Pax Romana doesnâ€™t look promising at first. Gameplay initially seems like a ripoff of Europa Universalis and Victoria. The bland map and visuals mimic these predecessors, and the strategic mode of play is predictable. While there is no grand campaign to carry you from the First Punic War to the Ides of March, there are five scenarios set throughout Republican history. You guide Rome through all three wars against Carthage, conquer Greece, deal with the Social War, examine the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, and take part in hypothetical alternate histories.
All of this is entertaining. Still, it feels like Europa Universalis Lite because the setting predates the nation-state. And despite what youâ€™ve seen on TLC, much of this era is one big blank. Where Paradox had the advantage of using fairly recent events, developer Galilea was stuck with sketchy details about ancient Rome and nothing about everybody else. Because of this, historical events donâ€™t pop up often, and diplomatic options are worthless variations on demanding bribes. Games devolve into Risk in togas. The multiplayer option might be more fulfilling, but since itâ€™s limited to direct IP and LANs, good luck finding out.
Galilea must have known this, though, since the designers added a fascinating single-player political mode set in virtually the same scenarios. This option plays up the one-sided historical record, as you take the part of a faction leader struggling to advance both Rome and his personal standing. Instead of starting out in control of the Republic, as you do in a strategic game, you pick a political figure and have at it with your rivals.
While international affairs remain a priority, gaining personal prestige is of more importance. To this end, you need to woo senators and equites, run political candidates, and offer games for the masses. Elect a consul and you can put proposals on the senate floor dealing with all manner of state business, from the bread distribution to declaring war. Unfortunately, most of this action takes place for just a few minutes each year, after the consuls take office in January. Overall, this is a comprehensive and thoroughly interesting political simulation.
Scared yet? You shouldnâ€™t be. Galilea has taken the fear out of the words â€œcomprehensive political simulationâ€ with a personable interface that lets you approach the game like Caesar would have approached the polis. Rather than navigating menu screens, you enter different buildings in the Forum. To recruit senators, for instance, you take a trip to the baths and spread the money around. Building popularity with the masses is as easy as visiting the taverna and sponsoring a play. And so forth.
About the only thing that the political mode of play is missing is the Roman military. Expanding the Republic is a major goal, but units arenâ€™t given any appreciable detail outside of naming commanders. And as usual with these sorts of epic strategy games, patches are needed. Artificial intelligence is currently spotty. Though you can turn over the more boring economic and trade functions to the computer, doing so is apt to leave you bankrupt. So while the game is more than a little basic visually, the initially poor graphics are forgiven thanks to the depth of simulated politics and nation-building.
System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, Win95
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