Power to the people

Ashes of Empire logo

MIRAGE * £39.99 * 1 meg * Joystick * Out now

Have you ever switched on the national news and watched the reports? You know, not the reports about the Royal Family and famous celebs, but the reports on wars, death, destruction, refugees, hostages, famine and so on. Have you then thought to yourself that the whole world must be going completely mad, because I know I have.

After more than 40 years of global confrontation between East and West, the Cold War ends. The Iron Curtain is now suffering from terminal rust, the Eastern Bloc has crumbled, the Berlin Wall has been torn down and East and West Germany has re-united.

In countries such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgeria, East Germany and Romania, the communist regimes have lost their grip on power. With the Cold War now over things should be getting better, but they're not. Nationalism begins to assert itself again throughout Eastern Europe and beyond.

Civil war breaks out in Yugoslavia, as Slovenia and then Croatia declare independence and defy the attempts of the Serban-dominated federal army to force them back into the fold.

In the CIS there is more conflict - this time it's between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Plus in Nargony-Karabakh there is more fighting. There is even more fighting in Yugoslavia as ethnic conflict breaks out between the Serb, Croat and Muslim communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

More and more innocent people are made homeless and helpless by the constant barrage of war, so they take to the roads of Europe as refugees. Probably the most worrying thing is that nobody actually knows who should control the nuclear weapons of the old USSR. All the time, civil unrest and ethnic tension continues to rise.

What we really need is someone to come and bring peace to the world. Sounds pretty impossible, doesn't it? Well, here comes Ashes of Empire by Mirage and even though peace will probably never be worldwide you can at least play out the fantasy in the game.

In Ashes of Empire, you play a major part in the peace process. All you have to do is bring peace and harmony to the entire CSR, a vast, multi-national, nuclear armed superstate where central authority no longer exists and where the danger or ethnic conflict and civil war looms large.

The creator of the game is a geezer who goes by the name of Mike Singleton who was responsible for both the Midwinter games.
To achieve peace in the CSR, you have to pacify each of the five republics contained in the CSR - Ossia, Ruzakhstan, Belokraine, Modenia and Servonia. Each republic has one capital province and up to eight other provinces within its borders. There are two ways to pacify a republic - either pacify the capital province and at least two other provinces in the republic, or pacify all the provinces in the republic except the capital.

Pacifying a province is not an easy task - you must successfully complete four different United Community programmes in the province.

The programmes are the UC Building, Demolition, Pacification and Ethnic Harmony, and the tasks vary from province to province.
What this basically means is that in each province you have to construct buildings to meet the urgent needs of the population (hospitals and so on), demolish buildings that are a threat, eliminate a certain number of CSR military units (tanks and so on) and get the support of different ethnic groups.

Right, before I get any further with this review, let me explain something. Ashes of Empire is a very big game with loads and loads of features.

In fact it's got far too many to put in this review, and to be completely honest at first it looks very complicated, but - and this is a very nice but - it's got a lovely easy to read manual and video on how to play the game.
After reading the manual and watching the video you'll know everything you need to know, thus making it a lot easier on the old brain cells.

As well as being big (as in packed with loads of features) it's also big as in playing area. You can travel all over the CSR. There are, in fact, 2.8 million square miles to travel in.
Now that's a lot of land and you're not going to get very far if you use your legs, so at your disposal there is a whole plethora of vehicles to use.

You can travel in either air, sea (under and over water) or land. Vehicles range from cargo planes to bombers to barges to mini-subs to snowmobiles to motorcycles to tanks to rocket launchers to tricycles. Well all right, maybe not tricycles, but there are plenty more vehicles than those I've just mentioned.

Each vehicle is packed with missiles and a nice big cannon or gun, so that should please some of our more violent readers. Oh and you can also walk and run about, but you don't tend to do that very often.

During your mission you will meet numerous people, both ordinary citizens and professional personnel. There are in fact over 6,000 characters in the game, so you'll meet one sooner rather than later.

Every single building and installation in the CSR has an ordinary citizen in charge of it. What you've got to do is try and recruit the citizen and if you manage to do so you will gain control of the building and its additional resources.

