Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War First Look

We get the lowdown on Stainless Steel's globe-spanning game of strategy and conquest.

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LAS VEGAS--Midway announced at its 2005 winter press event today that it will publish Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War, a real-time historical strategy game from Stainless Steel Software. During a lengthy video presentation, we got to both see the first images and find out the first details on what appears to be a rather ambitious new entry in the competitive real-time strategy genre. Rise & Fall will combine the strongest elements of different kinds of strategy games into a whole that we hope is as entertaining as it looks to be.

Rise & Fall will be divided into two story-driven campaigns that will cast you as four of history's most powerful civilizations: Greece, Persia, Egypt, and Rome. The game will contain around 80 combat units, ranging from basic infantry and ranged attackers to siege weapons, including mobile towers and even elephants. Eight historical heroes will be available for play, including Alexander (Greece), Cleopatra (Egypt), Sargon (Persia), and Julius Caesar (Rome). Rise & Fall will feature multiple strategy components. The primary (and most exciting) one will be the core real-time strategy combat, which looks to have a flavor somewhat similar to the Total War series, with scores of units clashing on the blood-soaked battlefield. Afterward, you'll be tasked with strategizing to finance and maintain your empire amid a sea of conflict.

You'll wage war on both land and sea. On land, you'll often be focused on laying siege to fortified cities, which will require you to bombard outer walls with catapults, raise ladders to get your troops over the outer defenses, and even raze the structures of the town itself (we saw several buildings dramatically sundered in close-up shots). On the high seas, you'll engage in naval battles with enemy forces using warships that you can outfit with different troops to serve different purposes. You'll also get to use advanced tactics, such as ramming enemy ships with your own, and you'll even lay siege to coastal towns with your greatest firepower.

Hero units are nothing new to strategy games, but the way Rise & Fall will use them certainly seems to be. You'll be able to control your hero amid the frenzy of battle, invoking special abilities and attempting to turn the tide in your troops' favor. Where it gets really interesting is when the game lets you drop the camera down to battlefield level so you can take real-time control of your hero unit. In the example we saw, the player controlled Alexander from an up-close, third-person perspective not unlike most modern action games. Alexander was able to use his bow and arrow to quickly pick off enemy troops, and a regular onscreen crosshair made the game look a lot like a shooter. How this action-oriented hero mode is fully implemented and balanced by Stainless Steel will be quite interesting, especially since this feature has the potential to really set Rise & Fall apart from the RTS pack.

After the dust has settled, Rise & Fall will present a second component that will require you to decide what to do with the peoples and lands you've conquered. The presentation posed several sample scenarios to us, such as: Will you destroy the citizens of your new land, or will you show them mercy? Will you pay an outside nation to maintain its neutrality, or will you be forced to wage your war on two fronts instead of one? Your empire will employ advisers who will attempt to help steer the course of your actions and aid you in amassing the wealth you'll need to keep things running.

Rise & Fall looks to have a pretty impressive graphics engine running things under the hood, with a whole lot of units running around onscreen at once. The various destructible objects crumbled in a realistic manner, giving a cinematic flair to the siege scenes, and the close-up hero-action sequences looked to do a good job of putting the player in the middle of a large-scale battle, like the ones you see in most RTS games. Stainless Steel looks to be putting some interesting new ideas into Rise & Fall, though we'll have to wait until the end of the year to find out if the company can pull it off. Look for more updates in the coming months.

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