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JadeDragon's reviews and playing tips: Pocket PC games

Age of Empires, by MDM, $29.95
Reviewed December 2002

If you are anything close to being an RTS (Real Time Strategy) fan, you should clear out your social calendar before picking up Age of Empires for your Pocket PC. Ported by ZIO Interactive, Age of Empires is just as addictive on the handheld as on the desktop, if not more. Now, you can take the game anywhere you go and truly find no escape!

If there was any question about how well a game with such an epic scale could be ported to a small screen, let me put your doubts to rest. The handheld version kept the structure of the game as well as multiple game modes including Random Map, Campaign, Death Match and Scenario, all carried very well by the sharp graphics. If by any small chance you don’t know about this game, Age of Empires is an RTS game where you direct your civilization as it advances through roughly four historical periods. The time span represented by AoE covers roughly the end of old Stone Age, the Tool Age, the Bronze Age and the beginnings of the Iron Age (from 12,000 BC to 500 AD). Depending upon which game mode you choose to play, you will build your civilization and grow your population, invade enemy territory and destroy their establishment, find artifacts or ruins or build a great Wonder.

In a Random Map or Death Match game, you can win by achieving any one of the standard victory conditions: Artifacts (the first player to control and hold all Artifacts wins), Ruins (the first player to control and hold all Ruins wins), Wonders (the first player to build and hold a Wonder wins), or Conquest (the first player to conquer all enemies). In the Campaign mode, you can choose from 8 Campaigns, each has its own map and objective for you to achieve in order to win the game. The Scenario mode presents you with two dozen combinations in number of players, terrain conditions and resource availabilities. You can choose a perfect game you want to play without designing it yourself.

Because of the handheld limitations, Age of Empire does not support multiplayer mode. So you will play the computer AI that seems to me a little on the easy side but stays true to its desktop counter part. There are five difficulty levels in all game modes and in-game settings where you can change music and sound volume, game speed and scroll speed among other things. The game control mainly relies on the stylus combined with a PDA button acting like a Shift key to multi-select/unselect. Another omission in the port to handheld is the support for Huge and Humongous Maps, leaving you with four types of maps in the Random Map mode.

The game window is displayed in landscape mode and you have a choice of left-hand or right-hand orientation. There is a mini-map along with your resource and building options displayed in the small window under your game window, very similar to the desktop version. Not only does the terrain look sharp on a small window, you will notice a huge amount of details have been carried over from the desktop version. The only thing that got left out is the cinematics due to the size of the Pocket PC memory. For you creative types and hardcore AoE fans, you will not find a campaign editor on your Pocket PC. But not to worry just yet: if you have the PC version of AoE, you can however create games on your desktop and download them onto your Pocket PC.

If you’ve ever played AoE, you will know that sound effects are part of the game. When you are fighting a huge battle at the frontline, the sound FX that notifies you that a villager or a cavalry has been created is essential to your game strategy. You should be very happy to hear that pretty much all the sound FX of the desktop version have been ported to the Pocket PC.

There are three components when you install the game: Age of Empires (8.1MB), Campaigns (5.1MB) and Scenario (1.2MB), with save files usually ranging from 150K to 700K. The bigger your game, the longer it takes to load. The game requires 10MB of RAM to run and currently supports ARM, Xscale and MIPS. I tested the game on the iPAQ 3835, Dell Axim X5 Advanced and Toshiba e310, and didn’t encounter any crashes. The only big issue I had was on the Dell: the map cursor randomly jumps to places you didn’t select and it can not be brought back no matter what you do. You must quit out of the current game to escape this problem. It might be caused by the Dell’s directional button since I did not have this issue on the Toshiba or iPAQ.


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Age of Empires answered eager fans who’ve been waiting for this Pocket PC release with a big bang! Having the depth and scale of a game that helped define the term epic RTS on a handheld is a dream come true. If you are an RTS fan and have 30 bones to spare, you should invest them in Age of Empires, period!

Playing Hints and Tips

The number one thing to remember when you play AoE: pause the game when you take a break. The last thing you want to do is to have the Egyptians whip your soldiers when you refill your coffee cup.

Destruction is not always the way to win a game. When you can build temple and make priest, make sure you do enough research to convert buildings and people. Take your priests with you when you go on a conquering quest. Kill the military units with your fighting units and have the priests convert the enemy workers and building (except Town Centers.)

It’s always worthwhile to build Scout units both on horse and in water. They have much better line of sight range so that you clear the Fog of War much faster.

Make advancing through the ages your top priority.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics It is amazing how the graphics and details got ported to such a small screen and not lose the magic.
Sound The sound FX is faithfully ported from the desktop version.
Fun Meter Even without multiplayer mode, AoE has everything else that makes this game so popular and so powerful. The large number of scenarios, campaigns and death matches on top of the random map make this game easily one of the deepest game to date.
Addictivity If I could only tell you how hard it was for me to tear myself away from the game just to write this review!

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