age of Empires III may not redefine real-time strategy gaming, but it sets the bar so high that we’ll be comparing games to this for years. Shoulder your musket and pony up: this one’s a real trip. Overall 5/5.[4]

Gamezone: “Age of Empires III is a must have game for any Real Time Strategy gamer. There are so many new additions in this game that it will boggle your mind. This is one of the best looking games, much less an RTS game, that is out on the market currently. This is one purchase you will not come to regret. Overall 9.5/10.[5]

IGN: “Age of Empires III is a superbly balanced and polished game and it definitely ups the ante for the C&C and ‘Craft developers. Discounting a few niggles in the interface, the whole presentation is rock solid. Each new release in the Age of Empires series has added something to the mix. But while Age of Empires II seemed to focus on quantity, Age of Empires III sacrifices some units and civilizations in order to make the whole experience much tighter. Overall 8.8.[6]

Awards:

2005 PC Turn-Based Strategy – 2005 Gamespy Gamers’ Choice Awards[7]

2005 Best Graphics – 2005 Gamespy Gamers’ Choice Awards [8]

2005 Outstanding Award – Gamezone[9]

My verdict:

“Great graphics, fantastic soundtrack, challenging gameplay, and lots of new features to keep you interested. It is easy to see why the Age of Empires franchise is so popular. I love these games and I find myself returning to them again and again.“

Rating:


AOE III: The War Chiefs was the first AOE III expansion pack to be released. It was developed by Ensemble Studios (Destineer’s MacSoft on the Mac), and was published by Microsoft Games for the PC in 2006 and MacSoft for the Mac in 2007.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

This expansion continues to follow the story of the Black family.

Act One: Fire – Nathanial Black is the son of John Black and Nonahkee of the Iroquis from Act Two: Ice of AOE III. His story begins in 1775. The campaign begins with Nathanial and his uncle Kanyenke trying to persuade the Seneca and Mohawk tribes not to join in the American Revolutionary War. Nonahkee is soon kidnapped by the Mohawk and a group of Hessian soldiers led by Colonel Sven Kuechler. It turns out Kuechler has gone rogue, so Nathanial joins forces with George Washington to pursue the leader of the Hessian Soldiers and rescue his mother.

Nathanial Black must join forces with George Washington in order to rescue his mother (Screenshot taken by the author).

Act Two: Shadow – The year is 1866. We are now introduced to Chayton Black, son of Amelia Black from Act Three: Steel of AOE III. His father, a member of the Lakota tribe, died when he was young. When American prospectors begin to encroach on Native American land in search of gold, Nathanial must decide which side to fight on.

Clayton Black is present at The Battle of Little Big Horn (Screenshot taken by the author).

Primary Objectives: Again, there is a nice array of different primary objectives to win the each mission. I found mission 6: Valley Forge particularly interesting because the first objective is to build 6 houses to shelter the men through the winter. The issue is that the cold depletes your gatherer’s energy bars and so you need to head back to the fires to gain your health back. Then you need to amass 3000 food before your town centre arrives and you can build a farm etc. This is before you build an army and destroy the enemy fort.

One new building that features is a fire pit. This enables you to instruct villagers to dance. There are up to 16 different dances, some of which vary depending on which tribe you are. Some of these dances are:

Fertility Dance – Increases unit training speed

Population Dance – Speeds up the production of units

Gift Dance – A slow trickle of experience

War Dance – Increases damage to enemy units

Holy Dance – Spawns Medicine Men.

Fire Dance – Increases damage to buildings and ships

Earth Mother Dance – Increases your population

The Fire Pit allows you to assign villagers to perform various dance to increase attack, resources, population etc. (Screenshot taken by the author).

Other new features include:

6 New Maps – These include: The Andes, Araucania, California, Northwest Territory, Orinoco and the Painted Desert.

Trade Monopoly – For Random Map players, a new ‘Trade Monopoly’ winning scenario has been added. Once a player owns more than half of the trading posts on a map can begin a timer. Your opponents need to destroy some of your trade posts before the timer runs down. Whilst the timer is ticking down, the player who started it cannot rebuild more trading posts if some of his has been destroyed until the timer stops.

More Native Tribes – Another four minor tribes to bring the overall total to 16.

Unique Technologies – Each Native civilisation has unique technologies.

Revolution – When advancing to the Imperial Age, European colonies have the option to revolt and form their own nation. A revolution gives your military a boost but can damage your economy as your settlers all change to colonial militia.

Stealth Mode – Certain Native tribe units have a stealth mode, allowing them to sneak past or sneak up on the enemy. However, this slows down your unit’s movement, and if you get too close to the enemy you will still be spotted.