As well as ordinary citizens, there are 665 professional personnel who you can recruit. Unlike the ordinary citizens, the professional move from town to town and are a lot harder to track down. Recruits can, err, be recruited either by bartering or by persuading them to contribute to your cause. Bartering will cost you resources, but loses you no time, whereas conversation loses you time, but doesn't cost you any resources.

Remember, every citizen has his/her own distinct personality, so every time you meet someone new you have to think about what you're going to do. Deciding to do the wrong thing could be disastrous!

Of course, the game just doesn't involve flying around and chatting to people - there's much more to it than that - but there just isn't the space in Gamer to explain it all.

If you liked Mike Singleton's Midwinter games then you are guaranteed to fall head over heels in love with Ashes of Empire. The surprising thing is that it actually feels as if you are trying to bring peace to a whole nation and if you don't succeed then you feel really guilty.

You start walking around babbling thing like "Oh no all those refugees and I've condemned them to a life of starvation and misery and it's all my fault" and then when the news comes on the television and you see pictures of civil wars you start crying buckets.

All this emotion is due to the fact that the game is so damn realistic, especially when you consider the status of places like Yugoslavia and how close its situation is to the scenario in Ashes of Empire.

I can't really think of a major bad point, but this type of game might not appeal toa lot of gamesplayers and it might be worth seeing a friend's copy before you decide to buy, especially as it's more expensive than a normal game.

Graphically Ashes is quite impressive, especially the map and the people's faces. The action bit is very similar to the graphics used in Midwinter, but that's a good point and not a bad one.

There is a good soundtrack which plays constantly in the background, but after a few hours it could get on your nerves and you might have to reach for the volume switch.

The game will take you ages and ages to complete simply because it is so huge. It's had a lot of effort put into it and it shows. Even though I'm not really a fan of this type of game I would heartily recommend this to anyone.
Peace. I'm outta here.

Ashes of Empire logo

Can you cope with a country in strife? Become a Gorby protégé in this topical strategy game.

The General, sighing, threw himself into his pilot chair and rested his feet on the console of the flying sub. He cursed under his breath. What had made him accept the UC mission this hellhole of a continent? A moribund empire in its last throes, its nationalities on the brink of war. Strikes and social unrest in so many of the 40 provinces - and only a fortnight left to pacify the region. If he failed, nuclear missiles would be let loose setting the earth on fire. Suppressing a shudder, the General pointed his craft towards Liman, were supporters would be waiting...

Lethal Pursuit
Have you solved all the puzzles? Saved dozens of worlds? Done it all? Try Ashes of Empire! Mike Singleton's latest strategy-cum-3D-action piece asks no less of you than to single-handedly managed the resources and defuse the explosive ethnic mixture of a vast empire torn apart by social strife.

You have to work your way from a border province to the heartland, visiting strategically important places to gather a band of supporters. With sufficient stocks and resources, and the backing of five nationalities and a strong team of engineers, administrators, the military and medics, your goal is to try to pacify a continent. A handful of weeks stand between you and the spark that will ignite nuclear holocaust. Are you up to the challenge?

Do not be daunted by the prospect of deploying endless streams of troops. You operate in a meticulously-designed scenario (aptly underlined by different movements of Stravinsky's dramatic Firebird Suite). You are welcomed to the region by a fine layout of icons on a set of fractal maps, which are divided into six stages. Location backdrops provide specific information and hundreds of individual character portraits. Once you are familiar with the choices, the interface might be too straightforward for some players.

For convenience use the mouse to click your way through decisions via icons (each action takes a certain amount of time) and steer vehicles with your keyboard or joystick. The 3D movement and battle scenes, refined since their appearance in the two Midwinters (Midwinter I and II), add an element of immediacy to the predominantly static-screened game - a fine alternation.

Movements are fluid, with that uncanny realism typical of Mike and his team (by all means, do some diving just for the fun of it!). Maps, on the other hand, do need time to load, favouring owners of RAM expansions. Still, Ashes is playable on small Amigas.

Woo, trick or pacify people into helping you. Each character you wish to recruit needs specific treatment; these are represented by a choice of eight behaviour icons. People come and go as they follow their daily routine, so be prepared to have missed the constructor general at the works by just an hour.

