Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War

By using traditional RTS mechanics and spicing them up with third-person action, Stainless Steel Studios' Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War was definitely one strategy game that stood out from the crowd at the 2005 E3 games show in LA.

Our first look at the game piqued our interest and left us eager to explore the hands-on aspect of battle in greater detail, so when the developer dropped by to give us a demonstration we were quick to grab the mouse and get stuck in.

While the RTS gameplay is as robust and competent as you'd expect from the makers of the Empire Earth series, it's the game's Hero mode that makes it fizz with a very different spark.

This unconventional addition essentially allows the player to plunge into battle as one of eight legendary leaders whenever they choose, zooming in effortlessly from a traditional RTS viewpoint to an in-the-thick-of-it, third-person perspective.

We were, of course, keen to get our hands dirty straight away so, recklessly bypassing any sniff of strategy, we took immediate control of Egypt's ass-milk advocate, Cleopatra, and endeavoured to slice up Romans like Parma ham.

However, after quickly being swamped by enemy soldiers it became glaringly apparent that, while an RTS can host hundreds of battling brutes on screen simultaneously and still manage to retain some semblance of order, in third-person mode the action can become cluttered and chaotic.

Wading in at the wrong moment can prove disastrous, not just for your hero and troops, but also for the game itself, as it highlights what is obviously an inherent problem in combining two very different styles of play.

While they've certainly done a commendable job so far of intertwining two very different genres, at times the Hero mode feels a little awkward on the battleground.

If they can smooth out these rough edges, then Rise & Fall should be something quite special. It looks splendid, the RTS elements are superb and, when it works, the Hero mode strengthens - rather than dilutes - the fundamental essence of the game's strategic nature.

Matt Cundy
I don't have the energy to really hate anything properly. Most things I think are OK or inoffensively average. I do love quite a lot of stuff as well, though.