New Skills for Heroes – Native heroes wuch as Wind Feather from the first mission can use Nature Friendship which convert treasure guardians to ally units.

What makes this expansion a bit more challenging is that not only are you unable to advance further than the Fortress Age, but you are also unable to build walls, an incredibly useful defensive necessity. There are also no watchtowers. Instead, your barracks act in a similar way and will fire arrows from a turret.

There is also less artillery available to the Native Americans. Instead they have either mantletes – Iroquis who carry a shield, and falconets – small cannon. There is only one mission where an allied army supplies bigger artillery for you.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Gamespot: “The WarChiefs expansion adds a solid amount of new content to the existing game, and while many of the new features provide interesting new ways to play and win the game, it’s fair to say that fans of the series will appreciate the changes. The WarChiefs does a lot to shake up the formula, but when you get down to it, the tried-and-true Age of Empires gameplay remains pretty much intact, and the expansion offers more depth and strategy to an already deep strategy experience. Overall 7.8/10.[10]

1Up.com: “…WarChiefs turns into an exciting exercise in completely rethinking old strategies. And this, after all, is what the best expansion packs do: not just add, but entirely revise. Overall A.[11]

Eurogamer: “All told, it’s quite a lot of newness from an expansion pack, and in many ways makes for a pretty considerable shift from how the original game works. Not everyone’s going to agree with me here, as Age Of Empires III certainly has its fans, but, for me, this is redemption (but only redemption & we’re not talking elevation to high levels of acclaim) of a sort for the original game. I laughed one of those laughs that sounds a little like crying when I heard that AOE3 had scooped the Best Online Game award at this year’s Golden Joysticks. What a baffling decision – it wasn’t a terribly interesting game, it was just by the numbers RTS, and in many ways, pretty boring. I prefer my strategy over-the-top, even slightly silly, so being able to vanquish a foe by setting a horde of hypnotised bears on him is far more like my idea of fun. Overall 6/10.[12]

Gamespy: “In the end, The WarChiefs is yet another demonstration of why Ensemble Studios remains among the first rank of strategy game developers. The single-player aspects of the game may indeed be just more of the same, but in this case it’s pretty damned good. On top of that, the multiplayer additions elevate the expansion to a must-own. Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs has managed to re-invent and reinvigorate the game. I’m sorry guys. I’ll never doubt you again. Overall 4.5/5.[13]

IGN: “As we said at the beginning, Ensemble’s not known for producing expansions that alter the strategies of concepts of their core games. Given the popularity and quality of the core games, who are you to argue? Fans of Age of Empires III who are just looking for more content are definitely going to be pleased with the expansion. Those who are hoping for something new or different aren’t going to find it here. Some of the Native American concepts offer a nice twist, as does the inclusion of revolutions and monopolies, but to be totally honest, they could just call the game More Age of Empires III and we’d still line up to play it. Overall 8.2.[14]

My verdict:

“Personally, I really enjoyed War Chiefs. The limiting of the artillery and defensive structures were a challenge. The stories and scenarios were good, and it was nice to return to play as some other members of the Black family.”  

Rating:


Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties is the second expansion pack for AOE III. It was developed by Ensemble Studios in collaboration with Big Huge Games and published by Microsoft Games for the PC in 2007; and developed and published by Destineer’s MacSoft for the Mac in 2008.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

This expansion pack leaves the Black family behind and introduces three more civilisations: Japan, China and India, and is broken down into three campaigns respectively.

Japan – This campaign focusses on the reunification of Japan (a scenario of Age of Empires II: The Conquerors) and the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It begins with The Siege of Osaka c.1614-15.

The Asian Dynasties expansion saw some beautifully designed Asian buildings and a whole plethora of new units unique to these ancient civilisations (Screenshot taken by the author).

China – This campaign is based on the controversial hypothesis that China reached the Americas before Columbus.

China’s campaign sees the introduction of the Treasure Ship, which regulalry generates a resource of your choice (Screenshot taken by the author).

India – This campaign introduces a new character, Subedar Nanib Sahir who serves the East India Company, and focusses on the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Follow Nanib Sahir as he joins the Indian Revolution (Screenshot taken by the author).

As well as the design of the buildings, which fit with their respective Asian cultures, there is the introduction of loads more unique units. Other new features include:

Wonders – When advancing to the next age, you must choose to build a wonder. Each wonder offers either units or a resource bonus.

Rice Paddies – Instead of farms, rice paddies can be built. They can be used by villagers to gather food or gold.