The Confederation of Syndicalist Republics (CSR) comprises five republics with about eight provinces each. Overlying this geopolitical grid is a finely-structured social one. Geographically scattered all over the empire, five nations with a president each vie for supremacy. Every nation is split into four ethnic factions, and has an acknowledged leader, the governor. Four professional classes with various internal ranks belong to each faction. As a General and special envoy of the world organisation the United Community, plan your steps well to juggle with the delicate situations within a narrow time limit.

You must liaise with representatives of the groups on as high a level as possible. You can befriend them by supplying vital resources specific to their situation and locations; they will eventually pledge support and gain you votes. They will help you with transport, ammunition, information on various locations (which will be displayed on your maps in increasing detail) or even help you sabotage military installations to force peace, if necessary. Occasionally, you will even gain yourself an extra day or two.

United Nations of Singleton
Ashes impresses with the sheer multitude of individual characters, landscapes and possible encounters. Unlike action orientated predecessor Flames of Freedom, cross-country chases and 3D battle scenes can be reduced to less than a third of the entire game - if the player so wishes. Of course, a large number of vehicles are available, ranging from a flying sub to a cargo plane. The General can romp around to his heart's content above or below sea, on the ground or in the air in a host or craft.

However, the attractive presentation and comfortable interface cannot disguise the lack of depth in the gameplay itself. While the background is vastly expanded on the excellent manual, the actual in-game options seem to remain limited to talking to the right people in the right places at the right time and (al)locating resources upon demand. Encounters remain abstract and somewhat superficial. The subtleties of higher diplomacy will be missed by veteran strategists spoilt by the Koei range or by Balance of Power.

It is a challenging mix nevertheless, and it comes highly recommended to all those deterred by dry tables and endless menus, but with the mettle to solve problems under pressure. For players with a keen political interest, it is a must!

Ashes of Empire logo

Mit "The Humans" haben die Newcomer von Mirage ja gleich einen Mega-Hit abgeliefert, ob sie es bei ihrem zweiten Streich wohl etwas ruhiger angehen lassen? Kein Stück: Diese Mixtur aus Politik, Adventure, Strategie und Action hat es faustdick hinter den Bytes!

Commonwealth of Syndiclist Replubics, Winter 1993: Ein Kernkraftwerk gibt seinen Geist auf und setzt radioaktive Strahlung frei. In der Folge bricht das Chaos in der "CSR" aus - Flüchtlingsströme ergießen sich ins kommunistische Land, Guerilla-Truppen stiften Unruhe, und zwischen den beiden Teilrepubliken Ossia und Ruzhastan kommt es zum offenen Konflikt...

Unübersehbar, daß Mike Singleton, seines Zeichens Programmierer von "Midwinter" den Zerfall der UdSSR als Hintergrundszenario seines neuesten Epos im Auge hatte. Der Spieler schlüpft nun in die Rolle des großen Retters und Friedensstifters (quasi eine Mischung aus Gorbachov und Jelzin), der die Streithähne vereinen und sich schließlich selbst an die Spitze der Gesamtregierung setzen soll.

Einen Großteil seiner Zeit verbringt man daher mit dem Abklappern der insgesamt fünf Republiken, die je acht Provinzen bestehen. Das kann man via "Air Lift" (so eine Art Teleporter), mit seinem futuristischen "Fighter"-Flugi, per U-Boot und sogar zu Fuß erledigen.

Die Reisen durch die Vektorgrafik-Landschaften laufen eher actionmäßig ab, inklusive Beballern feindlicher Panzer oder Flugzeuge, erst am Zielort wird's wieder strategischer:

Die Städte beherbergen eine Reihe von wichtigen Einrichtungen wie Krankenhäuser, Kernkraftwerke oder Kasernen, die ihrerseits eine Reihe von wichtigen Führungspersönlichkeiten beherbergen.

Durch Anklicken der entsprechenden Icons müssen die Leute (unter Zeitdruck, die Geschichte geht unaufhaltsam weiter!) bezirzt, bestochen, rekrutiert, befehligt oder überredet werden. Umgekehrt haben sie aber auch einiges anzubieten; Informationen etwa, interessante Kontaktpersonen oder Stimmen für die kommende Wahl.

