All Hail These Conquering Heroes

Friday, August 8, 2008

Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan and Napoleon earned their legendary status one way: They were conquerors. Today, conquest is an important part of our play. From chess and Risk to laser tag and football, the object is to invade the other guy's territory. The theme might be even more prominent in video games, particularly online, where multiplayer capture-the-flag contests are microcosms of the ongoing struggle for global dominance.

Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution (Everyone 10+; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Nintendo DS, $29.99; 2K Games) Civilization is one of the most popular computer games of all time, but it can be daunting to a newcomer. A single game spans millennia and can take about eight hours to play, so it's refreshing that designer Sid Meier has created a simpler version for those of us with less free time. It still takes a couple of hours, but you'll have time to sleep and eat. You assume the role of one of 16 historic leaders, such as Julius Caesar or Abraham Lincoln. You begin with just a group of settlers. After starting a city, you can send troops to explore the world. As your population increases, you can erect more elaborate structures, develop technologies and establish cities. Eventually, you'll bump up against other cultures -- and some would rather fight than cooperate. Meier's Firaxis studio has done an excellent job translating complicated keyboard commands to a console controller, and the graphics are stunning, with stirring battle sequences and witty animations of advisers and enemies. There are a variety of ways to win (you can pound your opponents into submission, for example, or focus on building cultural "wonders" for your own citizens) , so no two games are the same. Civilization Revolution is a fine introduction to the strategy genre for console players.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (Everyone 10+; Nintendo DS, $39.99; Square Enix) Ever since Final Fantasy Tactics Advance came out for Game Boy five years ago, fans have been hungering for a sequel. A2 lives up to the high standard set by its predecessor, delivering one of the deepest strategy games on any console, not just portables. The protagonist is a kid named Luso who's sucked into a book that spits him out into the magical land of Ivalice. After meeting a hero named Cid and his clan of warriors, wizards and other familiar fantasy types, Luso embarks on several quests, which typically require invading a patch of land and killing a bunch of monsters. The individual battles are well designed, requiring a balance among melee fighting, ranged attacks, offensive magic and healing spells. There are plenty of options to customize each of your teammates' skills, and you'll encounter dozens of creatures. With 400 missions, A2 will keep strategy buffs busy for months.

Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath (Teen; Xbox 360, $39.99; Electronic Arts) Kane's Wrath is essentially an expansion pack for last year's C&C3: Tiberium Wars, offering 13 more missions in the same universe. This time, you get to play the bad guy when Kane, the megalomaniacal leader of the Brotherhood of Nod, assigns you to wreak havoc against the Global Defense Initiative that defends Earth. The basic gameplay is typical strategy fare: You gather resources, build facilities, assemble armies and attack. Within any given battle, though, there's an impressive variety of objectives, and once you get your armies moving, things start blowing up nicely. If you can forgive the hammy acting in the cut scenes, it looks and sounds terrific. Still, Kane's Wrath isn't very inviting to newcomers. If you enjoyed Tiberium Wars, this is worth picking up, but it's not a good place to get your first taste of real-time strategy.

-- Lou Kesten, Associated Press

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