Consulates – This new building allows your base to ally with a foreign power. This allegiance will allow you to buy foreign units not otherwise available to you. Export (symbolised by a green leaf) is automatically generated as your villagers gather resources. However, it is generated a lot slower making it more difficult to buy foreign units.

Treasure Ships: For many of the Chinese campaigns, you have a treasure ship which generates a resource of your choice every minute or so.

I didn’t enjoy this expansion quite so much as the others. To me, it felt like there were so many upgrades to use resources on and they were so expensive that I found you could complete each mission before using them.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Gamespot: “Like The WarChiefs expansion from last year, The Asian Dynasties does a good job of introducing distinct new civilizations to Age of Empires III–only this time, instead of Native American tribes, there are three iconic Asian civilizations to play with now. There’s a fair amount here to dig into if you’re a serious Age of Empires fan or someone who likes Asian civilization. Overall 7.5/10.[15]

Gamespy: “No self-respecting Age III fan would want to miss out on all the East meets West fun, not to mention the new artwork: such gorgeous pagodas, arches, minarets and colors that those musty old Europeans could scarcely imagine in their new worlds. This expansion pack is a rare and generous package of new visuals, new gameplay, and absolutely crucial improvements to the core game. If you weren’t an Age III fan before Asian Dynasties, get ready to be one now. Overall 4.5/5.[16]

IGN: “Asian Dynasties is another great chapter in the Age of Empires series and one that strategy gamers with a yen for the Far East should definitely investigate. The units are colorful, the combat is exciting, and the story, though not as thrilling as Age 3 or as historically relevant as Age 2, is still strong enough to carry the action. It’s true that the missions leave a bit to be desired in terms of but I don’t want to come down too harshly on the campaign here because at the end of the day, Asian Dynasties is a heck of a lot of fun. I mean, the elephants alone are worth the price of admission. Overall 8/10”.[17]

My verdict:

“I enjoyed the storyline and the game still looks and plays great. My only gripe is the increase in expensive upgrades that are not worth the effort of gathering resources for. Other than that, it gets a thumbs up from me.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Empires III and its expansion packs? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Lee, G., (10/14/2005). ‘Review – Age of Empires III’. 1up.com. (https://archive.is/20100105233119/http://www.1up.com/do/reviewPage?cId=3144773&did=1 Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[2] Dodson, J., (November 1st, 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Game Revolution. (https://www.gamerevolution.com/review/36011-age-of-empires-3-review Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[3] Kasavin, G., (October 14, 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Gamespot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-review/1900-6135842/ Accessed 14th November 2020).

[4] Kosak, D., (October 18, 2005). ‘Review – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii/659812p1.html Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[5] Amer, N., (10/18/2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Gamezone. (https://web.archive.org/web/20071011063943/http://pc.gamezone.com/gzreviews/r25458.htm Accessed 14th November 2020).

[6] Butts, S., (14 Oct 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2005/10/14/age-of-empires-iii Accessed 14th November 2020).

[7] (November 23rd 2006). ‘PC Real-Time Strategy Game of the Year – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061123230259/http://goty.gamespy.com/2005/pc/index15.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[8] (November 23rd 2006). ‘Best Graphics – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061128225404/http://goty.gamespy.com/2005/pc/index20.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[9] Knutson, M., (10/16/2005). ‘Age of Empires III’. Gamezone. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061214005041/http://pc.gamezone.com/gzreviews/r25458.htm Accessed 15th November 2020).

[10] Ocampo, J., (October 20th, 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs Review’. Gamespot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-the-warchiefs-review/1900-6160294/ Accessed 15th November 2020).

[11] Chick, T., (10/17/2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The War Chiefs’. 1up.com. https://archive.is/20131219221713/http://www.1up.com/reviews/aoe-iii-warchiefs Accessed 15th November 2020).

[12] Meer, A., (9th November 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The Warchiefs’. Eurogamer. (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/aoe_wc_rev_pc Accessed 15th November 2020).

[13] Rausch, A., (October 20th, 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii-expansion-pack/740899p2.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[14] Butts, S., (18th October 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2006/10/17/age-of-empires-iii-the-warchiefs-review Accessed 15th November 2020).

[15] Ocampo, J., (October 23, 2007). ‘Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties Invasion Review’. Gamespot. https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties-review/1900-6181567/ Accessed 15th November 2020).

[16] Chick, T., (Oct 24, 2007). ‘Reviews – Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties/830070p2.html Accessed 16th November 2020).

[17] Butts, S., (23rd October 2007). ‘Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2007/10/23/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties-review?page=3 Accessed 16th November 2020).