Soweit mal das nackte Handlungsskelett von Ashes of Empire - darüberhinaus gibt's tonnenweise Details, Menüs, Statistiken, kleine Teilaufgaben und Handlungsmöglichkeiten. So laufen z.B. auf dem 3,5 Mio qm großen Spielgebiet über zehntausend Charaktere herum, darunter allein 665 der besagten Führungspersönlichkeiten.

Man kann Nichtangriffspakte schließen oder in Rambo-Manier einen begrenzten Atomschlag führen, die Entmilitarisierung einzelner Gebiete vorantreiben, die Infrastruktur (Straßen- und Telefonnetz etc.) verbessern oder überhaupt erst aufbauen.

Kurzum, an Komplexität herrscht kein Mangel, und auch die Präsentation weiß zu gefallen: Die beeindruckende Grafik kann mit tollen Zoom-Effekten aufwarten, der Sound mit klassischer Musik, Sprachausgabe und Effekten. Dazu kommt eine durchdachte und pflegeleichte Maus/Icon-Steuerung - dieses Game wird also nicht bloß die CSR im Sturm erobern! (Manfred Kleimann)

Ashes of Empire logo

Is it a game or is it a political simulation? Mike Singleton attempts to increase the peace with his latest creation.

Okay. So what are we all here for? A quick flick through Ashes' manual reveals a message from the United Communities Special Directive. 'The purpose of your highly sensitive and difficult commission is to bring peace, economic stability, ethnic harmony and democratic freedom to the troubles provinces and republics of the Confederation of Syndicalist Republics (CSR)'. Oh, and I thought I was going to play a computer game.

Leaving the issue of whether or not Ashes of Empire really is a game to one side, there are several other questions that need to be answered, such as "how do we go about this seemingly impossible task?"

Generations of Soviet politicians haven't managed to do it in 80 years, so what hope have we got using an Amiga and a few floppy disks? A lengthy flick through the rest of the manual reveals the answer. Ashes of Empire hinges around a complex web of character interaction and strategy.

You start the game in a coastal province, and gradually move inland making friends with absolutely everyone you meet, and gathering the resources that will enable you to continue the fight for peace.

If you succeed, the entire CSR will be pacified in one enormous hallucinogenic trance. If your peace-keeping mission fails, the CSR's republics will be doomed to nuke each other to bits in a series of futile disputes over borders and any other trifles that dominate the television news.

Despite the monstrous putting-the-world-to-rights--in-one-feel-swoop scenario, Ashes of Empire is remarkably easy to play. The game essentially falls into two sections. The action part involves moving from place to place across a Midwinter-style fractally generated landscape, and, more often than not, getting involved in a fight along the way.

And, when you reach your destination, the strategy side is based around what has to be done to achieve the goals for pacifying a particular province.

The strategy aspects of the game are the most challenging and enjoyable. To pacify a republic, a certain number of provinces in the republic also have to be pacified within a set time limit. To do this, you have to satisfy four United Communities criteria, which are as follows - to provide a set number of special buildings, to demolish buildings that threaten the province's harmony (night clubs, water-pistol factories and Ruby Wax's house probably fall into this category), to eliminate CSR military units, and to secure the support of the different ethnic groups in the province.

Sounds like a piece of cake, doesn't it? Taken en bloc, the game's objective sound daunting, but any fears are soon allayed by the way the plot develops. From an early meeting, for example with a nurse in a hospital, it's easy to build up a network of contacts that can lead you to important provincial politicians.

And at the same time, you can collect resources that can be used to achieve each of the objectives. To a certain extent, several goals can be achieved simultaneously, simply through the single-minded pursuit of one of the game's main characters.

The path you take through the game largely depends on the people who are persuaded to join your cause, and the buildings they are in charge of. Different buildings supply different resources, so if the politician in Shinky demands huge amounts of gold in return for his co-operation, you'd better find a vault.

But if it's food and wine he's after, a farm house will have to be commandeered in the name of peace. The strategy side of the game soon becomes very absorbing and it's hard not to get totally obsessed with providing what the province really needs.

Trying to do more than entertain

But the intensity of the strategy is broken by the unavoidable 3D travelling. Your operation can't be controlled from one place, because to recruit people, you have to meet them face to face. The strong presence o CSR troops invariably leads to some form of 3D combat, which means it just takes longer to get around.

