If there’s one thing the N-Gage really needs, it’s some big game franchises. There are so many to choose from it’s a wonder there aren’t more on the platform, but clearly Nokia’s been aiming to bring its beleaguered system into the fold of the mainstream games industry again.
Age of Empires III is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Glu has also been careful to coax in the stalwart fans of the series by making sure this isn’t simply a cut-down N-Gage version of an existing game. Yes, it falls under the Age of Empires III standard, but it actually serves as a prequel to the PC game of the same name.
As is the series’ wont, Age of Empires III takes inspiration from the historical tribulations of a world at war - in this case the siege of Malta by the Ottoman Empire. You take on the role of the Malta’s leader Morgan Black and the Knights of St John.
Indeed, this is a superb set-up that lends itself to mobile play very nicely, as the isolated nature of the small island is a very practical setting for the handheld platform, but still offers a mighty challenge for the budding strategist on-the-go.
Malta is initially underpopulated and underprovisioned, so not only do you have the invading Empire to deal with, but basic survival needs also weigh on your leadership.
Survival is pretty much all that’s required of you. Regardless of the nature of the threats looming over you and your Mediterranean settlers, keeping the new Maltese populace alive is your only task, which is at once thankfully simple and at the same time a realistic motivator.
The Campaign mode sees you take command as the invasion of the Ottoman Turks builds up, so establishing your occupancy must be quickly combined with basic, yet turbulent mediaeval warfare. This involves moulding your initial collective of villagers into soldiers by building up barracks and then following the individual objectives of each subsequent mission.
This does lend Age of Empires III something of a ‘guided tour’ feel to its RTS gameplay, but it works quite well as it brings the typically prolonged strategy gaming within the sphere of mobile play, which you generally dip in and out of rather than sit and play for hours at a time.
Graphically, Age of Empires III is perhaps best described as 'functional', but clean and clear visuals are more important on the small screen than lots of CPU pounding detail, and although the angle of the isometrics sometimes makes a liar of the D-pad controls, your view is rarely obscured.
The Skirmish mode - which allows for play of a single mission - can also be taken online with the game’s multiplayer mode. Due to the nature of the RTS gameplay and the structured objectives of the missions there appears to be very little data actually moving between handsets, which makes for a quick and smooth two player game.
There’s no denying this is a pretty basic RTS by contemporary standards, but to be quite honest that just shows Glu’s awareness of the platform, which demands a significant refinement of this typically complex genre.
The siege of Malta isn’t going to convert anyone who lacks interest in real time strategy, but any fans of the genre or the franchise will be quite amazed at how well the Age of Empires series now fits in their pocket.