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Tzar : Burden of the Crown

Fantasy RTS game reviewed

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer
This is as good as it gets...

Evil Messiah

Infinite Loop seem to have a strange fixation with hidden monarchs. In their last game, Codename Eagle, you played a British agent with the unlikely name of "Red", who was revealed in an (unintentionally) hilarious cutscene half way through the game to really be the rightful heir to the Russian throne.

Their new game, Tzar, sees you taking on the role of Sartor, a simple villager who discovers one day that he is actually the son of the slain King Roan, saved from the ruins of his father's castle and hidden in the village to keep him safe. Things go downhill from here on in, with much talk of magical crystals, evil messiahs, ancient wars, dark forces, and powerful mages...

The "plot" (such as it is) is presented by in-game cutscenes, using on-screen text with a little picture of the character who is speaking next to it. Clicking your way through the poorly written script is dull and tedious, and to make things worse the characters' faces have all been put through Kai Goo a few too many times, leaving them looking bizarrely deformed.

"You and whose army?"

Deja Vu

And the game itself isn't any better... Infinite Loop seem to have set out to clone Age of Empires II, but failed miserably somewhere along the line.

The units and buildings on offer are eerily similar, but lacking the wider variety and meticulous play balancing that made Age of Empires II so much fun. Orcs, dwarves, mages, and other stereotypical fantasy units are added to the mix, but don't really add anything new to the game.

The resource system is identical to the one in Age of Empires II, with gold and stone to quarry, wood to chop, and food to get by farming, fishing, or raising livestock.

You can build a market (sorry, tavern) which allows you to trade one type of resource for another. You can build lumber mills and storage yards to house the wood, stone and gold you are producing, and which also allow you to research improved technologies, many of which are lifted verbatim from Age of Empires II as well.

The unit graphics and animations are actually very good, but the buildings are crude and cartoon-like in comparison. One nice touch though is the game's day and night cycle, which changes the brightness and colour of the world as the sun rises and sets.

The sounds are repetitive and stunningly mediocre for the most part, and to cap it all the stereo option doesn't seem to work properly - all the sounds came out the wrong speakers, and there's no reverse stereo mode unless you go into 3D surround sound. MIDI music didn't work either, and although there is a CD music option there didn't seem to be any music on the CD...

Playing With Yourself

The single player campaign is made up of twenty missions, though the first of these is essentially an overblown in-game cutscene that drags on for far too long. The later missions can take an hour or more to complete though, and often get tedious and frustrating.

The AI is uniformly poor, and the game relies on outnumbering you by ten to one to make the single player campaign challenging. Play the computer on a random map in skirmish mode with fair starting conditions and it will flounder, putting up little or no resistance as you take control of the map.

Pathfinding isn't much good either. Units sometimes get completely lost, or get stuck on a small piece of impassable terrain and are then seemingly unable to find a way around it. Group together several units and try to move them and they will attempt to stay in whatever "formation" they happen to be in, even if they are just randomly scattered across the screen. This soon gets frustrating.

And the stupidity doesn't end there. Instead of running for cover, enemy units will just stand dumbly in the line of fire of ranged weapons such as catapults, archers and cannons, unless they can find a direct way to attack them.

In one mission I managed to completely block the only bridge over which the enemy could reach my base with a stone wall, and for half an hour the computer just kept massing his troops on the far side of the river without thinking to try and demolish it. Meanwhile I had built several towers, which promptly picked off all his troops one by one without any resistance.

Conclusion

Tzar is a mediocre real time strategy game which tried to pilfer the best features of Age of Empires II and Warcraft, but ended up as a soulless mish-mash that fell far short of its aims.

Tzar isn't a bad game as such, just utterly unremarkable and unimaginative. It really doesn't bring anything new to the genre, and given that it is so uncannily like Age of Empires II, you might as well just go and buy that instead...

6 / 10

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