Remember the first time you got to use a computer at school? Remember the games they let you play on them? They weren’t exactly fun, but they sure beat the hell out of class work. Well it’s time to go back to school with Hegemony: Philip of Macedon.
Now let’s get one thing straight before we get down to business. Longbow Games does a slightly better job of making this game fun than those old “edutainment” titles, but unless you’re a big fan of historical simulation, you’re probably going to be underwhelmed.
Slow paced and yet too much to do
Almost seems contradictory, right? Well let me explain. Hegemony, (one of the winners of this year’s PAX 2010 Independent Games Showcase in the strategy game category) puts the emphasis on “real time” in the RTS genre. Units plod around the map like molasses and activities seem to take forever. On the other hand, once you’ve got the empire up to a certain size, you spend all your time putting out brushfires in all directions; raids, revolts, and other issues will have you trying to micromanage the entire empire. You’ll find yourself pausing the game just to get your head around everything that’s going on, only to wish things would hurry up and resolve once you’ve unpaused.
I think it all comes down to scale. Something of this size needs to have a method of rapidly skipping through the minutiae of deployment and development. Often this can be done by adding a second layer to the game, completely separate from the RTS combat that occurs when armies clash. You can zoom out to a different playing-field in Hegemony, but it’s constructively the same game. Sometimes it just means making your game turn-based and not worrying about watching little soldiers stab each other.
Watching little soldiers stab each other
This isn’t your modern RTS. OK this isn’t even your dad’s RTS. This is the type of combat you got in the genre’s stone age. Units converge on one another and jab their various weapons in the general direction of the enemy with a single animation and little men die from each side till one group breaks. There’s virtually nothing for you to affect while it’s going on, but watch it you must unless you want the surviving enemy to successfully retreat to their home territories. Sure you can set formations for your squads, and that can give you a little tactical advantage, but once combat begins it’s like watching a bunch of wind-up robots bump into each other till they fall down.
This story has a beginning a middle and an end… and you’d damn well better go through them!
This game is not about you taking on the role of Philip of Macedon. This is a game about you following the historical journey of Philip of Macedon. The entire campaign is scripted out. What cities and locations to take and when to take them are hand fed to you. Often you can’t even get troops to take over things before other historical objectives are completed. I’m sorry Longbow, but if I wanted the history of Philip of Macedon I’d watch a History Channel special. If I want to see what I would have done in his place, I’d play a game. Historical accuracy is great, but it should be restricted to the setting and maybe major objectives, not every decision a player makes.
You can get a sense of how scripted this is by the fact that there are cut-scenes for just about every forty-five minutes of game play. I don’t want to get into the quality of the cut-scenes except to say they are dull, both to look at and listen to.
So where does that leave Hegemony: Philip of Macedon? Well, I don’t know. For what amounts to a very negative assessment of the game I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it either. Make this turn-based and give me a little more control over objectives, or conversely, remove all the micromanagement and give me more dynamic combat and this could be a winner. As it stands …
There’s certainly something intangible about it that piques my interest. In playing it, one can sense the enthusiasm from the crew at Longbow; they clearly love games and are doing their best to contribute. If you look at their backlog of games, Hegemony: Philip of Macedon certainly comes off as a high watermark. I’d love to see what they have in mind for their next venture.