It wasn't built in a day you know

Rome AD92 logo

MILLENIUM * £29.99 * 1 meg * Mouse * Out November

So what do we know about the Romans then? Well, they're Italian, which can't be a good start. They built straight roads, which sadly today see much less of hurtling chariots pulled by fiery steed than they do sad blokes in knee-length jumpers and cagoules carrying a Karimor rucksack and a flask of chicken soup.
Enough of these inconsequentialities though, what about our Rome, and all this "pathway to power" business?

As you may or may not be aware - and since the intelligence of the average exceeds my own by approximately 400 percent, you probably are - the Romans of old were a very different bunch from the leather trouser brigade inhabiting the Italian capital today. For a start ye olde Romans weren't afraid to stand and fight. In fact they loved a good scrap, and noe of this girly punch and kick business either.

If a Roman boy hadn't ripped out the throats of a dozen peasants by the time he was nine, he was considered effeminate and banished to a life of digging irrigation channels on the banks of the river Euphrates, where his ancestors would later form the armies of genial dictator Saddam Hussein. Yes indeed, they were a bit on the violent side were the Romans.

As you may have gathered, the story is set in AD92 - you are Hector, a humble and lowly slave, going about your humble and lowly business in the land of Herculaneum.
Your aspirations are great however - you envisage a day in the future when lavatory cleaning and cockroach squishing will seem but a distant memory. You foresee a time when all society will revere your name and bow down in awe and reverence at your noble feet moaning "Hector... Hector..."
One day... soon... you will be Emperor of Rome! Well that's the theory anyway, but there's a long way to go before then.

Life of Herculaneum is getting a little too hot to handle. The volcano overlooking the town is beginning to bubble and it's probably best that you get out before it blows its top.
Rome's not far as the crow flies, but the only way there is by sea, and who's going to let a smelly low-life such as yourself on board their majestic vessel?

What to do then? Well, you could always build a one-man raft out of sandal straps and discarded matchsticks, or hollow out a mountain sheep and fill it with helium... or swim. Or something.
Unfortunately these options aren't available, so somewhat worryingly, a little bit of brainpower is required if you intend to avoid ending up as a trainee fossil underneath several billion tons of lava.

The graphics are presented in Populous-like fashion, ie a 3D angled square showing Hector's immediate vicinity, with a map of the whole area just a mouse-click away.

Click on an area of the map screen and Hector will make his way straight there, eliminating the laborious stop/start procedure on the play screen that I undertook for at least an hour (well it was Friday).

Everyone in the game, as Millennium proudly point out, has a mind of their own, and there're little blokes and girlies running about hither and yonzil over the place. Any of these may have items or information that will come in useful, so why not loosen the old sandals and socialise a while?

Gameplay is very simple - the basic idea is to ask questions, eavesdrop on conversations and generally find out what's what.
Unlike most games of this genre, you don't necessarily have to relentlessly badger everyone to obtain information. Some kindly folk will offer words of wisdom out of the goodness of their hearts. On the other hand though, some gentlefolk may approach you openly, all smiles and neatly pressed togas, and proceed to hack you to bits with long handled daggers or other such period instruments. Nice.

Another thing worth remembering, especially in the later levels, is that you'll need plenty of cash - after all, no-one's going to respect a budding emperor-to-be if he's wearing Jesus creepers and begs for crusts of bread. I mean you don't see the Queen rooting in bins do you? Mind you, have you see the state of her mum's teeth?

If and when you must muster your way out of Herculaneum, it's over to Rome for more of the same. The game has six levels in total, and it's a matter of buying or blagging whatever you need to keep you in with the nobs.

As I've mentioned, everyone has a mind of their own, one of the ebst features of the game are the muttered comments or dubious snippets of conversation you can hear (well read, actually) as Hector passes by.
"I must remember to buy some grapes for the orgy."
"Come and buy some flesh... nubile young girls..."
Sound like your kind of game? It's OK, the wife's downstairs with the kids - she thinks you're "working" in the attic - go on you sad man, treat yourself!

I wasn't particularly enamoured by the graphics at first - admittedly there is plenty of colour, but all the sprites are very small and there's little variety in movement. However, this isn't a teeny platform romp - if I wanted stunning visuals with plenty of quacks, hoots and wibbles I'd be playing Zool (which I do, frequently, but that's not the point).

So what is the point then Paul? Well, the point is this - there's so much going on in the actual game that grpahics in this situation aren't that important.
Besides, the digitised pics within the game (not just stills either) are good enough to keep even a moaner like me happy. And anyway, I've decided that I do like the graphics now after all.

Now the sound is another matter. Twice I've asked Ben to check the audio leads, and I've even put my glasses on to make sure it's an Amiga and not an ST I'm using.
Spot effects are reasonably good, but are just too few and far between to make an impact on the game. The intro tune is very... erm, Roman, but again is in no real danger of bring a tear to the eye.

So would I buy it then? No, I can play it here for free so I'd have to be daft wouldn't I? So should you buy it then?
Well it's not for me to say, but if you're an RPG fan who wishes the programmers wouldn't get so serious, or an adventurer/shoot-'em-upper looking for something that little bit more challenging ut which preferably won't take a degree in physics and a fortnight studying the manual to get into, then you'll be dead cuffed with Rome. Probably.