Date of publish: 18/11/2020 16:10 CET
So you’re no doubt aware of the awfulness that was the movie Alexander—Oliver Stone’s bomb of a biography on one of history’s greatest warrior kings. What you may not have been aware of is the fact that they made a game of it. At first, I didn’t think it was possible for any public media to sink lower than the film, but at that time I had never played the game. Alexander is a great example on how to take an awful movie, and make an even worse game.
Alexander is billed as a strategy title, what you’ll get in the box though is a grand package of frustration, with clips of the movie thrown in to boot. From the very beginning the mediocrity of the game seethes through the edges of your monitor. You’ll start off as Alexander, son of the king of Macedonia. Eventually you’ll rise to power as king and conquer the land of Syria—if you bother to make it that far. The storyline is trivial however and overshadowed by the average gameplay and boring missions.
Alexander’s gameplay can be broken up into two branches: missions where you have to kill anything in sight, and missions where you have to build a base and kill anything in sight. Like any standard RTS, Alexander has you start a base with typical civilian building units. By using your five resource materials: food, wood, stone, iron, and gold, you’ll carve out different buildings which can be used for a variety of functions. These functions include, but are not limited to: gathering resources, training soldiers, upgrading your troops, and bolstering your defenses.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that when making units, it’s not really a case of how many you want to make, it’s how many you want to limit yourself to. When starting the production of any unit, that immediately starts an infinite creation loop of said unit until the time you manually stop production. This may seem like an easy way to create a surplus of civilians and troops but it wreaks absolute hell on your resources and trying to keep track of which buildings are creating an infinite amount of denizens for your bases. You won’t really notice this until you’re distracted by an enemy attack or go on the offensive.
With your soldiers and cavalry, it’s the same thing. Once production is started you will constantly make new troops until you hit the off switch on the building. As far as your military units go, you’ll have the standard array of melee and ranged ground troops, and assorted versions of cavalry. On certain maps, you’ll get to command large naval vessels as well. Only ranged units may attack buildings though and while the game wants to push some melee units as distinct from others, in battle it really doesn’t matter.
A big part of Alexander’s combat system is formations. Any type of offensive military unit such as foot soldiers and cavalry can be grouped into formations. These formations differ in size from 32 all the way up to 100. If your soldiers aren’t in a formation then they are basically stragglers used to reinforce existing groups of troops. The formations themselves can be set in different stances which will let you pack them tight, stand normal or spread out to cover more territory when your lines are thin. In addition, you can modify the formations behavior from defensive, normal, and offensive. What these three behaviors do is really simple; your units will engage enemy units at certain distances depending on what you have selected. At the offensive selection, your soldiers will chase anything and everything in their line of sight. You’ll see that distance of attack nearly halve on the normal setting and on defensive your units won’t really engage until point blank range.
At the forefront of the battles are your hero units, each hero has to stay alive for the duration of a mission for you to be successful. In addition to having powerful attack or healing properties, heroes possess a number of different abilities that can be bought with experience points. Attributes such as increasing attack power against heavy infantry, increasing troop morale, or decreasing the power of enemy attacks can all be purchased and will affect any troops your heroes are near. You gain experience at the end of every mission based on the total time spent on the mission, the effectiveness of your troop command, and the number of primary and secondary objectives you completed.
One of the main problems with the battles is the steam roll effect. On a normal difficulty setting, no one should have any problem hording units and demolishing anything the computer throws at them. It’s almost a joke to even fathom the possibility of failure. Not to mention that game pulls off what I like to call, the “looney toons effect.” No matter how large your force is, they will all converge onto a single point in the map and duke it out. It’s reminiscent of Yosemite Sam getting into a fist fight where all you see is a cloud of smoke and the occasional fist and leg popping out. Alexander’s battles made me laugh when they really weren’t supposed to.
Add the fact that some of your heroes ignore your commands and throw in a clunky selection interface and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. If you group your hero units with your regular troops, whenever you give an attack order your heroes will rush right to the front of the battle, often much faster than your standard troops can get there. This makes keeping your heroes alive, a basic mission requirement, difficult at times. Simple micro-management would normally suffice but once you give an attack order it’s not easy to cancel. Dozens of times after seeing hero units charge to the front I frantically clicked away from the enemy so they wouldn’t get hurt. I was ignored and forced to watch hero units die no matter how many times I clicked for them to retreat.
Selecting individual units is an additional lesson in frustration. Clicking on straggling units sometimes doesn’t select them. You’ll have to try two or three times before getting any response from the game. It’s very irritating in the heat of battle when you can’t get your reinforcements in because they simply won’t select. It seems like huge details like unit response and the selection interface were seemingly ignored. Whether this was from a quick development schedule to coincide with a movie release is anyone’s guess but it should have been something that was addressed before release.
One of the very few decent points of Alexander is how the game looks. The buildings and maps are richly detailed with generous portions of wild life and vegetation spread throughout the maps. You’ll see individual waves crash against the shoreline in a beautiful display. Alexander does possess one of the more pleasing designs for oceans and water that I’ve seen.
To the positives, there are a lot of negatives. The first seems to be the game’s ignoring of the basic earth laws of day and night. One of the very first missions you’ll be ordered to carry out a night time attack. The only problem is that the map is fully lit and looks no different than any daytime missions. In addition, there are some major clipping issues with certain buildings. You’ll see roman-style temples and small building spread throughout the maps; you’ll also see your troops walk right through them as if by some divine intervention.
All the details on the map and the sheer number of troops on screen come at a terrible cost to your computer as well. Even Command & Conquer Generals didn’t demand this much of a computer and its graphics were vastly superior. Where the computer’s resources are going to, I don’t know. What I do know is that even on a machine with 512mb of DDR ram, I was still getting windows memory warnings indicating I was almost at full capacity with all other programs shut down. And in another brilliant moment of making me laugh when I wasn’t supposed to, some of the loading screens look like terrible Photoshop jobs. You’ll see the same face super-imposed onto different warriors and it looks absolutely ridiculous.
From a sound perspective, Alexander can’t really boast much. The soundtrack is an average effort and you really won’t remember or pay attention to the battle music. The voice overs for the characters are fairly awful as well, often times sounding forced and broken. The ferocity of battle is characterized by a few pitiful grunts and other noises. One of the selling points of the game is the fact that it includes over ten minutes of film footage never used in the theatrical release but it’s just a gimmick and adds absolutely nothing to the game.
Broken gameplay, shoddy graphical and sound work, and terrible combat all combine to make this title a little more than bearable. There is some fun to be found in the different missions but the majority of them are long and unnecessarily drawn out. As far as strategy games go, this one falls way below anything we’ve seen in recent history and can’t be recommended to anyone except those who wish to waste their time.
Written by Adam Faubert
Original date of publish: 31.12.2004