Title Ashes of Empire Game Type 3D Combat Sim Players 1 HD Install Yes Compatibility All Submission Cameron Lister Review There was a great deal of publicity for this game before it was released, in no small part due to the fact that the head of the programming team responsible was none other than Mike Singleton. He had revolutionised the strategy game market with The Lords of Midnight for the Sinclair Spectrum and followed this up with a number of classic releases, including Midwinter and Flames of Freedom on the Amiga. Ashes of Empire is provided in a very large, very heavy box. Inside is an informative manual, the game itself provided on multiple floppy disks, a keyboard overlay (very reminiscent of old Spectrum games but highly unusual on the Amiga), and a video tape. The video is actually not all that useful as the game is easy to play once you grasp the fundamentals. Unlike the game, there is no option to turn off the classical music in the video, which quickly becomes very annoying. At the start of the game you are given the quite daunting task of bringing peace and harmony to the CSR, a land made up of five Republics, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Republics of the former Soviet Union. Despite being released in 1990, and closely reflecting the political disposition of the time, events in Russia are still frighteningly close to those depicted in the game. Failure to bring both political and economical stability to each of the five Republics will lead to deteriorating relations and all out war. In fact, civil resistance in the form of sabotage and arson, followed all too soon by nuclear confrontation, is inevitable if you do not complete your mission within a very tight time limit, bringing a real sense of urgency to the game. There are two main elements to the game, one in the form of a simple point and click strategy interface and the other, an involved 3D simulation section, which allows you to move around the various Republics and their Provinces, destroy buildings, or engage hostile forces in action. All these elements are vital to success. The strategy element consists of finding the locations of key members of each Republic and recruiting them to your cause. The people are split into four groups; medical, military, engineering, and administrative. They are also closely linked to their own ethnic groups and often a doctor in one Republic may be loyal to the leader of another, making their political and professional affiliations and allegiances complex. Each character has their own requirements before you can recruit them to your side. What they demand for their help varies in accordance with their profession, rank, and nationality. For instance, a nurse from Ossia may only require some medicine. Once provided he or she will then join your cause and usually offer you something in return. A character of a higher rank, such as a military commandant, will be much more difficult to win over to your cause, but will also provide more in return, including the automatic loyalty of all troops under their control. Although your limited supplies and contacts makes the initial meetings unlikely to provide great rewards, you will find that as you explore the territory and recruit higher ranking characters, so your influence spreads. The instruction manual is vital as there is a breakdown of the political and economic situation in each Province of each Republic, plus a list of the major characters. To complete the game, you will also find that you need to take notes of who you meet and where, so that you can arrange to travel between towns in the most economical fashion possible. There is little point revisiting an individual unless you are then able to recruit that person. To this end, a list of characters and their requirements, plus a lot of saving and loading of game save files is essential. The time limit is so tight that you will have no chance if you keep moving from location to location aimlessly searching for characters to recruit , without a detailed plan of action. The ultimate aim is to win over the President of each nation, as the entire nation then falls under your control. Recruit all five and the campaign is won. However, expect hundreds of hours of play as this is no mean feat! A key part of recruiting characters is fulfilling their requests, including those that may involve you directly. Often, there are two ways to achieve an objective. A peaceful character may request that you destroy a number of forts. It is sometimes possible to achieve this by recruiting an engineer, who will do this for you, alternatively, you may have to enter a vehicle and carry out this task yourself. The same is also true of direct military conflict. Recruiting a military leader will bring his troops under your control, but you will frequently find that you do not have the supplies to recruit the leader, or simply cannot find the correct person. In many cases it is easier, if often hazardous, to actually take on enemy troops yourself. To move around the fractal drawn filled 3D landscape (revolutionary for the time but looking decidedly basic by recent standards) involves utilising a wide range of transport. On the most basic level, you can simply walk. This is not recommended as it takes an extremely long time to reach towns or villages and you are vulnerable to ground fire. You cannot die in the game, but injury results in a period of recovery in hospital, using up valuable time. Rapid movement by using airlift is possible but these are limited and best used for transport across hostile terrain when you would rather avoid action. If your vehicle is destroyed, you can also airlift in a replacement, provided you have any of the type you require in your inventory. There are a wide variety of vehicles to choose from and the are split into the categories of aircraft, sea-going vessels, underwater craft, and ground vehicles. The aircraft are obviously the fastest and most versatile, but do have their limits. Cargo planes are immune to attack and so are the safest, but have no combat capability. Fighters can only take out other aircraft, which makes them only useful for air-to-air combat or fast transit between locations. Groundhawks are very useful