The combat is fun at first, but the polygon landscape isn't entirely convincing, and even though a wide variety of craft is available, they all seem to have the same handling characteristics. If the screen border didn't change, it would be hard to tell whether you were on a motorbike or in an armoured car. The vehicles also all have the unnervingly unrealistic ability to spin around on the spot.

For a game which is based so much on realism in the strategy side, if's a real let down to have to slog through a flimsy gung-ho simulation just to travel around.

An optional 3D section would have kept the action addicts happy, and would have let the rest of us get on with the serious business of saving the CSR. Mike Singleton, the game's designer seems to have learnt from criticisms of his Midwinter games, which provided huge worlds, but they were filled with very little detail.

Ashes is positively brimming with towns, people and enemies, but the 3D system is still unsatisfactory.

It all sounds terribly complicated, that's because it is. As game scenarios go, this must be one of the most wide-ranging sagas ever to grace a computer's memory chips.

If you thought War and Peace was a long book, just wait until you see the background material supplied with Ashes of Empire.
Every single province, of which there are more than 40, is described in mind-boggling detail. Mike Singleton suggests that the player read each and every one of these diatribes, but while you're poring over the details of 42 semi-fictional states, there's a strange feeling at the back of your mind that once upon a time, you used to know what daylight looked like and that you also used have a life.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for realism, atmosphere and background detail, but with its pie charts and socio-economic, politico-ethnic breakdowns, Ashes takes it all far too seriously. Hell, this is supposed to be a game, not an ACME Universal Political Simulator of the break-down of the Soviet union.

But wait a minute. Perhaps that's what it is all about. Mike Singleton makes no secret of the fact that the game's CSR is the USSR, and that Ossia is Russia, so perhaps it's not a game after all.

The 3D action elements are definitely game-like, but the underlying themes and strategies are inescapably based on real life, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that in Ashes of Empire, Mike Singleton is trying to do more than entertain the game-playing masses.

He's trying to educate us, to let us know that not everything is going swimmingly in the CIS. That we should be aware of what's going on in a potentially disastrous situation on the other side of the world. I'm sure people will argue that a computer game isn't the place to broach such ideas. But the interactive, involving environment that a computer game provides is a far better way to learn than vegetating in front of the News at Ten.

Ashes of Empire is enjoyable to play, but it's obviously not the same sort of fun you'll get from half an hour with Lemmings or Parasol Stars. Ashes provides a unusual cerebral challenge, combined with the sort of detective work that even Sherlock Holmes would be proud of.

If you're after some fast action and a quick laugh, don't even think about buying Ashes of Empire. But if you want a game that will keep you going long into the night, a game that will test your brains as much as your stamina, then Ashes is definitely the one for you.


In Ashes of Empire, you have to start in one of the border provinces and work slowly towards the centre of the CSR, pacifying, demolishing, bribing and providing as you go. After eighty years of communism, the rival republics have decided that the communal life isn't for them, and that they'd rather slug it with each other than live happily every after. The only way to avert a nuclear holocaust is to pacify the republics, and you're just the man (or woman) for the job.

Ashes of Empire
Now then, where shall we start. Ah yes, the province of Palanka seems a likely place. Population seven million, the biggest region of Moldenia, efficient industries. Just ripe for the taking.

Ashes of Empire
The aims are expressed in rather waffly political terms. When do we get down to the nitty gritty? How many people am I going to kill? How many tanks will I have? Is there a pub in town?

Ashes of Empire
The overall objective is broken down into sub-sections, including the number and type of buildings to construct, the ones that have to be demolished, and the resources you must capture.

Ashes of Empire
Your mere presence lifts the hopes of the seven million Palankians. They really must be a set of planks if they think one geezer is going to stop the bickering ethnic groups from nuking each other.

The most important aspect of Ashes is the complex web of characer relations and strategic thinking, but if there's always time to have a quick blast.
Ashes of Empire

Ashes of Empire
Down below, the fractal landscape shimmers invitingly, but for now there's a more pressing engagement up in the sky.

Ashes of Empire
Enemy planes are buzzing all around, and they don't seem to care that you're on a peace-keeping mission. "Hey, I'm a pacifist, and you can have my digital watch!"

