Date of publish: 17/11/2020 20:19 CET
With a few notable exceptions, games based on movies tend to suck. Even games based on really good movies tend to suck. So how about a game based on a movie that garnered some of the worst reviews of the year, bombed, and was generally laughed at?
Welcome to Alexander the Not-So-Great.
This decidedly mediocre real-time strategy game follows the campaigns of Alexander the Great as he conquers the known world. Even though they’re tied together with footage from the film, the actual voice acting doesn’t include the stars of the movie. Instead, we get low-rent overactors that shout practically every line. The wooden dialog doesn’t help the cause, either.
You can play the single-player campaign, standalone single-player missions, a skirmish mode against computer controlled opponents, and multiplayer (although I could find nary a server to test it). The main campaign consists of four modules: first, you have to play through 16 missions as Alexander, and completing them unlocks Egyptian, Indian and Persian mini-campaigns.
The campaign missions range from massive battles spanning huge battlefields with hundreds of soldiers to long, dull, boring quests for things like hidden temples, with some base-building missions thrown in for good measure. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
The massive battle missions are by far the most rewarding, but unfortunately the battles tend to last less than five minutes. Even with dozens of formations containing more than 30 soldiers each, battles tend to degenerate into massive, confusing mish-mashes during which you just sort of hope your men come out on top. You can match up your soldiers against enemy formations for the best possible advantage (for instance, attacking horse cavalry with pikemen, or assaulting archers with swordsmen), but with so many troops to look after it’s touch to manage the whole battlefield at once.
The quest missions absolutely stink. You take Alexander and a few platoons of soldiers and wander labyrinthine paths throughout the map, skirmishing with enemy squads every few minutes. These missions tend to take a half-hour or so, and they drag on and on while you watch your soldiers trudge through the landscape. They made me pine for a command to speed up the action, but the game lacks this handy–and common–feature.
The base building component is as basic as it gets. You start with a little gang of peasants, who do your building and resource gathering for you. Structures are as mundane as possible: town halls, barracks, academies, siege engine factories, and so on. When you elect to create units, the game keeps churning them out until you tell it to stop, so if you forget about unit production while you concentrate on a skirmish in another area of the map, you might return to your base to find 150 spearmen standing around wondering what to do. It would be nice to be able to tell the barracks to produce, say, 64 soldiers and then halt production, but if that’s possible, I couldn’t figure out how to do it.
Other problems abound. The game doesn’t alert you when part of your base, or a formation of your units, is under attack. You find out about problems at your base when a little alert message pops up to tell you you’ve lost a structure. You can’t tell units to patrol an area–another common feature in the RTS canon–so you have to manually conduct base defense.
The interface is a little odd for a 3D RTS. You can zoom in a bit, and toggle a faraway zoom to see the entire battlefield, but you can’t rotate the map. Most 3D RTS games use the mouse wheel for zooming, but in Alexander it fiddles with the move orders of your units.
The enemy AI tends to be pathetically stupid. Whole garrisons of enemies stand around waiting for you to attack, and when you do they simply charge your men and chaos ensues. The enemy never tries flanking maneuvers, it never tries to draw you into traps, it simply charges and fights. It doesn’t try to make the best out of each unit type; for instance, when your men armed with hand weapons charge enemy missile units, the enemy doesn’t run away and try to keep its distance; it just stands and get slaughtered. Sometimes you can pick off enemy units in a formation without the rest of the formation noticing or reacting. Similarly, sometimes enemy formations stay right where they are, even as the camp they’re supposed to be defending is being overrun by your troops. There’s no need for tactics in this game–you can win just about every battle simply by plunging your soldiers into the enemy ranks and waiting for the dust to settle.
Alexander isn’t a total disaster. The massive battles are rewarding to observe and experience, even if they don’t require much thought or strategy. The game runs well, looks really good and is bug-free. Ships on the sea look majestic, and it’s cool to take a massive battleship and pound an enemy camp with cannons from a bay. Pathfinding AI is solid, and even on those long, boring quest missions the units seem to know where they’re going even if you don’t.
But the rewarding moments don’t come anywhere near making up with all the flaws in Alexander. It certainly doesn’t break the cycle of movie tie-ins: after hours playing through mission after mission, I feel more confident than ever saying that games based on movies tend to suck.
Written by Joel Durham Jr.
Original date of publish: 09.12.2004