Centurion: Pretender to the Throne?
Centurion: Defender of Rome has a prestigious pedigree, being a close spiritual descendant of the classic Cinemaware titles of the late 1980s. In particular, it tries very hard to be a Roman Defender of the Crown. In some ways, it actually succeeds.
The game concept itself is awesome, as there is a wealth of both real and fictional (AKA “Hollywood”) Roman history for the designers to draw upon. Even if you don’t *think* you know anything about the Roman Empire, you probably do – even if it is just the vague references and images you inevitably pick up on from reading books and watching movies and television. As you would expect from a Cinemaware-style game, the graphics are splendid, particularly in the “splash” screens that set the scene for the game’s big events.
Diplomatic encounters inject quite a bit of personality into Centurion, in addition to providing a non-military path to victory over your enemies. Sometimes this “personality” is quite literal; your pulse can’t help but quicken a bit when you first encounter the legendary Cleopatra herself!
The tactical battles are amusing and manageable at the lower difficulty levels. As for the bigger picture, the grand strategy involved can be rather interesting and challenging. Care to play Roman Risk, anyone? I also enjoyed the gladiator combat once I got the hang of it and figured out its function in the game (which makes sense but isn’t all that obvious if you just play the game without studying the instructions first).
I had some fun playing Centurion, but I have to admit to being disappointed with it in the final analysis. The good intentions are there, but the designers just didn’t come through with the level of quality I expected.
The PC-speaker sounds/music are not just bad, they are downright intolerable. The legion listings have no information on commanding generals, even though managing your generals is (or should be) a key to your success. Land battles are highly unrealistic; there is no variation of terrain, no missile warfare, etc. It is very tedious and awkward to direct individual units in battle, which would not be a problem except for the fact that you absolutely MUST micromanage your troops at higher difficulty levels to have even a prayer of winning.
The naval element is not properly balanced, as sea battles are generally unnecessary, and not an efficient path to conquest anyway. Navies are way more expensive than armies, and not as much fun, so you’ll probably end up conquering the Mediterranean by traveling exclusively overland. Not exactly true to Roman history, is it?
As for the chariot racing, it simply isn’t fun. Races are long, dull, and difficult; the control scheme frankly feels broken. Good thing chariot races aren't required to finish the game! Also, even though I enjoyed the gladiator matches, they don't seem to be necessary for finishing the game, as the masses can be appeased in other ways. Dueling in the arena can be a welcome respite from the rest of Centurion, but that’s about all its good for.
The Bottom Line
Some aspects of Centurion are entertaining, but the game as a whole is ultimately more "bread and circuses" than substance. It's ok, but it's no Defender of the Crown.