Grand Ages: Rome is a follow-up to the empire-building game Imperium Romanum.

First came Glory of the Roman Empire, then the more well-known Imperium Romanum, both city-building strategy games to inspire the construction of your own ancient empire. Now Grand Ages: Rome is the sequel to a sequel.

Whereas many first-person strategy games treat resource management as little more than a prelude to combat, Grand Ages: Rome has a more cultured strategy, focusing heavily on the construction and management of a complex, interdependent set of buildings and municipal services. Unfortunately, this approach may mean that, like the Roman Empire itself, Grand Ages: Rome loses out to more barbaric rivals with better-developed combat systems.

Which isn't to say that Rome's combat is entirely without merit. Grand Ages: Rome's graphics, which are uniformly superb, are perhaps at their very best during mêlées, with a pleasing balance between grand spectacle and minute attention to detail. But Grand Ages: Rome combat needs either a decent variety of troop types or a good range of manoeuvres to keep things interesting; Grand Ages: Rome has neither. You'll generally find yourself simply piling in with all your legions.

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Grand Ages: Rome's strength lies in its city-management aspects, although here too there are concerns. For one thing, the way your city meshes together is bafflingly complicated.

Even after dutifully playing through both tutorial levels, we faced numerous obstacles in building our first city, with crime, fire and civil discontent bursting out spontaneously to punish us for planning errors.

Helpful overlays in Grand Ages: Rome will colour-code the areas of your empire that are troubled by specific problems - you can make crime hotspots glow red, for instance, or highlight underemployed 'plebs' - and it would be wise to make judicious use of these, particularly as you get started.

The layout of a well-designed city in Grand Ages: Rome is dependent on the proximity of key buildings. Each one affects others within a certain distance (click a building and a circle will appear to demonstrate this). So your Grand Ages: Rome brickworks needs to be close to a stone quarry in order to get the resources it needs.

The first few times you may well miss something important early on, and find yourself stymied later. It takes a while to get the hang of the way Grand Ages: Rome works, but it's clearly the product of thoughtful design.

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Grand Ages: Rome: Specs

  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 2.0 GHz Pentium 4/Athlon processor or better
  • DirectX 9.0c
  • DirectX 9-compatible 3D graphics card with 128MB RAM
  • GeForce 6600 (ATI 9600) or better
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8x DVD-ROM drive
  • 1.5GB free hard disk space
  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 2.0 GHz Pentium 4/Athlon processor or better
  • DirectX 9.0c
  • DirectX 9-compatible 3D graphics card with 128MB RAM
  • GeForce 6600 (ATI 9600) or better
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8x DVD-ROM drive
  • 1.5GB free hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

Grand Ages: Rome looks fantastic, but the gameplay is a little on the dry side. The city-building elements are intricately designed but frustratingly difficult to master, while the combat – usually the highlight of such titles – feels almost like an afterthought. It should reward the patient gamer, however.

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