Ashes of Empire
There's only one thing for it. Let 'em 'ave it. A few missiles later and plane parts will be falling in back gardens all over Palanka. Keeping the pieces, eh?

OK. We've just landed in Palanka, all hell's about to break loose in 23 days' time, so what are we going to do? I'm all for leaving them to get on with it, but the game wouldn't be very much fun if you turned you're back on the whole affair. So, with a cry of 'Into the republics of death', the United Community's peace-keeping force bravely soldiers on.

Ashes of Empire
Your current location is marked with a pin on the map. More informatioin, such as the position of cities and the whereabouts of important citizens, becomes available when a radar station or a communications centre has been captured. Let's head down to one of those places with a Russian-sounding name.

Ashes of Empire
When travelling, the game switches to a Midwinter-style 3D view. A variety of vehicles are available, from flying subs to motor-cycles to amphibious tanks. Here, we're skimming along in a terrain-following fighter, which, incidentally, is almost impossible to crash. Let's investigate those buildings.

Ashes of Empire
Well, I did say almost impossible to crash. The polygon graphics might look flimsy, but the Palankan buildings don't take any prisoners, particularly when you fly into the side of an armoured warehouse. The fighter has been totalled, but let's hope there wasn't anything, or anybody, important inside.

Ashes of Empire
Step outside to see what else is going on in the village. The warehouse isn't much good any more, but we should be able to find somebody in the fort. Most towns have two or three useful places to visit, each of which is tended by a minor character.

Ashes of Empire
In this case, it's a woman. It's up to you how to deal with the characters. The simplest way to make them join you is to give them what they ask for, but it might be necessary t turn on the charm, get heavy, try a bit of trickery, or, if all else fails, swallow that pride and get down on your knees and beg.

Ashes of Empire
Matrina settles for a couple of loaves of bread and leads you to Dr Begowitz, who is one of the 427 'unique characters' who populate the Ashes world. If you can deliver the goods he requires, he'll provide some more contacts to add to your ever-increasing socio-political circle of party friends and comrades.

Every town looks the same in the republics. No, it's not a crass stereotypical comment on the state of east-European architecture, every town does look the same, except for the symbols at the bottom of the screens. These show which buildings are in the town. Once 'acquired' they can provide resources.

Ashes of Empire
Air traffic control centre - provides assorted goods and tools, but best of all gives you five aeroplanes.

Ashes of Empire
Hospital - provides five courses of emergency treatment, which is particularly useful when you crash a fighter or get blown up by the enemy.

Ashes of Empire
Communications centre - shows the position of all nearby professional personnel on the map.

Ashes of Empire logo

Would-be NATO commander, Steve Merrett, is here to pick up the pieces in Mirage's massive adventure...

Ashes Of Empire draws its name from the chaos currently reigning within its scenario. Set within a sprawling area of five collapsed republics, as a NATO Commander you have been given the responsibility of restoring peace and stability to this turbulent land. However, the populace of each area must be cajoled into believing your cause, and with only a handful of armies at your disposal your best bet is to start in a small village and expand from there.

As can be expected, Ashes is every bit as technically stunning as we have come to expect from the Maelstrom stable, and utilises all the best in vectors and fractals to depict its play areas and maps. As impressive as these look, though, it is the complex gameplay which makes the game so different.

Within each of the republics, a hierarchy of Presidents and Governors exists. These, and their assorted menial nurses and engineers, prove to be the key to your efforts and must be recruited to join your team. This is effected via a rather simplistic icon-based system, and as your power grows, so will your ability to recruit the more powerful leaders at the top of the hierarchy. However, initially, you must seduce, trick, or even bash would-be allies into submissions.

As dull as this sounds, from here your army and options grow, and rescuing the collapsed Nations from themselves can begin. In addition, further areas can be recruited by supplying food or desperately needed objects. The trouble is that, with its very basic communication system and bartering methods, this section is at odds with the complex and deep gameplay - somehow it just does not seem right.

Moving between areas and towns can either be via an airlift (supplies permitting) or by using one of the twenty vehicles the game has on offer. These range from weird airships to submarines, and allow the player to roam all over the countryside.

