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Posted on Jul 11, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Great Invasions Review

By Larry Levandowski

One of the more interesting features of the game is that major religions can be played as nations. The Catholic, Orthodox, Sunni and Shiite religions can all be played. But unlike secular nations, the player only gains victory points by spreading the faith to distant lands. Allowing the various barbarous regions to see the light can be done the nice way through missionaries and monasteries. For those who are impatient, religions can also be spread by the sword and Jihad. There is a synergetic relationship between religions and the player’s secular nations. Regions with a religion common to the ruling nation are easier to rule and are less prone to rebel. So as a nation expands, having the missionaries there to convert the local populace makes for a settled kingdom. The religions also participate in the diplomatic mode, by offering support in the form of benedictions to friendly nations.

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While all of this historic depth and complexity would seem to make a great strategy game, the complete package just never seems to find its stride in the fun department. Firstly, for a game as complex as GI, there is not much help for the player. The manual is a very sparse 24 pages, and only covers key points with the briefest of description. Critical concepts like the difference between gold and logistics points, and the role of administrative points, are given only just short sections in the manual. With such limited information, the player never fully understands how, when or why their nation advances to the next level of civilization. There are two tutorials, and while somewhat helpful, they don’t come close to helping the player with some of the more difficult aspects of the game. The interface uses ToolTips, but most of these have sparse descriptions as well. Many symbols used on the map are also not described and the player is left guessing. The end result is that even veteran strategy players will spend a great deal of gaming time just groping around the interface, wondering what to do next.

Game play is often mediocre as well. While GI has some great history lessons, it offers only limited moments of excitement and is rarely engaging. Early scenarios particularly feel less like a game than a barbarian invasion simulator. In these early scenarios, some of the barbarian and raider nations may only have one region, a small army, and enemies all around. With limited options, the player can only sit there, feeling helpless as the simulator runs around them. Managing larger nations is much more fun, and the later scenarios offer more of these. The game makes a half-hearted attempt to engage the player with named generals and governors, but the options for using them are so sparse that they are quickly forgotten. Still, game play does have its good moments. The AI is competent, and does offer a bit of a challenge at times. Also, there is definitely a sense of satisfaction when the player builds up a mighty kingdom, from its early beginnings as a small raiding tribe.

Technically the game does not stand out much either. Graphics and sound are competent, but not close to state of the art. Even on a mid-range machine, screen changes are not smooth, buttons have to sometimes be re-clicked, and the interface has an overall clunky feel to it. On the review machine, at least one of the scenarios locked up frequently upon some scripted events, and this did not help game enjoyment much.

When the day is done, and the barbarians return to their lodges, to sharpen their axes and await the next day’s sacking, GI is a hard game to recommend for most gamers. History buffs interested in the period, and hard core strategy gamers will no doubt find something to like in Invasions. For most gamers however, the game as is, is probably best left unpillaged.

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