Reviewed by Tony Gee
Title: Centurion: Defender Of Rome
Sytems: PC Dos/Sega Genesis (Mega Drive)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Bits Of Magic
Ok, let me start by saying that I purchased this game upon it's release for the mega drive way back when i was only a wee lad and it has always been something of a special game for me, so if this review seems a little lenient towards the game that is why. Now lets get down to the 'Nitty Gritty'. Centurion: Defender Of Rome takes place in the time immediately after the Roman Conquest of Italy and covers all of Europe and small parts of Africa and the Middle East/Asia. Your job as leader of this new power is to conquer the known world and become Caesar by sword or by stick and wax board. It's your choice... or it would be if those silly little barbarians didn't want to stab you so much!
On loading the game you are greeted by the story of Romulus and Remus with some pretty little pictures and mood setting music thrown into the mix to try get you in the mood. After this you are taken to a map of the Mediterranean, this is where you will spend most of your time on this game, either planning strategy or checking on the evil painted ones current moves. On this screen you can also enter the options menu and adjust the various difficulty settings on the game, there are five in all but more on them later. You start the game with one available legion to command in your home province of Italy ( or Rome if you prefer ), this is a small legion but it's all you will be able to use for your first few years as the head of Rome and its armies. Right, so we have an army of men with pointy things, and we have a world of weak minded fools just waiting for some civilized men to kill them and rape their women... lets get it on.
We march our mighty legion into the Alps and are met at the border by their current leader.. who is naked. Its at this time that you can try to convince the men of the Alps to join your great new empire without bloodshed, this is done in way of conversation where the wrong choice will lead to battle or retreat. It's probably worth pointing out at this point that very few of the nations on this game can be recruited diplomaticaly, from my experience only 3 of them will join in this manner.. but i will leave it up to you to find out which ones they are. So we have spoken to our naked friend and asked for a peaceful end to their nation and in reply got three grunts and a pelvic thrust, i think it's time for war!
When you enter battle you are given a few tactical options on how to deploy your men, usually strong left, strong right, wedge or an even deployment. Once you have chosen a formation its time to commence battle. The rather weak Alpine army will start to advance accross the field towards your waiting legions, it's up to you to choose whether to advance and meet them or to sit back and wait ( I will point out that by waiting for them you have a major advantage as your men get 2-3 free slashes at the enemy before they get chance to reply ). So you sit back and wait all the while watching the small alpine army marching towards the waiting legions and its ultimate defeat. Once battle is joined you can either sit back and watch the slaughter or use your General to issue orders to your men to help them along ( more on him later)...... Victory!. Rome has been victorious and what's left of the naked horde is running back to their wives to reclaim their pants. You are now a leader of both Italy and the Alps, how proud do you feel now?
Ok, before I move on I would like to discuss generals as they are a big part of the game and can be the single thing that decides the outcome of battle. Each general has two stats, one is range ( the distance his voice will travel ) and the other is influence ( the likelyhood of the men listening to what he says and his effect on battlefield morale ). Range is the more important trait as a general with a small range skill can only command the few units directly surrounding him, therefore the majority of your army must work without battle orders, on the other hand a good range means he can command all the troops under his command. Also note that generals need to be protected. If he dies your army will run away rather quickly and with quite disastrous results. Thats all you need to know about generals.
So we have slapped the Alpine barbarians around a bit and gained some territory, now lets see what we can do here. First thing you can do is replace your dead with fresh recruits from the alps even if this isn't advised, I say this for one reason.. morale. Each territory has a morale rating for the troops you can recruit here. In Rome it's the best and in a territory like the alps, it's terrible, so recruiting from here would reduce your overall army strength due to weakening morale. You can also plunder the province for a denarii boost and set the tax rate for your rule of this land, (please note that looting the province will upset the populace and may drive them to rebel). You can also hold games to keep them happy for a charge in Denarii, or you could just check up on things. Now that just about covers the attacking and ruling sections of this game, so lets go look again at the main map.
In between making a cup of tea and gloating about your recent victory you notice an egyptian army trying to look innocent while stumbling towards Rome and drooling.. maybe you should prepare to defend your homeland. Rome always has one legion ready to defend that can't be used by the player anywhere else, this is a large advanced legion and can easily deal with most problems on the easier levels of difficulty. You also can't talk your way out of a defence and must fight to the death for the glory of Rome. This is one of the most disappointing things about the game for me, while the marauding armies can take territories off you on their march to Rome they can't take territories for themselves and they never intend to do it, its just usually something they do if the territory is in the way of their set route to Rome. Also only four or five nations in the game can or will launch attacks on Rome, so get rid of them and you rid yourself of the need to defend. And lastly, if you lose Rome you lose all tax incomes untill you take it back, so that should be a priority.