They are all armed too, just in case any renegade factions decide to take a pop at you. Also, it is noticeable that Maelstrom have added sprites to their 3D routines, and the forests which are dotted around the play area are all shown in their full bushy glory, adding more depth to the play field.

There is so much to see and do in Ashes Of Empire that it is hard not to be impressed. If you cut your teeth in Midwinter, then this is your next logical step. Personally, I think that Ashes far outstrips Maelstrom's previous games in terms of game task and content, but I cannot help feeling a revised appearance for the 3D scenes would have made it even better.

As good as the 3D sections are, it tends to weaken the excellent overall strategy bent - as does the character interaction sequences. However, despite these weak links, Ashes Of Empire is another deserved hit for Mike Singleton's Maelstrom and an excellent release from newcomers Mirage.

GETTING TO GRIPS Such is the enormity of Ashes' task, that it is best to break the gameplay into small batches, and solve them individually. Initially, this involves recruiting a few more members and adding a few valuable resources to your limited supplies. This is effected by using either charm, bribery or brute force on the people you meet, before amassing enough recruits to start tempting the all-powerful Presidents and other leaders to your cause. From here, you can then intensify your efforts across a wider range, and - nuclear war permitting - the five republics may be put back on an even keel.

Ashes of Empire logo

ASHES OF EMPIRE: out from Mirage on Amiga in late June at £34.99, and on PC later this year, price Tba.

MARTIN POND, a man with a greater grasp of international current affairs than even Jimmy Greaves, reviews ASHES OF EMPIRE - a political adventure from Mirage.

AmigaAshes Of Empire is another epic from Mike Singleton, the Cecil B De Mille of the games industry. Like his previous works Midwinter 1 and 2, it has a vast scope, heaps of characters and a fab 3D combat environment.

Inspired by the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, Ashes involves five states in the process of braking away from the Confederation of Syndicalist Republics (CSR).

You play an international troubleshooter whose job is to bring peace to the five republics and guide them down the rocky road of independence. Working covertly, you have to locate the big nobs in each province and win them over - usually by trading commodities with them.

You'll also have to fight off any CSR forces you encounter, and deal with any forest fires started by reactionary guerillas. All in all, you'll need to cultivate the skills of Perez de Cuellar, Ollie North, Stormin' Norman and... er... Fireman Sam too.

Ashes is absolutely vast, the graphics are excellent and it's got an intelligent scenario. However, playable it ain't. There are so many (authentically Eastern-European) contact names to keep track of, it's like trying to memorise the Gdansk phone book. And all that assembling teams of people from the various professions business is not a million miles from playing Happy Families.

If you're a convinced Singleton-groupie, buy it anyway. But if you're new to his work and you want to see what all the fuss is about, Ashes probably isn't the best place to start. Z

Here's a geo-political map of the area. Each republic is home to four distinct ethnic factions, and has a main ruling party...
Ashes of Empire
  1. Natural Law Party.
  2. Liberal-Mujahadeen Alliance.
  3. Bolshevik forces under Gyles 'Ra-Ra Rasputin' Brandmeth MP.
  4. Nationalist militia sponsored by Gadaffi.
  5. Hard-line communities sponsored by Diet-Coke.
Note that the republics comprise of a number of provinces. Here the shading of each reflects a degree of civil unrest. Black areas denote all-out nuclear war, whereas the clear ones have less social unrest than Trumpthon.
  1. To achieve the game's main aim of securing enough votes from each faction to win an election, you'll have to do a lot of networking - you know: "Let's do lunch," "My people will ring your people," - all that jazz about making contacts. There are 9,000 characters, all ready to scratch your back if you'll scratch theirs. To win their loyalty, you can either give them the goods they ask for (it might be anything from potatoes to hospitals) or you can click on an icon representing one of eight conversational gambits. So you can try beating them up ("Stitch that, Ruskie") or even chatting them up ("Hey, I'll bet you're a Virgo, yah?").
  2. There are also over 600 professional characters who can be put into working teams and used to rebuild a province's infrastructure. Each one recruited provides you with a block vote from the plebs, and a pointer to locating any of their high-ranking pals. Luckily, there's a busy-body in every province - a sort of Comrade Percy Sugden - who knows everyone's comings and goings.