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Centurion: Defender of Rome

Centurion is an impressive to behold war strategy and management game released by Electronic Arts in March of 1991, three years in the making. It was created by a team of video game design and development heavyweights, including Cinemaware veterans Kellyn Beck and Jim Sachs. It also boasted programming royalty via Nicky Robinson and the musical talents of Rob Hubbard. In other words, the cast and crew were A-listers.

And the game concept was about as ambitious as they come: bring eye-popping graphics and game mechanics depth to a game that centered on creating the Roman Empire. (Could you have been a Caesar?) Start in Rome, Italy, in 275 B.C. and work your way across the continent and beyond by building your legions while simultaneously pleasing and controlling your restless subjects.

From a visual standpoint, Centurion is quite nice. You can certainly see Jim Sach’s influence in the artistic realism found in the character’s faces during various confrontations. They look like they could have been plucked directly from Defender of the Crown.

Starting the game puts your rank at Officer, which affords you but one legion to command. The more land and people you conquer, the more legions you can raise and control. Moving your legion to different areas on the map, 99 times out of 100 will require battles rather than successful diplomacy. And these battles are always viewed from the same bird’s eye angle on the same patch of land. As a result there are no geographical differences to take into account regardless of whom you fight across the world (with the exception of water battles).

In addition, and somewhat bizarrely, you have to choose your army’s formation prior to seeing your opponent’s size and composition. Only after you choose your formation style can you see the opponent and then determine your tactic for attack or defense. It makes some sense from a theoretical standpoint, but it does make many battles quite challenging from a practical standpoint unless you’ve decided to play the game at it’s easiest level (adjustable in Settings).

The battle component of Centurion has the steepest learning curve at normal-to-hard levels, but also has the potential to be the most interesting and rewarding. Quite frankly, it is our opinion that the game designers should have focused almost entirely on this piece of the game along with the management of the various cultures under your command.

But there are also 2 repetitive “mini games” which must be performed on the side in order to keep the people happy and reduce their likelihood of rebellion. These include either chariot races or gladiator fights. And while amusing at first, there comes a time when they become unbearably boring and time consuming, to the point where you may find yourself willing to offer a sacrifice to the gods (in real life) just to bypass the damn things. As the chariot race alone can sometimes take several minutes (and is mind numbing to endure after the 10th one during a game) it really does start to grind. There are times when you can simply pay to have games performed or zoos erected - and these would have been a preferable game mechanic were they more readily available, perhaps with the option to actually do them if you desired leaving more to chance or the whim of the gods, or bribes.

But Great Jupiter! If we bribe the other three chariot racers why must we endure 5 minutes of mindless “action” that will inevitably show us winning? If you’ve got a TV nearby, you may find your eyes wandering during these moments. And while the small bits of slapstick humor are appreciated (like the guys who run out with a stretcher to pick up your bloodied body on the track ony to throw you across the stretcher and run off-screen) it can make you grit your teeth when you see it for the 20th time.

The rest of the game is so unique and well considered it’s a bit of a shame these mini-games were given the weight they were and more time wasn't given to the management side of things. Even the dialogue systems seem to be more for show. Pretty much no matter what you do will end up in war when you confront other tribes unless you’re dealing directly with Cleopatra herself (in which you really do need to seduce her and pay slight attention to what you’re choosing to say).

All in all Centurion is a very cool title that brought a lot of interesting and fun gameplay to the war and strategy genre, but the monotonous mini-games at the Coliseum prevent this from hitting a perfect score.

Review Notes:
This review was performed off of an hard drive installation from original disks, of which the ADFs are provided elsewhere on this page. The copy protection involves answering a few geographical and historical questions by using a map, which came in the original box. But surely the answers are "out there" somewhere. The machine used was an NTSC Amiga 2000 with hard drive. While we've seen a few old reviews complain of the game running slowly, it ran fine on our machine (which does have an upgraded CPU and plenty of RAM). The box claims it can be run on KS 1.2 and only 512KB RAM.
3.5
2 total votes

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