as they can take out opposition troops and buildings, an essential task in completing the game. Seahawks take out enemy sea-going vessels and underwater craft, also important as there are many large lakes that often hide military installations. The ground vehicles and sea-going craft are equally diverse and you will often find that you have to switch vehicles to complete different tasks. As stated, there are underwater buildings that you will have to find and enter, or destroy, to meet the requirements of a character you wish to recruit. All the vehicles have control panels that are easy to understand, allowing you to concentrate on the action, rather than having to learn complex instrument readouts. Radar is available in some vehicles and there is an auto-pilot feature that is extremely useful. This can be programmed in a map mode where you can examine the entire CSR in political or geographical mode at a wide variety of scales. As the landscape contains valleys, rivers, and deserts as well as the more usual terrain, you will often find that you have to switch vehicles to reach your objective. The snow covered mountains are a particular pain as movement is slow and the variety of appropriate transport is limited. Moving around the 3D environment is quite easy as the limited size and palette of the graphical details make the display move at a good pace. Too fast, in fact, if you own an accelerated Amiga. Control is by joystick and keyboard (cursor keys being used for acceleration, and ascend/descend or surface/dive when using a vertical take-off aircraft or submarine). There is no mouse option but the joystick works well. Due to the nature of the terrain, a vehicle such as a tank can often have real problems aiming its weapon systems when you are moving across the rapidly undulating territory. A radar system and the ability to quickly select guns or missiles, where available, also helps keep the action moving along nicely. During an encounter with enemy forces, you will often find that you cannot deal with them all effectively in your current situation. For example, you may be in a fighter and find yourself under attack from enemy aircraft and ground forces. If you wish to defeat them all, you have two options. The most complicated is to defeat the aircraft first, then call in an airlift to provide you with a ground hawk to eliminate the ground troops. Alternatively, if you have forces loyal to your cause, these can be deployed to aid in your attack. The only problem then is that it is possible to destroy your allies in the heat of battle! When a set number of opponents have been put out of action, the rest surrender and then become part of your military force. These, plus characters that you recruit, can themselves be used for future tasks, as well as helping persuade other individuals to join your side. Other offensive activities include taking out buildings by strafing or shelling them until they are blown up. Most buildings have a distinctive view in the 3D environment but some, especially those located under water, can be difficult to identify. Occasionally, you run the risk of hitting the wrong building, or accidentally hitting the right one at the wrong time, and actually killing one of the characters in the game. None remain static, moving around various pre-set locations every two hours, so it is possible to time an attack so that you know it contains no characters. Of course, this takes up yet more valuable time as you have to wait the appropriate period. To enter a building, you have to park, land, or walk close to it, and then select the appropriate option from a menu of commands, available via the function keys. This then puts you back into the strategy section of the game where you can then learn more about the building and its occupants. As you can probably work out from the above description, this is a game on a grand scale that takes a good deal of time to get involved in. Reading the booklet and becoming immersed in the game world is essential as you can then really appreciate the depth involved in the gameplay. The subject matter is highly ambitious and very topical, and works a treat. You actually end up caring about the characters you meet and there is a real sense of satisfaction as you finally put together the resources required to sway the loyalty of a leader. The map then shows the location of all his junior staff and you are then able to track them down and automatically recruit them, plus all the benefits they bring. Of course there are problems. Many strategy fans hate arcade action and there is no way of avoiding the 3D viewpoint simulation section. You can travel on auto-pilot to cut out this section and use accelerated time, but only so long as you avoid hostile action. Destroying buildings and attacking enemy troops are also often essential tasks, which can only realistically be achieved by leading the action yourself. Arcade fans would be even less likely to enjoy this game as the core element is the strategy aspect. Reading the large and information packed manual is essential to understanding the way the characters and environment of the game world interact and it is not a game that you can simply load up and play straight away. A big problem with the game is that quite often an intended half hour of entertainment can easily become a marathon six hour session as the sheer depth of the challenge can prove highly addictive! Although the 3D graphics now look distinctly pedestrian, there has never really been another game of this type released. This is, unfortunately, unsurprising, as many people were no doubt put off by the complexity, the price due to the packaging and content, plus the fact that it is set in a highly believable, complex world. This was a rare game where the effort really went into the game itself and not into flash graphics or quick action. Difficult to find now, and not that accelerator friendly, Ashes of Empire still comes highly recommended, especially for fans of the author`s other titles. Remarkably, despite its age, the actual scenario is still very close to that of the real former Soviet Union and other eastern nations, making the implications of failure just as frightening as when first released.