Game Over Online ~ Theocracy

GameOver Game Reviews - Theocracy (c) Ubisoft, Reviewed by - Vince Vega

Game & Publisher Theocracy (c) Ubisoft
System Requirements Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 280MB HD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 42%
Date Published Wednesday, May 3rd, 2000 at 03:02 PM

Divider Left By: Vince Vega Divider Right

Theocracy has endured a tumultuous past. Developed by Philos Labs, it was originally going to be published by Interactive Magic before they changed their gaming focus towards the online community. As the development cycle came closer to the end, it appeared as though Interactive Magic didn't feel as strongly towards the game as they had before and there was some confusion as to whether Theocracy had in fact been cancelled. In either case, as Interactive Magic made their gaming transition, they sold a number of properties to Ubi Soft including Theocracy. Although the game was reportedly finished, this meant the release date would have to be pushed back in order for Ubi Soft to give it the attention it deserved. To make a long story short, Theocracy has finally made it's way into the gaming market. The bad news, apparently all those extra months of possible development time went to waste as the game is quite the disappointment.

Theocracy is a real-time strategy game in which you take control of one of the Aztec tribes in the 14th century. The objective of the game is to develop the tribe to its ultimate destiny and resist the Spanish conquistadors. En route to the epic battle, you'll have to establish trade routes between neighbouring states, develop diplomatic relations with other provinces, conquer new territories and develop your economy and your empire. At the one hundred year mark, you're empire will hopefully be strong enough to resist the fierce assault of the Spanish because they've got nothing but carnage on their minds.

Theocracy opens with an animated introduction that pales in comparison with some of the flashy cut-scenes seen in other strategy games. What's even worse is you can't skip the introductory sequence. Every time you fire up the game, you have to sit through it. Once you're done that, you can begin by completing a set of tutorial scenarios that teach the basis elements of the game. Moving units around the terrain, gathering troops into battle formations, gathering resources and gaining manage from temples are all areas that are covered in the tutorials. Once you've learnt the inner workings of the game, you can jump into the action.

Unfortunately, jumping into the action that is Theocracy is like jumping off a house and landing on a bicycle seat, neither is particularly enjoyable to say the least. Why, do you ask? Well, hopefully the bike one is self-explanatory, so let's run through Theocracy.

For starters, the interface and viewpoints are poorly implemented. You can view the action from two different levels, a strategic view and a tactical view. When zoomed into the action, the tactical view, you can watch your armies move from province to province, follow your workmen as they mine and deliver resources or glare as your military training barracks are being created. The problem is, the clock doesn't tick in this view. In other words, although there is action going on, time isn't passing by, it only does so when you zoom back out into the strategic view. So what's the problem with the strategic view? There's no detail, that's the problem. Troops, caravans and other units become coloured pixels with no detail to them whatsoever. Technically, you can't watch your tribe develop and have time elapse together. Another problem with the tactical view is the lack of an overall map. Finding specific troops actually requires a province wide search. If you lose track of caravans or particular armies, you'll be hard pressed to find them in order to re-assign them orders. Why the developers didn't include a map while in the tactical view, or allow for time to elapse while in that view either, is beyond me.

Those aren't the only gameplay issues, there are plenty of others as well. Resource management is one of them. Resources in the game include stone, wood, grain, meat and gold but there's no option to get an overview of your resources in any or all of your provinces. You'll find the same to be true regarding armies and buildings as well. There doesn't appear to be a way to get reports regarding your progression in terms of overall numbers.

Combat is another element that seems to be poorly designed. Before beginning a battle, you can select from a number of combat formations and even customize some of those formations. Once the battles begin though, all the rules seem to go right out the window as troops constantly break formation and simply begin to run wild on their foes. There's little strategy to a battle which, combined with the lack of combat units to begin with, make for some horrible combat sequences. Theocracy seems to attempt to make up for the lack of unit variety by introducing magic types into the fray. There are five spheres or areas of magic including star, moon, fire, nature and soul. However, the lack of control during combat makes it very difficult to use priests and their magical abilities. There's no speed control during combat nor can you pause combat in order to re-organize your troops.

Considering the long development cycle, it comes as no surprise that Theocracy falls a little short of the standard graphics these days. While the level of detail seems quite high, the animations are rather poor. There only seems to be a few animations per unit. The problem with Theocracy isn't really poor graphics though, it's poor use of graphics. The graphics only play a large role in the game while in the tactical view but the game doesn't progress while in that view. The game only advances while in the strategic view at which point the graphics don't play a role at all. In terms of audio, Theocracy doesn't particular deliver well here either. Many of the sounds seem muffled and many of the effects are very basic and uninspiring. Overall, the audio experience is rather average with little innovations or highlights to speak of.

In terms of multiplayer, Theocracy allows you to play with up to six players over a LAN or the Internet. When you've got titles such as Age of Empires II out there though, I can't see Theocracy taking playing time away from those. There are just too many issues that get in the way of an enjoyable gaming experience here.

Theocracy presents an evocative backdrop but fails in its design. It offers many of the regular features found in any real-time strategy title but they all seem to be poorly implemented. Considering Theocracy was supposedly going to give Age of Empires II a run for its money, the end result is extremely disappointing. It's a story we've heard and seen a million times before it, a game loaded with potential that just fails to deliver.

[ 10/20 ] Graphics
[ 08/15 ] Sound
[ 11/30 ] Gameplay
[ 07/20 ] Fun Factor
[ 02/05 ] Multiplayer
[ 04/10 ] Overall Impression


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