Reviewed: December 12, 2003
Released: November 6, 2003
It is 272 B.C. and you are a Roman Senator on a mission to become a living God to the known world. Corruption, warfare, seduction, political intimidation are just some of the methods at your disposal.
Pax Romana boasts:
Pax Romana is an extremely complex game. You’re supposed to control economic development, fight off rival factions, conduct military actions, complete administrative duties like building roads and trade routes and win elections all in the historically accurate setting of ancient Rome. The mere premise of this game sets such a high standard that it can only be met with an extremely well thought out interface and tutorial. Pax Romana fails in both these categories.
The tutorial is completely useless due to the fact you can’t complete it. The two most important areas, Combat and the Forum, (where all your diplomacy takes place) have fatal bugs in them. In the case of the Combat chapter, the mouse cursor disappears and when it does reappear, it freezes. In the Forum you’re asked to go the Baths in order to pay the debts of another Senator so that they’ll switch to your faction. The only problem is that the tutorial asks you to click on a Debt icon that isn’t there. Your only option is to exit to the main menu and abandon the chapter.
Another glitch is when you’re asked to go to the Basilica to coerce some businessmen into your corner. Once you enter the building the instruction panel asks you again to enter the Basilica. You can’t move forward in the tutorial and you’ve hit a dead end. I went to the official website and found that these are very common problems with word that a patch might be coming before Christmas.
Even if the bugs were not present I wouldn’t like how the tutorial was set up. If you want something repeated you have no option to go back except to start the whole damn thing over again. The instruction screen is always in the way and you have to constantly move it to see what you’re doing. It’s flawed through and through.
If or when your frustration subsides and you actually wish to play the game you have two general options; Political or Strategic campaigns. Strategic games give you the opportunity to become head of state of the Roman nation and conquer the world for the glory of the Republic. A political game entails heading up one of six local factions with the goal of becoming the emperor of Rome. Both options are played pretty much the same way, it’s just in the Strategic campaign you don’t have to focus so much on local politics.
After the type of campaign is selected you then get to choose which type of scenario you’d like. First Punic War, Second Punic War, Rise of Caesar, etc. Then you choose which faction leader you want to be. All have their advantages and disadvantages. Some have more money to spend on elections, while others have more influence with the military.
Finally comes the game play. Each scenario is on a timer, 5 minutes for every month, and you’re off and running. I choose the First Punic war as my scenario. The first thing that occurs is that you’re asked to choose between accepting or declining a treaty from another nation. I chose to accept it but the OK button wasn’t available. I then chose to decline the treaty; once again the OK button wasn’t available. The only time the OK button was available was when I didn’t make a choice!?! Gee, I guess yet another glitch.
The first thing I wanted to do was to go the Forum and recruit some senators to my faction. One problem. How the hell do I get there? The Forum chapter in the tutorial takes you there and doesn’t explain how to get there from the main map. The manual doesn’t give a clue either. I eventually found out that you can only go to the Forum once a year and then you’re only allowed to spend 5 minutes before you have to go to the senate and vote. So what’s supposedly the most important aspect of this game, the simulation of ancient Roman politics, only has a few minutes devoted to it? Idiotic.
Need I go on?
There is no flow to this game nor real direction or guidance. The interface doesn’t make a clear enough connection between the Military, Diplomatic, Economic, and Administrative modes to complete the general picture of what you’re supposed to do. Not to mention that the interface is extremely poor and almost unplayable. The official website stated that they’re printing a 200 page manual (four times the size of the one I have) which would have been nice the first time around.
The designers tout the fact that everything is historically accurate, from the type of language that was spoken to the type of technology that was available. And as far as I could tell this was true. You learn interesting tid-bits here and there but it certainly doesn’t make up for the lack of game play. If only they had put the same amount of attention into the interface as they did into the historical accuracy this game might have been fun.
You basically have a 2D map and some minimal animation. Another detail that was overlooked is how the faction leaders are rendered. You have a picture of a guy who looks to be about sixty, but in his profile it states he’s 19 years old! If the whole thing weren’t so stupid it would be funny.
There was also no regard for realism when it came to the animation aspect. It all looks right out of the early to mid 1990’s. Inside the Baths for example people move in triple time and the water flows at such a high speed that it looks as if it might flood entire western Italy.
The sound is the only department that wasn’t asleep at the wheel. The score is evocative, and appropriate. It feels straight out a movie. Inside the buildings you have some nice ambiance stuff like the water flowing in the Baths, and faction members mumbling to each other in the Senate. It’s certainly minimal but it works.
If you want to spend thirty bucks on something that is almost unplayable then by all means go for it. There’s a multiplayer mode so you and your friends can all get frustrated together. Have fun!
Pax Romana begs the question, if one is not able to learn how to play a game, how is it possible to play it? It’s something that should’ve been asked by the deviant game developers before this game was even sent out. I have no patience for a game that has as many bugs as this one does. There’s no excuse for it except laziness or just a sheer contempt of the game playing public.
Pax Romana is a case of a fantastic premise being undermined by incompetent developers. Save your time and hope that one-day there will be a decent simulation of becoming a senator from ancient Rome.