There is also a naval element to this game that is a small part of the whole, you can build 3 different types of ships differing in size and maneuverability all of which must be paid for from your own purse. you can then use this fleet either for troop transport or naval war, Naval battles are somewhat more difficult than its land based counterpart. When you enter a naval battle you are given a choice of what ship you wish to command out of the 3 available units ( if you have all three in your navy that is ), once you have made your choice you command this ship in a one on one battle with your opponents flagship. The weapons at your command are archers and Ramming/ Boarding, you should use the tactic best suited to the ship you are using while taking into account your enemies choice, ie: don't try to board larger ship with a smaller one unless you have whittled their numbers down with archers first. While you and you're opposite are duelling all the other ships in the fleets will be battling it out off screen, the result of your battle has a large effect on this but sinking the enemy commander in no way gurantees success, sometimes you are just too outnumbered.
It is also possible to be promoted in this game, promotions come after victories and empire expansion and there are 12 levels ending with you becoming Caesar once you conquer every territory in the known world. Each level gives you some bonus to the legions you command ranging from the number of different armies you can control to the number of men available in each army. You will find out more as you work your way through the levels. You also need to pay close attention to your wealth in this game as it will be needed in large amounts to either pacify your newly conquered lands or to build your fleets that will control the Med. You gain money through tax and plunder as a rule but you can also increase this through betting on yourself in chariot races, so lets get our cheque book out and go to the races.
Chariot racing is one of the sub games that come with Centurion ( the other being gladiator fighting ) and you can both participate in the race and bet on the outcome of it. So you want to race, first you must buy a chariot by picking from the 3 available options ranging from small and fast, to big and strong. After getting your equipment sorted you start the race. During the race you need to adjust the speed of your team by either whipping the horses or pulling them back all the while directing your team around the track. You also have the ability to strike your fellow competitors and kill them in nice cold blood.. all in the name of victory, this isn't all as easy as it sounds. There is quite a lot to learn about chariot racing and you will find yourself in a stretcher the first few times you try, so don't bet untill you know what you are doing.
You can also fight in gladiator battles, to do this you need to first pick a gladiator to fight for you and pick either a gladiator or animal to fight against you, the more difficult the battle the better your reputation becomes with victory. Gladiator fighting for me was rather dull though, in reality its just hack and slash untill someone is dead.. how glorious eh?. So you win races, you kill panthers and you conquer nations of naked hairy men, what was it all for? Well let me tell you. When you complete the game you will be taken to a screen hailing you as Caesar and giving you a short story about how empires never last forever, after this you are taken to a screen showing how many men you slaughtered on your way to triumph along with how many poor legionaires you got killed too. Its sometimes nice to see how much of a gap you can get between the two numbers.
That's most of the game side of things covered, all thats left to be said is the games music is rather dull and repetative with some not terrible nor great sound effects and the graphics are what one can expect of a game thats 14 years old.
PC vs Genesis: ahh the eternal question.. which version rules the mediterranean?. My answer neither, the only real difference is in the control styles with the PC winning for me with its mouse driven cursor while the genesis version required the old move the pointer through every territory on the map approach before getting to the one you want. To even it out though the graphics on the genesis are a little better when compared to the PC version so I call it a draw.
Historical Accuracy: seeing as I'm writing this for the kind people at UNRV history I thought I better cover how closely it ties in to the real life Roman empire and its history, but it's difficult. I say this because while the game is set in the Roman era and is based around the foundation of the Roman empire, there isn't really that much they could have done to be more accurate while leaving room for the player to make his own destiny. The chariot races and gladiator fights do help to bring the spirit of Rome to the game as do the couple of storylines you see in the game. But where it lacks is in the military terms, the legion just doesn't feel like a legion, it could be anyone in a shiny helmet and red coat to be honest, and also the game world doesn't have any real feel to it due to the lack of any real artificial intelligence from the computer opponents.
All in all I still like Centurion, it's a fun game that can be a real challenge on the hardest level and is fun for Caesar wannabes who just don't have the time to do something similar on a more recent and longer lasting game like Rome: Total War. While the game is no longer available in the shops or in production a few copies are still sold in online stores and on Ebay so have a look, it will be well worth the search.