iPad Game Review: HISTORY Egypt Engineering an Empire
Scott Parrino heads to ancient times to the land of Egypt to review Slitherine's latest iPad release into touch-screen strategy gaming.
- great civilizations / ancients, ground combat, turn-based, north africa, strategic, tactical, empire building, mid-east
Build Your Empire
HISTORY Egypt: Engineering an Empire (known as Egypt here on out) is Slitherineís first foray into tablet gaming. While versions of it have been released on the Nintendo DS, iPhone, PSP and of course the PC, Egypt has reached the iPad and proves that fans of strategy games donít need to be tied to their PCís or worry about screen size. Combined with the touch-screen ability of the iPad and its portability, Egypt becomes an easy-to-use, easy-to-learn strategy title that fans should pick up. But why?
Egypt takes place in the titular area of the Egyptian Empire. This area of the world features every terrain feature known to man, deserts, forests, rivers, mountainous terrain and even swamps. The wide and varied terrain will either play havoc on your armies or become a lifesaving boon. That is mainly a given with all strategy games where terrain is a factor, but seeing it in a portable tablet game that can seem generally fast-paced, it is a welcome sight to see the attention to detail.
At the start of the game, players can choose to check out the tutorials, which are listed as a separate screen for later viewing, or clear them and play through the tutorial missions which will take you step-by-step in how to play Egypt. There are some translation issues where the game assumes youíre playing it on the PC, but luckily it is not a detractor since not having a mouse will not deprive the player of any amount of control. Using the touch screen to control everything from selecting commands to navigating the menu takes some getting used to; I had some trouble if my fingers accidentally grazed the screen, causing my soldiers to move instead of attacking or vice versa. Most commands on the campaign screen (there are three main screens youíll be using, more on that later) ask for confirmation in case you forget something or mess up a command. If you have trouble utilizing your touch screen on your iPad, I heavily recommend getting a stylus.
From the main screen you can select the single player mode or the hotseat multiplayer mode. The single player mode, which is where the meat and potatoes of Egypt resides in, has ten campaigns, eleven if you count the tutorial campaign, each with different objectives that you must complete within a certain amount of time. Most of the campaigns are historical-based, such as Macedonia expanding its borders while Alexander the Great is rising to power or as Egypt as the Pharaohs ruled. Some campaigns will last as short as 50 turns (each turn is a year) to as long as 300 plus. Donít feel overwhelmed as Egypt keeps its simple and easy to play and fast-paced enough that you can easily blow through a small campaign in a few hours.
After you select your campaign, youíve given the choice of difficulty and a list of your cities and your objectives. From there you are brought to the campaign screen, where you can view the map, cities and armies. The cities you start with are the only ones you have, you cannot build new ones and so you must capture your enemyís cities to expand.
With a simple touch you can select a city to perform an action, such as viewing it, view the garrison inside of it or deploying the entire garrison. Checking out each city youíll see that you can build some buildings. Some are for increasing how fast your population grows or if you can train troops or how much gold is brought in. Here is where players will have to learn balance or employ a strategy to maximize income while still protecting their territory. Cities can only hold a maximum of six structures, which can be a tight squeeze if you want every city to be able to produce troops and bowmen while still bringing in gold or increasing buffs to building or troops. What you must also understand is that you can only either build or recruit at the city in a turn, not both. The strategy here is that since you can only build units that have the structures from that city; you canít just have a blacksmith to make armor for your upgraded troops for the entire nation, you must plan ahead. This simple yet challenging gameplay aspect can either bring financial ruin as you try to keep pumping out troops or find yourself defenseless as you increase your income. Finding that right balance is one of the keys of victory to winning a campaign in Egypt.
The other key is managing your armies. Armies, like cities, can only hold six slots. Once again you must rely on careful thinking if you want to have a rounded-out army or one that is set for defense or offense. Since you donít know what youíre facing up against until the actual battle, spying is a way to get a head start. As with all spying, there is a chance for failure and youíll end up losing the gold you paid for naught. The risks you take may pay off since you donít want your cavalry running into pikemen.
At the point of battle, the terrain of the battlemap will vary depending on where your armies are on the campaign map. This makes ensuring you are defending on land of your choosing tactically important, such as holding a bridge on the campaign map will put a bridge on your battlemap, allowing you to manage a venerable chokepoint. In the actual battle, each troop has their own ratings against certain troops on certain terrain, all listed when you select the appropriate units or information panel. This is a great feature that is always on display so that you will know what you are getting yourself into before throwing your swordsmen up against a line of elite troops or archers. Moving and attacking is as simple as touching the unit and touching where it can go or attack, without the fuss of changing formations, resupplying or managing morale. Battles are generally quick and will end until one side is eliminated.
Of course no wargame is worth its merit if the AI isnít up to par. Do not be fooled by the fact that Egypt is played on an iPad, the AI can definitely give you a serious run for your money on the normal difficulty. In fact I might go as far to say that it is best to start out on easy until you become used to the strategies needed to win. The AI definitely knows which cities to go for if they are weak or being protected, they wonít squander away units in useless battles unless entirely backed against the wall. Of course if you wish to keep them at bay until the time is right, diplomacy is always available. Keeping your rating high with your allies or enemies will hold them off from attacking you, unless of course you wander into their land with your armies. This style of diplomacy takes gold as well, either rule with your pockets or your fist.
In battle the AI always has the first turn. You can almost get away from just forming a solid defensive line and letting the AI come to you, unless theyíve brought archers. They will of course exploit any holes youíve left open to get at your vital units, such as archers or swordsmen, before tackling your main force. There isnít much room on the battlefield for grand maneuvers or feinting, but Egypt is meant to be played quickly and easily, so a large battlefield would just slow the tempo down too much.
If you have a friend that wants to challenge you, the multiplayer mode might be the best way to settle the score. Only available in hotseat mode, players can set up either a battle or a full campaign. While the fun of playing over the internet or on a LAN is gone, it is still a great way to pass the time and to face a human opponent.
Graphical and Sound Aspect
For a game that can be bought on the iTunes store, Egypt has crisp sounds and music. The music itself has a Middle Eastern sound to it to put you in the mood of ruling the land around Egypt. It isnít too overpowering where youíll be reaching for the mute option after the first second, which is a plus, but there is that option for those interested.
Each action you perform makes a solid clicking sound, perhaps as a way to substitute the sound of a mouse click that gives you the sensation that you are playing a title that was given the proper amount of attention. During battle youíll hear soldiers clash and arrows fly, but the variety isnít much but like the music, isnít under done and isnít a detractor at all.
Graphically the colorful nature of the map and the units is well-done, with ample detail to units and buildings. Unfortunately animations are a bit sparse, but for a simple strategy game this can be excused. On the iPad, the graphics are smooth and there were no slowdowns or stutters and was scaled quite nicely since Egypt is a multi-platform release.
Simple, Easy, Fun
Egypt makes its case by being accessible and playable by anyone with a starting interest in strategy games or wanting to try their hand at what style of games made on the iPad have to offer. Egypt is fast-paced without the worry of dragging through long campaigns to check every unit and upgrade or worry about maintaining large armies. For $2.99 it is a steal to try out and I recommend it for anyone looking for a well-done strategy game on the iPad.
Review written by: Scott Parrino, Editor in Chief