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Developed conjointly by Norman Koger and the S.S.I. Special Projects Group, the sequel to the acclaimed Wargame Construction Set II: Tanks, embarks players into the 19th and early 20th century warfare across four continents and over 60 historic battles.
Stretching from 1846 to 1905, Age of Rifles includes all the major conflicts that shook the world at that time, from the American Civil War to the Russo-Japanese War. As in previous titles, you can start playing with one of the 64 built-in scenarios if you have an hour or two ahead of yourself, or then engulf into a lengthy campaign linking 6 to 13 scenarios together. The three American Civil War campaigns (East, West and Full) nearly represents half the number of scenarios, regrouping 30 battles including Gettysburg, Richmond, and Shiloh. The other half will have you participate in conflicts across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, fighting against armies from 28 different nationalities. Grouped in five campaigns, these scenarios are based on the expansion of the British Colonial Empire in Africa and Asia, the Prussian unification with the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian wars, the struggle for Manchuria between Russia and Japan, and finally, the expansion of the United States over Mexican territories. Notice that two scenarios are not included in any of the eight campaigns, one in South America and another in Korea.
Although Age of Rifles is not labelled with the Five Stars Series, it is as good as the titles featured in the award-winning line-up, showcasing great graphics and an excellent original audio soundtrack for the period. With the use of SVGA graphics, both terrain maps and unit icons look brilliant and are enhanced with many details on the screen. The nature of the terrain varies according to the area you fight with environments ranging from deserts to grassy plains, dense jungles, and will also feature natural relief. Trees, houses, bridges, roads, trenches and defensive walls will enhance the realism of the battlefield, while special animations such as fires and explosions will make it very lifelike. You will even see the corpses of dead soldiers and horses left on the ground during battles. Great care has been given to the units' appearance, faithfully reproducing uniforms from the numerous armies, making confusion errors between units very unlikely to happen.
Similar to previous S.S.I. strategy titles, Age of Rifles is a turn-based game, which means that regarding game play, things will look familiar; after you have moved your units and given your attack orders, your enemy will proceed the same way, and so on until the end. The strong point of Age of Rifles is in the endless possibilities of configuring a game to set up the degree of realism you wish to play with. There are over a dozen options that can alter the playing conditions so that a game is unique. Yet, compared to its predecessors, Age of Rifles is probably much more complex, and unless you play with the minimum number of options turned on, you won't easily win the battle. To help you with the option settings, two predetermined sets (Basic and Advanced) are available for you to select before playing, otherwise you will have to turn on or off adequate options for your liking. It is however recommended to start with the basic set, and then try the advanced options later such as supply, morale and weather effects or the fog of war. These options are not to be confused with the level of difficulty, although they largely contribute to make the game more difficult.
The unit movements in Age of Rifles are simple. Once you have selected a unit, drag it on the hex where you want it to go. If this unit has enough movement points, you will see it moving on the battlefield accompanied by a realistic sound of soldiers marching, or whatever unit you chose. Otherwise, a red flag will appear on the screen, indicating that this location is out of reach. Movements points are of course influenced by many factors such as terrain, relief, vitality and weather. Combats are accomplished by choosing the attacking unit, then moving the cross-hair pointer on the hex where the enemy is located. You will notice the changing color of the cross-hair as you pass over different units from green to red, colors representing the weapons effectiveness. Green is the lowest with a maximum of 20%, while red represents between 80% and 100%. There are several options available during the game to adjust the battle display to your liking such as the hexagonal grid, the graphical representation of the units and their strength, but also other useful features like the overview map and the scenario report.
The strong point of Age of Rifles is undeniably its editor that will let you virtually recreate any hypothetical battle. Not only you will be able to design a complete map of your own using five different terrain types (arid, savanna, temperate, jungle and frozen), but also design your own military units. With a combination of over 1,000 uniforms and 80 weapons, Age of Rifles features the best strategy game editor ever, your imagination being the only boundary to the offered possibilities. You can then link the scenarios you just created and grouped them in a single campaign, and start playing against the computer or play with a friend on the same machine or via email.
Also included in the game is the Gazetteer, a sort of encyclopedia providing the player with a historical background (American Civil War, Naval advances, etc...), weapons information, details for each battle, and the story behind each campaign. Although it won't bring much to the game play itself, I personally think that the Gazetteer is a very nice feature, allowing players to place the battle in its historical context, and learn about the facts that triggered the conflict.
Written by Frederick Claude
IBM-PC compatible computer with a 486-66 Mhz or faster processor,
Min 8Mb memory,
MS-DOS 5.0 or higher,
Hard drive required with at least 44Mb free,
Double speed CD-ROM drive faster,
SVGA VESA compatible video card,
Microsoft compatible mouse.
Sound Blaster family and 100% compatibles, Roland RAP-10, Media Vision, Gravis UltraSound, Wavejammer, Microsoft Windows and 100% compatibles, ESS Technology ES688.
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