Review

Hannibal: Terror of Rome Review (PC)

Hannibal: Terror of Rome is what I would refer to as a 'Hardcore' strategy game. I am not what most people would consider a newcomer to strategy games. In fact, as you may have noticed I even write for a website called Strategy Informer and pride myself in having come to terms with and conquered strategy games that once I might have considered impregnable. I mastered the trade flow changes in Europa Universalis IV and designed an entire species' worth of space ships in Distant Worlds from scratch. In Crusader Kings II I learned how to control and influence succession and retain the loyalty of subjects whose own loyalties were intricately tied to a dozen contrary ambitions. What I'm essentially saying is, I've conquered Rome before. I've won a hundred virtual wars and came to terms with a hell of a lot of complex and often obtuse systems. But Hannibal: Terror of Rome is just too damn niche for me - but that doesn't mean it's a bad game.

Hannibal is the follow-up or in popular games-writing parlance - the expandalone sequel to Alea Jacta Est. It moves the series away from Julius Caesar's civil war with Rome, shifting focus to the second Punic War, as Hannibal and the Carthaginians took on the might of Rome.

The various bearded faces represent the commanders of each army, though bizarrely garrisoned armies disappear from the map

Hannibal is a turn-based game that operates in two phases. Firstly there is the planning phase, where you move and build your armies and ensure that they have enough supply as you move them forward to glorious victory, or ignoble defeat. Secondly there is the action phase, where your careful planning is put into practice, as your armies carry out your orders and there's a nice sense of tension moving from the planning to acting phase. As with any game involving simultaneous movement, spanners will be thrown into the works with great frequency. It's your job as a commander and overseer, to ensure that the plans you make are as risk-free as possible, to maximize the chances of success.

The game is presented from above on a strategic map that will appear familiar to anyone who has played a grand strategy game. It's not the prettiest or most artful map, but it is functional. Besides, the purpose here is not really to provide us with eye candy, but to try and communicate a hell of a lot of information to us in a simple and effective way.

The post-battle screen presents a lot of important information to try and make sense of

The thing is, very little about Hannibal is simple. Overlays on the map can be activated to give us the information we need – supply lines, regional allegiances, provincial borders and even the weather. These are factors that need to be considered and planned for when manoeuvring and engaging enemy forces, but they are by no means the only ones. So too we must consider the strength of armies, the terrain and direction of approach, the ammunition levels and cohesion of our troops, the cost of command versus the abilities of our commanders. Hannibal is remarkable in its attention to detail and historical accuracy. But it can be exhausting to try and figure out just how to use all this information to good effect.

Hannibal is a game that is fairly single-minded in approach, it's less an economic or diplomacy simulator, than it is a straight-up war-game. Battles themselves are represented in a simple enough manner; a hearty scream leaps forth from your speakers as two coloured lines – representing the opposing armies - dwindle as the death toll mounts. The interest of battles comes from the post-battle screen demonstrating which units have taken casualties, whether they came from ranged or melee combat alongside other important if confusing details. Yet, it's difficult to reconcile these outcomes with what came before, how the various factors you have considered (or in my case, neglected to consider) affected the battle. This makes an already steep learning curve even more terrifying. Going from the tutorial straight into a full-blown military campaign feels like being dropped off a cliff with little but a rubber dingy strapped to your midriff.

The historical context and immense detail of the game are arguably its saving grace

It's possible that there are those among you now snorting with derision at my failure to adapt and that's why I'm hesitant to really criticize Hannibal. It's not really designed for the casual gamer, or the mainstream audience, it's designed for - as noted at the top of this review – the hardcore war gamer. If you fall into that category, I can say that to me it feels like a very detailed and in-depth experience that seeks to emphasize the logistics and big picture strategy of ancient warfare.

My own experiences of the various campaigns were of moving troops towards my enemies, using the events that popped up to try and earn more coin, or hire mercenaries to prop up armies that began to flag from extended campaigns. It's a game where you can see where the stories emerge; the relentless army that persists throughout a long war. A veteran commander and intelligent decisions that kept them equipped, supplied and reinforced as they push on through enemy territory. But for me, it was more about the frustration of being outmanoeuvred by an AI that knew how to play the game better than I. An interest in Roman history and a decent knowledge of strategy games is not enough here. To succeed you'll need a lot of patience and preferably a penchant for logistics and administration. It feels entirely unfair to criticize a game for not being entertaining simply because it doesn't cater to my wants and needs – but I found it impressive in detail, if entirely impenetrable. Only the serious war-gamer need apply.

Top Game Moment: Winning a skirmish, then staring at the post-battle screen to try and decipher exactly why.

Comments

By LS35A (SI Veteran Member) on Jun 26, 2014
LS35A
In general, games are too hard. This has been true for 25 years.
By Gazebo88 (SI Newbie) on Jun 27, 2014
Gazebo88
From a psychological perspective, I think the real niche being filled here is that of experiences so painfully difficult or complex that they exclude all but the truly worthy. Walking on hot coals, slicing through MENSA puzzles and playing Hannibal: Terror of Rome are all manifestations of the same underlying need.