November 05, 2004

Total War (Denouement)

FEELING FATIGUED and a bit bored this past Saturday, we splurged on a copy of “Rome: Total War,” the latest strategy game from the good, fine people at Creative Assembly Ltd. Our reaction to the program can be summed up in one word: wow.

The game is so good that declaring it the best strategy game of the year does not do it justice. This is a game on par with the various installments of “Civilization,” and in some respects, it may just surpass it. For “Rome: Total War” is a downright brilliant game, breathtaking in its scope and complexity, and a fascinating window on a world long consigned to the mists of time.

The gist of the game is as follows: you are in command of a major Roman house, the Julii, the Brutii, or the Scipii. Your objective is to lead your house and Rome to greatness during the later years of the Republic: from roughly 270 B.C. to 14 A.D. In short, help build a great nation, and then take it for one’s own when the time is right. Along the way, one takes part in epic battles, builds up cities, leads armies, and engages in diplomacy with the nations unfortunate enough to find themselves in Rome’s way. As one might expect, we are very much enjoying all this; and we are quite gratified to note that we are thus far ahead of schedule.

In our first campaign – which we admittedly set on the “easy” setting – the clock has only reached 188 B.C., yet we have done much to spread civilization throughout the known world. We have thrown mighty Carthage down to the ground, and led our armies to victory against the barbarian hordes in Gaul. We have forced Spain to bend its knee and have managed to box Germania into a corner. With our legions holding the line from the English Channel to the Black Sea, it is only a matter of time before we achieve total mastery of the known world. There’s only one problem – our friendly Roman colleagues have been busy crushing Greece and subduing the rest of Northern Africa, and it is going to be a royal pain getting them out of the way.

Thus far, we have had few problems with the game: the only glitch is that it taxes our eight-month old machine to play it (we believe it a RAM issue) and as such the video (but not the game) is sometimes a bit stuttered. We also would have liked a customization option, where one could have fun with customizing each faction to certain particulars. What can we say -- we like the idea of the great B. Iohannes Kepplus leading his troops to victory.

But God! those things aside, though … one really couldn’t have asked for anything more. One really couldn’t.

* * *

WHAT? You were instead expecting something about the election? Oh, God. We can assure readers they will find precious little about that here at The Rant – American politics is not something we discuss. However, we would make a couple of very general observations about America as a whole.

We note with dismay that certain writers in the foreign press have, in writing about our election, cavalierly referred to the United States as an Empire, instead of properly referring to it as a Republic. For America is not an empire, has no aspirations to become one, and makes no pretensions that it is already such a thing. It may be the United States had those once; but we would argue that whatever aspirations it had in that respect disappeared shortly after the Spanish-American War wrapped up. After all, when we attempted to pacify the Philippines, it was a most unpleasant experience; and we wisely granted that nation its independence some three decades later. An empire would not have done such a thing, and the continued independence of Germany, Japan, the Philippines, Cuba, Haiti and Panama stand as testament to that fact. The eventual and true independence of Iraq, which will soon come, will stand as further evidence.

We Americans do a lot of things well. We’re pretty good at making money, we’re awfully creative, we work really hard, and we’re good-hearted people. The first three things, we would submit, explains a lot about why America has achieved such power in this world. The last item, we reckon, explains a lot about why an American Empire will remain a fantasy in the minds of the sullen and deluded.

For instance, consider Fallujah. As we write, there are thousands upon thousands of insurgents and foreign fighters girding for battle against America in that miserable city. Yet what have we done about this? We’re patiently waiting on the outskirts. Soon, we shall conduct a carefully-coordinated assault upon these elements, designed to minimize civilian casualties even when it puts our own troops in harm’s way.

This is not how an empire goes about things. An empire would have immediately dealt with these malcontents. An empire would have also fired the city, salted the earth outside it, and forcibly relocated the populace – those who survived, that is. An empire would have delivered pain without consideration and death without mercy. For that is how empires work when they face opposition. They do not last very long otherwise.

Of course, empires also don’t generally put much stock in elections. And it bears noting, we think, that Americans once again not only elected a Government in a peaceful and orderly fashion, but went about their business the next day with no ill effects on their persons. There were no proscriptions, there were no riots, there were no personal repercussions -- the worst that can be said is that people had to stand in line for a while. Even then, the lines were orderly. All in all, these are not the traits of an empire.

But enough; it is finished. The holidays are coming up, and along with them, the joys of family and togetherness and well-deserved rest. And we look forward to eventually conquering Rome.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at November 5, 2004 08:49 AM | TrackBack